I set off today on a pretty unorthodox path up the Vietnam Central Highlands. There are some well-worn roads north from Da Lat or Buon Ma Thout (where I was yesterday), like the AH17. But I tend to take alternate paths (and I’d been told many times the AH17 is a carriage ride through hell right now due to road works).
So I took a different path.
The Ride – Part 1:
Early on, I was pretty sure this day would result in nothing more than a couple of picturesque shots of the Highlands. And a couple hours into the trip, scheduled for 209kms total, I was convinced of the same. It was scenic, but not much else.
The skies were blue, sun warm, the wind not it’s recent gale-force, and the coffee plantations were in bloom. If you have never seen a mountainside of coffee aflower, you really need to; it’s like a soft blanket of snow unexpectedly in a temperate region. A dichotomy like this will move you for sure.
But even as moving as the scenery was, I still expected this story to be nothing more than a discourse on the roads and conditions in this part of Vietnam. And that is probably worth it’s own story, but for now, I’ll cram it in with the rest of the tale.
As I said, AH17 is not only the direct route, but a route I’d been warned off for hazardous road conditions. I really didn’t want to take the ‘direct’ path and I like to heed current advice of travelers I respect. So I chose a road called TL1.
I looked at the map and found that it fronted the Cambodian border for a short part of the trip, and that appealed to me given my love affair with Cambodia. The Northeast is one part of the country I’ve yet to explore. At least I’d see it from across the border. Further, there are several Vietnamese ethnic groups that live in this part of the country that are seldom seen by the average traveler.
For thirty kilometers, the road is good. In fact, there is no one around, the roads are as close to perfect as Vietnam will ever offer, and I am in heaven. It is so easy to look around, not pay attention to the surface, and take in the scenery.
Then……..oh my gosh, then…….the roads disappeared. I’d look at the map and see that my next possible junction was about ten kilometers away – no problem. Except that those ten kilometers would take an hour. The road was full of potholes and instantly vanishing pavement.
I am in the middle of nowhere…please, please, please, do not let me have a mechanical failure, flat tire, or an accident out here. If I do, the best-case scenario is a very long walk with my packs. Worst case, I am bloody and another human doesn’t pass for a couple days.
The road at this point might as well be a dust bowl. For the first time, I am considering buying a face mask. Instead, I tie a bandana around my face and still end up choking on the dust. The sand on the road is so fine that potholes, normally visible, are filled in with blowing sand. And when you drive into one, the sand splashes away as if it were water. This causes extreme discomfort and innumerable near-crashes. Thankfully, all day long I was able to keep the rubber on the ‘road’.
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