ABC+ Tour

Bleeksie enjoys a milk tea in Dong Phu In other news from Vietnam, Ash, Bleeksie, Ci and Frederik enjoyed 5 days’ riding in the Central Highlands in dry but sometimes freezing conditions—courtesy of a once in 40 years cold front that’s still making things chilly in the inadequately heated Larkin mansion in Hanoi. Jeez, Matt, come on.

Ci is a good friend of ours from Hoi An who runs the famous Mia Cafe, the local equivalent to LSR. He’s recently gotten into cycling in a big way and was keen to come along when I proposed a 5 day trip into the hills. Concerned he wouldn’t be able to keep up, Ci went and organised a 16 seater minibus to be our backup vehicle. This brought undreamt-of levels of comfort and convenience to our touring experience. Nice one, Ci.Ci tucks into a bowl of organic porridge in Kham Duc The plan was for we three to ride for three days, then to meet up with Frederik and families for a bit more cycling and some and some Khatu village homestays in the uplands.

Day 1 was a relatively chilled 100km along quiet and picturesque rural backroads up towards the mountains. After a mostly flat ride through the rice paddies, then some climbing past dams and acacia plantations, we arrived at the jungle along the Lao border and our home for the next two nights, Kham Duc. This frontier town had been the scene of a goldrush in the 1990s, and I’d heard things about it being pleasant as a result of the wealth this generated. The rumours were true. We found a friendly and relaxed town with an excellent hotel and some brilliant food.

The first sign of this friendliness came in the form of “Milk Tea Girl.” As we rolled into town we noticed a milk-tea sign, and all paid close attention since earlier that day we’d each had an awesome dose of this beverage, replete with chocolate syrup and exploding raspberry sago pearls. The next thing we noticed was a set of very long legs protruding from behind the stall out onto the street. Ci immediately fell in love with Milk Tea Girl, owner of said legs. Bleeksie and I are not entirely sure what transpired, but the next morning Ci was invited to brew up his organic porridge hipster food in her kitchen while we waited outside in the stall eating noodles.
Yet another waterfall on the Dak Glei road
Day 2 saw us tackle a demanding 120km out and back course to Dak Glei, which takes you over the Spring Pass twice. This climb is a triple-headed monster that takes you up to 1100m and takes about 80 minutes to climb. Luckily we had mostly cool overcast weather, and the amazing jungle scenery studded with waterfalls helps take your mind off the pain. On the way back up the pass after lunch (even steeper than the northern side) it was rumoured Bleeksie grabbed onto the side of a slow-moving lorry. The UCI is currently investigating this case of suspected mechanical doping.Ci conquers Spring Pass (in the van) At the end of a gruelling day we were glad to see Kham Duc and Milk Tea Girl again.

Day 3 saw us heading back north 120km to meet up with Frederik (based in Danang) and families in Bhohoong village. This ride involved yet more spectacular jungle scenery and good quality, quiet roads. After a nice descent to Thanh My for lunch, we set about the business end of the day: an 8km climb at 5% closely followed by an 11km climb also at 5%. The cool temperatures made these bad boys much more enjoyable than usual.

The families arrived before us and reportedly the first thing the kids witnessed was a snake being clubbed to death in front of the bungalows. Welcome to Khatu country. Rest assured this was not wanton slaughter:  somebody ate the snake. After processing that one, our kids enthusiastically joined in the local childrens’ games around the buffalo sacrifice altar. Luckily it was not buffalo sacrifice season.
Day 4 saw Frederik join the riders, bringing with him the new, Bleeksie-designed Velo Vietnam jerseys from our manufacturer in Danang. Today and tomorrow were to be shorter rides allowing us to meet up with families and explore some local sites. The first of these was the beautiful waterfall below the Tay Giang turnoff, getting to which involved some passing of children (and some adults) across the fast-flowing river.

After a baguette lunch by the waterfall, we made our way to Tay Giang town and our accommodation for the night, another Khatu village. The evening’s entertainment was to involve a show by a Khatu song and dance troupe. Prior to the performance, we invited the members of the group to eat (and drink) with us. The Khatu brew two types of alcohol, the better of which is a very palatable ginseng rice wine called ruou bakich. (Don’t ask what the other one tastes like.) Early in the evening I overheard someone saying Khatu women are very good drinkers. Later in the evening I glanced down the other end of the communal house and saw Bleeksie trading shots with three of these ladies. I asked one of our hosts what the alcohol content of the ruou bakich was and he said “Not to worry, it has ginseng in it, so the cure is in the poison. You never get a hangover with this stuff.” If I recall correctly, this was the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il’s theory about Korean ginseng wine. This truth did not seem to apply to Bleeksie, however, who ended up having a bit of an episode outside the stilt house.

Day 5 started with a visit to a local school where we were able to make a small donation. Some of the Khatu junior high school students kindly gave our kids a mini tour around their school. As many have to walk for 3 hours to get to it, this has become a boarding school with a kitchen that provides much better meals than the kids would get at home. Meanwhile, the cyclists watched a kickass game of volleyball that was in progress.
Then it was on to the main event of the day: assault on Cinammon Peak, which goes for over 14km at an average of 5%, with some long, steep pinches. Despite his adventures the night before, Bleeksie conquered this beast in just over an hour. Frederik made it to the top after a little rest on the way, and Ci, after a little crash the day before, came up in comfort in the van. It was so cold at the top we decided there was no dishonour in getting in the van for the descent and the trip back to Hoi An. Once home we repaired to the Irish pub for some stouts, ciders, burgers and, on Ci’s part, fond reminisces about Milk Tea Girl…