Coffee Mountain High

We shuttled early out of Nha Trang three hours south to the turnoff for Dalat. Minh played a Christmas carol tape and it was funny to think it was Christmas Eve as we drove into Vietnam's low desert area. The sun was bright and it was satisfying to see everyone lathering on sunscreen. After a brief stop at Po Nagar Cham ruins and photos of the cactus fields we saddled up and filed down the road for what would be an all-day truly epic ride.

40 miles up the road past poor rice villages, a few inhabited by Vietnam's Cham population, lies the Ngoan Muc Pass that snakes for ten long miles up onto the Central Highlands Plateau. For those who had not had enough by then, there would be another five mile climb after that to reach Dalat.

The sweltering heat felt good as the sweat rolled off. The lighter traffic on this side road was an extra bonus. Horst was soon gone, as was Jim -- flying up the pass and leaving the rest of us to push one leg at a time. By the top of Ngoan Muc, clouds had rolled in and the weather cooled a lot. A few of us opted for the van having already spent several hours in the saddle. Barbara determinedly pedaled onto our rendezvous with bus, finishing the hardest ride of her life.

However, most of the group went on and finished the ride in semi-darkness. David spent 8 hours in the saddle - the longest, and hardest ride he had ever done. We celebrated an epic riding day and Christmas Eve with beers, hot pot soup and rice wine Tim and Barbara had picked up.

The next day we explored Dalat under sunny skies in T-Shirts, rolling past the ubiquitous villas, pine forests, strawberry and coffee fields to the Valley of Love - a popular destination of Saigon tourists.

That evening we had a delcious Christmas meal in the city center where Santa took the form of Debbi and David who doled out presents to the group, including a can of Texas Spam to Ichibod who had earlier claimed there was no finer training food.


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This 16-day bicycling tour by twelve Americans and Canadians involved traveling the length of Vietnam, from Hanoi to Saigon, with plenty of time to stop and see the uniqueness of the cities and people along the way. Although cyclists ranged in ability from beginner to champion racer, all found a way to explore Vietnam at their own pace and in the best way possible -- as most locals do -- on two wheels.

This diary was written and updated each day during the trip as it happened during the tour according to the perspective of the author who makes no claims of accuracy to the events happening as described herein.

As we approached thePo Nagar Cham ruins Tim was moved to break out into Tai Chi. It was that kind of day for all of us. Soldiers working on road detail near Phan Rang ham it up during a break. Hot? Thier helmets were for sale - $1 US. Picnic half way up the pass. Nuts, sodas, bananas and sticky rice to fuel tired legs as Barbara contemplates the climb ahead.

Debbi and David wind thier way up ten mile Ngoan Muc Pass into the Central Highlands. The day would be much longer with David arriving in Dalat over four hours later.

The pine forests cover the red earth hills around Dalat -- if not for the hundreds of French villas and maze of boulevards it could be Lake Tahoe.

Barbara explores Hang Nga's treehouse, called the "crazy house" by locals, it is a maze of passages, wacky statues and caged animals. It also serves as a guesthouse with theme rooms.
Dalat has a very large Catholic population, some of whom are shown here celebrating Mass on Christmas day. The Lam Ti Ni Pagoda in Dalat is home to a sole monk who has become the richest man in the city by selling his paintings to tourists. Debbi and Jim take yet another break! This time on the scenic grounds of the Dalat Palace Hotel during our ride around the city. Jim fought the urge to nod off.
Photographs by VeloAsia 1999 [More Photos]

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