Riding to Nha Trang (60 km - 450m ascent - 1950m descent)

We had been contemplating how to get from Dalat to Nha Trang some 100km away on the coast as the crow flies; we were a bit tired of buses after two long slow trips and were toying with the possibility of hiring a car and driver, when we discovered that several tour companies, including Highland Holidays, with whom we did the 2-day trek, offer a mountain bike ride down a newly built road to the coast. It seemed the perfect solution - an interesting way of getting to our destination and a chance for some exercise and more close up views of magnificent Central Highlands scenery.

Thus, after one last superb breakfast at Madame Dung's Dreams hotel, we found ourselves heading out of Dalat in a van with a guide, Mr Cong, driver and a three bikes in the back. We drove the first part of the road to get past the heavy traffic of Dalat, a buddhist funeral procession, the roadworks on unfinished sections and the traffic police, who stopped us to collect a "fine" for the crime of carrying bikes in the car (no receipt needed) - all part of the experience!

Now that is a breakfast!!!

After about and hour and thirty kilometres, we stopped, prepared the bikes and set off. At least I did with Cong; the fair Nello decided that, with a wonky knee, she would skip the early uphill sections and join us later. From where we started, we could look back over the green pine-clad hills to Lang Bian Mountain and forward to the steeply curving asphalt road winding for 2km up the next hill. I suspect that the guides use this hill to assess the fitness/ability of their clients - anyway, I must have received the tacit seal of approval as we crested the hill and pedalled on.

The first ten kilometres traversed gently undulating hills lined with pines and crops of hill tribespeople. We rolled through the local village, just as the school was playing the Vietnamese national anthem - it was a good opportunity to stand up and give my backside a break from the saddle.

More pines and crops for a couple of kilometres and we reached the rainforest to skirt by a fast westward-flowing stream - we were entering Bidup Nui Ba National Park, where in parts the rainforest was uniformly young - courtesy of agent orange. It was also fairly easy to work out that if the stream was heading west and I was heading east we were climbing again.

Top of the Col de Galibier vietnamien

Only 60km to go!

Central highlands landscape (yes - the camera was on macro!)

Ahead, the pass to the coast loomed and we began a steady and increasingly steep 5km climb -  I went into Tour de France daydreaming mode, got myself into a steady rhythm, just enough to keep Cadell Evans, Carlos Sastre and the Schleck brothers at bay, but unfortunately Cong still beat me to the top.

Near the top of the pass

One of many roadside waterfalls (still on macro setting)

The long road down to the coast

Long waterfall on the maroon and tan rocks

The pass was at the 20km mark and, after a break to admire the view and recover a bit of energy, the fair Nello joined for the most exhilarating part of the ride, a 25km descent down the steep and winding road carved into the steep-walled rim of the Central Highlands which took us from 1625m to 100m above sea level with barely a need to pedal.

Memorial to those who lost their life building the road

Passing through Bidup Nui Ba National Park

It was heady stuff as we free-wheeled down, with one hand hovering over the brake lever, past many waterfalls on the road side; some of these were natural, plunging several hundred metres down the maroon and tan rock walls, other much smaller ones appear to have been created by slightly larger than expected blasts when the road was built. The blue-hazed mountains faded off into the distance and the cool air rushing by gradually became warmer as we rapidly lost altitude.

Blue fades to blue at the edge of the Central highlands

Lower part of the pass

View back up the valley from whence we came

Soon we were near the lower slopes, looking back up the deep valley to the top of the pass and over the green valleys, rivers and conical hilltops of the coastal landscape. The road flattened out and, in the now hot and sticky weather, we rode the last 2 km sedately into the village of Khanh Le, a good place for lunch. The fair Nello then wisely decided to call it a day while on top, while the macho part of my character obliged me to push on for a further 13km along increasingly narrow and undulating roads. This section took us through several villages, where school children lined the streets cheering on the "Tour" riders as they passed (one can dream, but there were lots of "hellos" and high-fives). One last steep climb, one last brisk descent and we reached  and the town of Khanh Linh. It was a good point to call it a day - the roads were getting busier, my backside was getting sorer and 60km is a nice round figure. Thanks, Cong, for a great day.

Cai River Valley

Passing through a village

The mighty Cong at the top of the last hill climb

We drove the last 30km to Nha Trang, where we were dropped off at a hotel that allowed us a free shower and cleanup (the Vietnamese are very obliging that way), before wandering down to the white sandy beach of Nha Trang (sadly trying hard to be a Gold Coast type resort). It was pleasant watching the full moon rising above an ocean speckled with the twinkling lights of fishing boats, and hard to pull ourselves away. Still, it was time to move on - we had an overnight train to catch to get to Hoi An.

Modern Vietnamese architecture

The podium at the end of the Tour de Nha Trang

Nha Trang Beach