Bicycle Diaries #1 Vietnam: The “High” way to Kontum

How it begins…

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During my stay in a hostel on the beachfront of Danang, one of the staff reccomended that I visit Kon Tum. A mountain town of inland, central Vietnam. Kon Tum is her hometown, and she guaranteed me that it was a beautiful interesting place.

“You should go to Kon Tum” she said.

“It is my hometown, It is beautiful there. It has alot of nature, I think it is even better than Da Lat (apparently Da Lat , also an inland mountain town, is meant to be awesome)”

With taht in mind I said: “Cool, I’ll go”

Fast forward 3 days later, eating some delicous vegan food and helping a charming french girl find the proclaimed best Bahn Mi ( Vietnamese sandwich ) in Vietnam ( not so much to that story, we found the sandwhich and she ate it, apparently not the best after all), I began my cycle trip to Kon Tum!

Hold up… cycle trip… cycle… when did I get a bicycle?

Oh yeah I forgot to mention. So the original plan of my entire trip was to buy a bicycle when I landed in Hanoi and cycle down the length of Vietnam to Saigon (Ho Chi Min City). But, when you travel, plans change. Instead I got swept up in the flow of everything, and ended up in Da Nang, basically the middle of Vietnam. There I decided that I would still continue with the idea of my cycle trip and just start from Da Nang and head through the mountains to Saigon. Visiting Kon Tum and Da Lat on the way.  Which I did. I bought a mountain bike with some touring gear in Da Nang and set out on my way, via Hoi An.

So now I am officialy a “cycle tourist”, or as I like to call it: a “Daring Adventuring Bicycle Cowboy!” or just “Bicycle Cowboy”, for short.

I spent a few days in Hoi An and then cycled to Tam Ky and the next day to Quang Ngai, roughly 100 KM on a coastal highway called Highway 1.

From Quang Ngai I started going inland, and that was  when the real fun started. After 10Km on the highway I shot right onto a small rickity road called the “624B”. This road took me through a lively but peaceful and scenic village along the river, with meadows and farmers animating the background as I cycled. I even stopped and had home brewed green tea with a one eyed, toothless man outside of a village school. He was sitting with a Bahn Mi seller and her husband. He called me over and we sat and shared the same cup of tea while trying to make small talk using Vietnamese, English and hand gestures.

The 624B merged with the main road I would be cycling until Kon Tum called road 24. It was filled with road works and smily faces up until my rest stop in Ba To.

In Ba To I ate some bad fried Banana and got food poisoning, setting me back a day. But, I enjoyed the calm of town and got to see some kids doing Karate in the park late at night.

With my stomach slightly settled, and my body at about 75%, I tackled the most demanding mountain road I have ever encountered! Incline, upon incline, upon endless incline! Up and up I peddaled with small breaks of downhill, then up and up again. My legs were on fire and I was swimming in sweat.

At one point a caring Vietnamese scootered by and noticed my immense agony, so he decided to try help me over some of the shin shatteringly steep roads. First, we tried pushing the bicycle as I sat on the backseat of his scooter, but that was really awkward for both of us and we were getting no where. Then we tried hoisting the entire bicycle on my lap and drove like that for a while,  but he couldnt go very fast and the pedals were sticking into his back. So we decided to use one of the straps I was using to tie my bag on the back of my bike as a tow rope. Finally, Something that worked!

I tied the one end of the strap to the front of my bicycle and the other end to the back of his scooter and we were off like a rocket. Blasting over potholes and gravelly roads,  zooming up the inclines with ease. And all I had to do was steer. But, we were generating so much power that the inivitable strain on the strap caused it to break on one especially gravely incline. Luckily, it was right next to a mountain guard patrol house. Determined to keep us going, the sly scooter driver snuck onto the patio of the guard post and stole the rope from the hammock hanging carefree between two pillars of the house. With a grin he ran back and quickly tied us together again. All I could was laugh, and be grateful to whoevers hammock that was. “Thanks, sorry to inconvenience your napping facillities” .

With a new rope we were stronger than ever and relaunched into rocket mode with even more gusto. Houstan we have lift off!

After speeding our way up and down the great mountainous road to the jeers of the truckers and scooterists we passed for a good 10 minutes, we suddenly stopped and my co-pilot signaled to me that the road starts to even out from here. We shook hands, I gave him some “lunch money” and we parted ways.

From then on though, the road DID NOT even out, and was pretty much the same as before, incline after incline, with little rest bate.

After several hours of cycling, towing and walking( yes I pushed my bike up some of those hills, it was either that or cry while hugging my aching limbs whispering “there is no place like home, there is no place like home”), I miraculously reached the mountain top national park of Mang den. There  I stayed at a cafe/hotel called “Cafe Hotel” and rested my petrified pedal pushers.

The next morning I psyched myself up and mounted my steed with determination and  yesterdays tribulations still flickering in the flames of my burning thighs.

Steadfast but expecting the worst, I began cycling, every revolution pulling torturingly tight on my leg muscles.

“This is going to kill me” I thought.

Then… Paradise… the road started to straighten and even more so, it dipped… tremendously into what can only be describe as a wonder of a road called “Euphoria”…

 

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