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Oct 28, 2015

Catching up with photos and notes...

It's been a while since my last catch-all post, and I've accumulated a number of photos and experiences that I want to share... non-sequentially...

1)
Some route guidance for approaching Dalat from the south:
You are on QL20. A couple hundred meters after the airport entrance (on your left), you will come to a roundabout with signs showing that the second exit takes you to Dalat—and it does if you are on four wheels. If you take the second exit, a few more hundred meters after the roundabout, on the nicely-paved highway, you will see this sign:

If you are on two wheels, you will then have to turn around, return to the roundabout, and take the second exit—the one I'm going to show you now so you can avoid rounding the roundabout. Follow the map's blue line...

This keeps you on QL20 and you still end up at the bottom of the hill that climbs beautifully into town, just a little later. There is a hard left followed by a right up a ramp (don't go through the underpass) just after the Langfarm/Prenn Waterfall entrance (tour buses abound) that is easy to miss.

No worries if you do miss it, you'll just enter town a bit further east.  If that happens, take a left at the next roundabout (top of the LONG hill)—and you'll see the lake on your right. 
Did you notice how I positioned the camera so the tree branches match the peaks?
Can you guess why the local guides call that "Woman Mountain"? ;-)

2)
The Clueless Abroad came to my attention earlier this month because I started talking with two young travelers who were sitting near me at One More Café in Đà Lạt. Kasia and Manu are traveling a LOT of places (currently in Lao) and seek out whatever interests them. They may've started out clueless (hence the name of their blog), though my guess is that those moments are now fewer and farther between. A few days after meeting and talking at-length, they found me enjoying a bowl of gumbo in Saigon and gifted me with the first of their newly-printed cards.... which, I am ashamed to admit, I misplaced so I am unable to show you a photo of it :(

Check out their blog; I think you'll enjoy their style.

3)
Many readers of this blog come to VN and decide, either before or after they arrive, to buy or rent a motorbike and ride from Saigon to Hanoi or Hanoi to Saigon. If you start in Saigon, one of the shops you will probably visit is run by this guy:

He works out of this office at 19 Do Quang Dau
And this lot across the street

Do NOT buy a motorbike from him!!!
He sells repainted and prettied-up bikes that aren't worth half of what you'll pay and, when the bike breaks down—if you're lucky, while you're still in Saigon; if you're unlucky, after you're out in the boonies—he will refuse to fix it or to refund your money. Remember, this is Vietnam and there are no returns. Once the money changes hands, it's yours.

How do I know this? During my many trips to Saigon, I've talked with well over a dozen young men and women who had just this experience and were looking for a way out. There are usually two options, both at added expense:

  • Buy another bike and forget this one
  • Pay another $100 or more to get it repaired properly
Save yourself the aggravation and buy from a reputable shop. My favorite shop, where I've bought three scooters and a motorcycle in 18 months and they're all still running well (I gave or sold them to friends is how I know) is Flamingo Travel at 30A Do Quang Dau—just down the street.

Ask for Cong (that's him in the blue shirt) and he'll set you up at a fair price. Their prices are a little higher than the other shops; money well-spent if you want a well-prepared bike that'll get you all the way to Hanoi and beyond. The shop phone number is +84 (0) 98 675 1020.

Their HQ is in Hanoi, and the web site is pretty much Hanoi-specific. If you go to or call the Hanoi shop (+84 (0) 4 3926 0938), ask for Hung (the owner) or Chris (a Brit) and you'll get the same top-level treatment. It won't hurt if you tell them I sent you, though it won't help much, either... they treat everyone very well, regardless.

4)
On occasion, I write about the traffic here and, most recently, how it is important to ride like you are invisible. The photo below demonstrates why...

A few months ago I was riding the cruiser along a two-lane road when I saw an inter-city minivan coming toward me. He suddenly veered across the center of the road (lanes are fluid here and any lines, even double white, are simply decoration) and headed directly AT me! I moved as far to the right as was possible, though that was restricted by the badly timed obstacle of people walking along the side of the road exactly where I needed to go... so I hit the brakes as strongly and safely as I could just as the minivan driver's side-view mirror SLAMMED into my left-side mirror! Keep in mind here, that the mirror sits about four inches above my left hand.

WTF???

There was no other traffic on his side of the road and ABSOLUTELY NO REASON for the minivan driver to swerve toward me. Had I done anything other than what I did, my passenger and I would probably be dead. I finished coming to a stop and immediately started shaking. I'm sure that both my pulse and my blood pressure shot sky-high as my passenger quietly swore in Vietnamese.

I turned to look for the minivan and, as is standard here, it didn't even slow down in search of its next kill.

This experience is one of the reasons that I will do whatever I can to avoid ever riding in one of those things. The big buses might be a little scary, but after many months of daily observation, I'm pretty sure the minivan companies hire only psychopaths as drivers.

If you ride outside the cities in VN, you will soon learn that when the trucks and buses coming the other way want to pass, they will take up most of your lane, leaving you about a foot more than the width of your bike—two feet if they're feeling generous. The minivans give no quarter, and even the locals slow down and move as far to the right as they can; sometimes even off onto the shoulder.

This is a similar minivan—the bike is okay 'cause the minivan's stopped ;-)
We were lucky that day. The mirror was a cheap fix. A number of foreigners I've spoken with before and since ended up with broken bones after failing to get completely off the road for an on-coming minivan.

It's Việt Nam!

5)
Nomadasaurus is a blog written by Lesh and Jazza, and it chronicles their overland backpacking journey from Thailand to South Africa. I never met them and am unsure how I first heard/read about their blog... and I welcome every email telling me there's a new post/adventure. Theirs is a very different journey from mine and I hope you will check it out.

6)
Phở Quỳnh at the corner of Pham Ngu Lao and Do Quang Dau is still my favorite phở restaurant and my first stop every time I go to Saigon... before checking into the hotel.


7)
Check out these adventurers having way too much fun: The Adventurists

8)
Back in July, I wrote about tires and tire pressure. This article on motorcycle tires just came to my attention and I'm sharing it for those who would like a little more information (see the end of the article for tire pressure information).

9)
And finally...

Japanese Rube Goldberg Machine Becomes An Epic Adventure Story

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