Da Lat, the romantic idea of exploring Vietnam on two wheels

Da Lat is revered by locals as the honeymoon capital of Vietnam, rising into the mountains it sits in the Central Highland Do’ng Province. With the higher altitude comes the cooler climate, which was a well deserved break after weeks in the sun. We only stayed for one full day and would have loved more time.

We had a relative lazy start to our day and with rain storms predicted we ummed and ahhed about even bothering to drive to the waterfalls, but decided the weather predictions had often been wildly wrong, so hired a scooter to explore.

Our first drive was to Elephant Falls, about 50 mins away from Da Lat city centre and a beautiful drive down mountainous roads. The wind however was so strong at points you felt as if the whole bike may tip over, alongside this was intermittent showers. Still, the drive was nice and by the time we got to Elephant Falls the weather was good.

Pongour Waterfalls

Elephant falls has a couple of epic viewing spots from the outside.

Tim at Pongour

And from the inside.

Slippery when wet

There is a temple adjacent to the falls which a local told us had a Buddha which could sleep 30 people inside. This place was awesome, there is something so serene about Buddhist temples.

Giant Buddha

Next stop was Pongour Falls which was another 45-55mins drive, with Google Maps as our navigator, we set off. The sun was shining and in this moment it was easy to see why exploring Vietnam on two wheels has such a romantic and adventurous notion behind it. Soon the road turned to dirt track and the drive became tricky, but we still had a lot of fun and were in an incredibly jovial mood.

Drive to Pongour Waterfalls

The tarmac reappeared as we entered a main road, but this was worse than the dirt track with a lot of other vehicles and dangerous potholes. Soon enough we turned off towards the falls and were greeted by a beautiful country lane, with the only other occupants local farmers and their buffalo.

Pongour Falls has a beautiful long ridge of calm cascading water with a whole load of rocks to climb. Unfortunately for us we had left late in the day and didn’t get to hang around for very long, as we wanted to get back before dark. After climbing around for a bit we set back off towards the scooter and home bound.

Tim climbing at Pongour Waterfall

As we drove back down the lane to the main road, the sun belting down on us, Sam said to me – ‘Aren’t you glad we got the scooter?’ I replied – ‘Yes! You can never trust the weather predictions in Vietnam’. According to Google there were two ways home – the long country roads and the quicker busier roads. Having had our fill of beautiful country drives I opted for the quicker route, although I knew it would be far less enjoyable.

It was a hectic drive down the main road, with buses, lorries, motorbikes, buffalo and anything else that you can imagine on the highway all mixed in with a tonne of potholes and poor surfacing. The drive wasn’t particularly fun but we were making good progress. Then we took a turn, I saw every other motorbike head a different way and suddenly we were on a road where bikes weren’t allowed, as per Google. Multiple signs with bikes crossed out were on the roadside and our stress levels began to rise. We didn’t know where to go or what to do so found somewhere to turn around and headed back.

I tried to see where all the other bikes had gone but it wasn’t obvious when traveling the opposite direction and we took another wrong turn and pulled over again. Looking at the map I worked out what we needed to do but this was lost in communication and as any couple knows, navigation between partners can cause arguments. I turned the bike around through heavy oncoming traffic and managed to find the exit I was looking for, the only problem was we were driving on the wrong side of the road!

Still we made it through, found a petrol station and worked out our next steps. Feeling relieved we set back off before immediately having to pull over, the storm was on the horizon. We’d taken what felt like a far longer way round and still had well over an hour to get back to our guest house. Nevermind we said, at least we knew where to go.

The rain was heavy, the driving was hard and sunset approached, I tried to follow locals as much as possible as dodging potholes was the most important task. The motorbike in front of us suddenly went wheel first into a huge puddle, crunching as they battled to balance. We followed straight after and I honestly thought we were going to crash, still we stayed upright and carried on.

Next back onto the mountain roads and the visibility became beyond poor, I was honestly just thinking ‘please let us not die’ as locals driving cars and buses still hurtled around corners towards us at a frightening pace. The Vietnamese have grown up on bikes, so put them in a bigger vehicle and they still drive as if they are on two wheels, swerving and having no concept of their actual width sitting halfway into the other lane.

I knew that the day would be finished with a sigh of relief and after a hellish hour or two we finally made it back – alive. Wet and cold, but we didn’t die! We celebrated our lives with one of the best meals of our trip at a local BBQ restaurant across the road from where we are staying and toasted with cold beers.

There is a romantic notion about exploring Vietnam on two wheels, and when the roads are quiet and the weather good, it’s easy to see why. The reality is, when it storms and other vehicles (normally far bigger than yours) drive incredibly dangerously, you are exposed in a way that is not matched by any other means of transport. I love that we have explored so much of this country on two wheels, but I am glad it has been more selective.

Sam’s weigh in

What.A.Day. The waterfalls and sunshine were beautiful, but it all turned a bit pear shaped on our drive home and it was scary stuff. Tim did SO well, like, I am married to the hero of scooter drivers cause he got us home in one piece. All I could think when I was clinging onto the back of the scooter was ‘What the hell is the emergency number in Vietnam?’ and then, ‘Does our travel insurance even cover this shit?’ Lessons to take away from a very, very memorable day.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s