Buon Ma Thout is a large, attractive city situated on the Central Highlands, a vast plateau (Tay Nguyen). While biking through Vietnam, I stopped in this city twice. Both of my stays here were enjoyable.
My day began in Nah Trang, and it was a difficult start. Soon after I got on the road, it began to rain.
I was leaving the shore once more and heading up into the Central Highlands. I didn’t want my day to begin with a soaking wet start.
To make matters worse, I ran into some roadwork, causing traffic. That wasn’t too horrible, and it wasn’t unusual either. But, to make matters worse, my bike began to malfunction. It was acting as if it didn’t have any gas. I have to maintain the engine spinning at a high RPM or it would bog down. The engine eventually came to a halt and refused to restart. This occurred in the midst of a torrential downpour.
Fortunately, there was a petrol station nearby, so I pulled the bike there and waited for the rain to stop. When I called Tigit Motorbikes, the woman told me to take the bike to a mechanic and then call her back. I couldn’t find a mechanic anywhere, so I ate a bite and waited for the rain to stop.
I decided to try starting the bike again once the rain had ceased. It got going right away! WTF? Because I didn’t think I’d be able to explain the problem the bike was having to a mechanic, I opted to continue on my trip. This issue would persist with the bike until I was able to get it fixed in Hanoi. When it began to rain, the engine would bog down, struggle, and occasionally die. I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the sparkplug covers had failed, allowing the sparkplug to become moist. With the help of electricians tape, the mechanic in Hanoi was able to repair it.
Back on the road, I was looking forward to putting some miles on the clock, but I was concerned about my bike. It was important to me that it didn’t break down in the middle of nowhere. But the longer things proceeded without a hitch, the better it made me feel.
On my approach to the mountains, I traveled through a number of little towns. I pulled over for a drink and a rest after about an hour on the road. I came to a halt near a mechanic in case the bike failed to restart.
There was a daycare or someone minding the local kids just next to where I got my drinks. All of the children came out to greet each other.
Fortunately, it didn’t rain much the remainder of the day for me. Although it appeared to be ominous, the worst of it had already passed.
I had to climb up into the mountains, but it wasn’t too difficult.
The area that wound its way through the mountains was lush and beautiful. If my memory serves me well, I came across a lengthy stretch of road construction. Riding through construction zones in Vietnam is a unique experience. Everyone just rides their scooters through. You simply try to stay away from the excavators and steamrollers while navigating the construction zone on your own. I primarily just attempted to keep up with what other people were doing.
Around 8:00 a.m., I began cycling. I was out of the mountains and into the Central Highlands by 11:00 a.m.
This region’s climate, geography, vegetation, and towns were all markedly different.
In this area, things just seemed a little more rustic.
I came to a halt at midday to get a drink and take a break. I came to a halt across from a lake. At a little building near the lake, a group of guys and a lady were across the street from me. One of them motioned for me to come over and join them. I parked my bike and sat down next to them.
Joining a gathering of strangers with nothing in common language made me feel weird at first. They were, however, really pleasant, and the one who spoke the most English asked numerous questions and interpreted. It didn’t take long for me to feel more at ease.
They were drinking vodka and eating little birds while hanging out. We spoke and laughed a lot. They kept feeding me vodka shots, but I still had 100 kilometers to drive. Despite my protests, one of the guys raced to the store and purchased me a beer after I mumbled something about preferring beer.
They insisted that I consume the birds. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I don’t eat skin, bones, feet, heads, or intestines in my food. All of those things appeared to be contained in one small package in these.
I tried one and found it to be quite tasty. There was a strong lemongrass flavor to it, as well as something savory. The head and brains of the bird resembled a hardboiled egg yoke more than anything else. But one was sufficient for me, and I lacked any more.
I inquired as to the nature of the birds. They looked like baby chickens to me. One of the guys made a shooting-with-a-rifle gesture and pointed at several flying sparrows.
This group was a lot of fun, and their generosity and kindness truly humbled me. They were the first to invite me to join them at their table. The further north I went, the more invitations I received. Maybe it was because the more I stayed in Vietnam, the more I encountered Vietnamese friendliness. It was shaping out to be a fantastic day, despite the rain, construction, and bike issues that had begun the day.
I said my goodbyes and thank yous and got back on the road after an hour or so of shooting shots of vodka and drinking beer.
On the way, I took in the sights and felt re-energized.
The terrain was primarily flat farmland, and the riding was easy and enjoyable.
I began photographing the billboards. Vietnam’s fashion style is quite distinct from those of other countries. Similar billboards could be found in Laos, however the artists in Vietnam appeared to be a little more talented.
I came to a halt next to the road at an abandoned amusement park.
The weather improved, and it turned out to be a very lovely ride.
Around 2:00 p.m., I arrived in BMT. Because I was seeking in the wrong section of town, it took me a while to find a motel. I eventually found a fairly wonderful room that only cost approximately $15.
I went to get my bike’s oil changed. The lady at Tigit had warned me that I’d have to replace the oil virtually every day. The bikes weren’t built to be ridden for 7-8 hours in a row. It wasn’t a big concern because oil changes were normally $5-$10.
I returned to the motel after the oil change and parked my bike for the night. After that, I headed out on foot in search of food and beer.
Cafe Rider was located on the same street as my hotel. I looked it up on Google Maps, but it doesn’t appear to exist any longer. It was a cool location, with ancient motorcycles and scooters adorning the interior.
It was a really cool spot, and I spent a few hours here drinking beer and reading my book.
A group of high school aged teens were having a birthday celebration at one of the other tables. A group of them approached my table and asked if I needed any cake at one point. Normally, I’m not a big fan of cake, but it was such a thoughtful gesture. I had no choice except to say yes.
The cake was delicious, and I was moved by the children’s generosity toward a stranger. I departed after a bit to go get some food. I went over to the party table and expressed my gratitude for the cake as well as wishing the birthday girl a happy birthday.
I found a decent restaurant and had a nice meal. After that, I walked back to my hotel after it was dark.
For me, it was a fantastic day of riding. Even though things didn’t go well at first, the Vietnamese folks made it a memorable day for me. Vietnam had been fine up to this point. It was simply an enjoyable location to ride. Vietnam felt like a special location to me after that day. It wasn’t just the lovely country I was passing through; other countries are as lovely. Vietnam rapidly became my favorite place because of its welcoming and gracious people.
People still ask me what my favorite country is after I’ve visited 25 of them over the years. I often say this: “My next favorite nation isn’t even close to Vietnam. Vietnam is a very other animal.”
Fortunately for me, this was only the beginning of a fantastic trip to Vietnam. As I continue my road trip, I hope you’ll join me for my next post.