Friday 1st February. Ho Lak to Pong D’Rang. 92km. 850m climbing.

We have had some tough days since HCM City so decided to give ourselves an easier day today. Having splashed out an extra #1.50 for a “VIP room” with a huge picture window overlooking the lake we had a lie in (ie did not set the alarm for 5.15am and opened my eyes at 6 as it was getting light). We had coffee and breakfast in bed looking at the early morning light on the lake. We slowly packed up but were still on the road soon after 7.30am.

The first 10km were glorious as we rode round the lake and across the valley. Yellow light, green paddy fields and stunning surrounding hills. However the best laid plans do not always work and things soon changed after we had climbed a small ridge and wound through a few hills when we found ourselves in a different world – the world of modern Vietnam.

Buffalo on their way into the fields for the day
And the buffalo minder..

Busy roads and almost continuous development for the next 35km as we followed the road into the large city of Buon Ma Thuot (pronounced Boon me Tote or Burn my Tart or “BMT” as we referred to it as we could not cope with the full pronunciation).

Coming into the city we found ourselves on a large dual carriage way (not too busy) but, as the city is billed as the coffee capital of Vietnam, finding a coffee shop had to be our first port of call. We soon found a small coffee shop where we had an excellent cup of freshly brewed coffee. In Vietnam coffee shops only sell drinks but no food so the next hunt was for food. As a rarity there seemed to be a distinct lack of food shops or restaurants. However, aided once again by google maps we found a ‘mega supermarket’ just off our route. The shop could have been a large supermarket in Kidderminster – with very many of the same brands. Only a tiny proportion of the population shop at such places at the moment (and I refused to pay 50,000 dong for 1kg of bananas when we get them for 10,000 dong/kilo from street stalls and they are nicer) but, it was useful to stock up on some bits and pieces.

We then cycled out of the city along leafy tree lined boulevards – much nicer than our way in. However, we then hit our main problem of the day – WIND. We had a strong side wind most of the morning but were now changing direction into the teeth of the wind. The weather forecast said the winds were 17km/hr with gusts of 22km/hr. It seemed more ‘gust’ than anything and was tough going. We had taken a more minor road to avoid the heavy traffic out of the city but then had a triple whammy of strong headwind, poor road surface and a continuous 300m climb. I was finding it particularly difficult as the gusts would drive me back, so David took more of my weight from my panniers.

It may not look like it – but this road went uphill at 2% for 15km – and the quality of the surface was pretty terrible!

The km slowly ticked off passing coffee and pepper and a large rubber plantation (which provided a brief windbreak). We were glad to stop as planned where our road met the main road again. Our ‘easy’ day had also accumulated 850m of climbing so although not as much as the last few days, that and the wind left us with heavy legs.

Rubber trees with cups to capture the sap

We soon revived. It did not take long to look round our environs – the busy main road and a few side roads with the usual busy market of fresh produce. As much ‘real’ Vietnam as anywhere else but a world away from where we had started the day.

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