Thursday 31 January : Dinh Van to Lat Ho (Ho Lake): 112km and 1200m of climbing

Bernie woke coughing at 4am and I was awake soon after. We pottered around but it was still 6.15 before we were ready to leave. The town’s lake – surrounded by flower stalls – looked lovely in the early morning light.

This is the point where we stopped going eastward and started going north. So we struck off north on the QL27 – which is a Vietnamese “B” road. It was paved (in places) and was not too busy. We knew from the maps that we started the day with a 500m climb from the town at 840m to the top at about 1340m. It was steady but not too steep. The road passed numerous villages and the morning rush hour was in full swing, with motorbikes, stalls, buses and the occasional animal all constricting the carriageway.

We manoeuvred our bikes through the melee, and managed not to knock anyone over. Both of us were feeling a bit weary from our efforts yesterday and the enforced early morning, but fitness kicked in and we ambled up the hills.

The valleys were cultivated right to the top. This was not remote mountain scenery or jungle, despite being higher than anywhere before on this trip. Coffee and cassava seemed the dominant crops, but there were also planted pine forests and crops we could not identify.

The surface deteriorated as we got higher, and was particularly bad on the steep descent. A mountain bike would have been better in places.

We stopped at a cafe that advertised coffee. They had fresh coffee but our efforts to get black, brewed coffee without sugar were pretty unsuccessful. It came in a micro-cafetiere, but the process did not really work and we ended up spilling it and having coffee to drink with granules in it. It was unclear if the equipment or us were the problem – probably a mixture of the 2.

These are the mountains we descended from

Next we struggled along the valley on very poor roads, with the track going up and down. This was a populated area but significantly poorer than some of the places close to HCMC. Then we started another descent and, miraculously, the surface was smooth and new. We swung down from about 1000m to 500m in jungle with wonderful bends to swoop around. Half way down we met a (grumpy) German wearing flip-flops and wheeling his bike on his own up the hill. He was only going to the top but seemed to have given up trying to cycle. A bit further down we met a Dutch couple who were cycling without helmets and he carried a guitar on the back of his bike. They were on the way to Dalat to try to get a new back wheel for his mountain bike (to support the guitar). We chatted for a few minutes, swapped route information and then said our good byes. These chance encounters with other touring cyclists on the road are part of the fun of travelling.
The day was heating up and the poor surface meant we were making slow progress. We stopped for lunch – the inevitable but welcome Pho – after 70km at a small town. There is a great deal of eating out in Vietnam – as there is in Thailand (less in Cambodia). It can be cheaper to eat out than to buy food and prepare oneself and many Thai homes are now built without a kitchen (a bit like apartments in New York). It was good and we were refreshed.

On we went through the fields and scrubland, and eventually crossed the river at the head of Lake which has no name on the map (or on googlemaps come to that). But there were floating houses in the lake and children playing in the water. We knew this was the beginning of the last climb of the day, but it was slightly frustrating. We climbed 70m, then the road bobbled about and dropped back almost to the altitude we had started at, and then we climbed again. It was about 250m of climbing to go up from 500m to 650m – but the scenery was pretty good and, by now, the heat of the day had started to fall off. There appeared to be a lot more peasant farming with small simple houses with a few paddy felds and maybe some pigs and cattle.
Then our second glorious descent of the day – also on good roads. We overtook motorbikes as we navigated the bends, just touching the brakes from time to time to keep everything in control. The final 12 km along the valley was tough as, by that stage, we were knackered. But we were determined to reach Lake Ho, which had such a good write up in the guidebook. We passed more rural scenes with emerald green paddy fields stretching across the valley floor, cattle and buffalo.

By the time we got to the Lake– about 3.30 – we were wiped out. But tea with lemon and a shower revived us. Lake Ho is the largest natural lake in Central Vietnam. There are bigger reservoirs but this lake has supported fishing communities for generations. They belong to a minority tribe and live in long houses, which we saw on an early evening stroll. Unfortunately, by the time we had recovered, the wind had got up and was blowing a gale and it was overcast. It made the lake look pretty uninviting, with only brave souls venturing out on boats into the wavy waters. However I can see that, on a calm summer’s evening, it must be delightful.
So, all in all, a good but tiring day, mainly due to poor road surfaces (lots of unpaved sections and juddering on the hands, arm and necks) and due to being tired from the previous day. But it sets us up well to explore the central section of Vietnam, heading towards Kon Tum.

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