Surviving the Highlands

One thing that can be said about the Central Highlands is that the terrain doesn’t change very much as you travel through the region.

After seeing mountains, paddies, karsts and coastal plains, often all in one day, during the first part of the ride, we would now see nothing but rolling hills, laterite dirt and scrub grass for several days.

Construction on the way to Pleiku

Day 17 took us from Ngọc Hồi to Kon Tum on a short 61 kilometer route.

It was a hot, sunny day, but there is always a breeze in the highlands that helps to wick the sweat away.

We were on the Hồ Chí Minh Highway, large stretches of which are quite bumpy in this part of the country.

Speeding down a pockmarked highway on a road bike with no suspension isn’t exactly comfortable.

We reached Kon Tum, a mid-size city, by midday and began to relax.

We enjoyed some amazing bún thịt nướng and took over a billiards hall for the evening, which left the team in good spirits.

The following day consisted of a 49 km cycle to Pleiku.

We expected this to be simple, but we heard from other people staying in our hotel that there was major road construction going on between the two cities.

It didn’t take long to hit the roadwork after setting off.

Large stretches of the highway were being repaved, so some areas were covered with gravel, while others were just dirt.

Tour buses and dump trucks rumbled past us constantly, leaving thick clouds of dirt in their wake and honking wildly.

A thunderstorm also hit part of our group, ensuring that this day wouldn’t be one of our favorites.

Hydrating on the road to Buôn Mê Thuột

After bumping along for a while the construction finally cleared up, allowing us to cruise into Pleiku covered in filth from the road.

The scenery had been rather dreary, and we were all happy to be out of the bone-rattling construction zone.

Day 19 was much longer, 100 km from Pleiku to Ea Drang, a small town straddling the Hồ Chí Minh Highway.

We were continuing our tour of the Central Highlands, having already passed through the provinces of Kon Tum and Gia Lai, and now entering Dak Lak.

This meant more rolling hills, sunshine and heat.

There was no construction on this part of the highway, and we cruised through the first 60 km.

Then, after stopping for a lunch of cơm tấm, things got much harder.

A nasty headwind kicked up, and the afternoon heat was brutal.

With 25 km to go I was exhausted.

Normally I can cover that distance in an hour at most, but going into the wind was a nightmare.

I was crawling along, as was everybody else.

With 5 km to go I stopped for a fresh coconut, and that got me through to Ea Drang.

The other 19 riders gradually arrived, and everyone seemed stunned by how difficult the second half of the day had been.

After all of the mountains we had climbed we weren’t expecting a relatively flat day to be so difficult.

The best bún thịt nướng in the world

Fortunately, the next day would bring us to our second rest day, in Buôn Mê Thuot, Việt Nam’s coffee capital.

It was a 77 km ride to the capital of Dak Lak province, and much of the distance was covered in back-breaking potholes.

Simply maintaining control of the bike was difficult at some points, and an element of sheer terror was added by the buses and trucks that hurtled past each other, barely missing us as they blasted down the highway at moronic speeds.

I lost track of the number of times I made a rude gesture and cursed at drivers.

I know it means nothing to them, but it felt good to scream every time they nearly steamrolled me.

The beautiful church in Buôn Hồ

Luckily we all made it through the gauntlet of buses and rough roads alive, and the last 20 km into Buôn Mê Thuột was mercifully smooth, meaning we arrived in good spirits.

We took advantage of the city’s supermarket and KFC, checked into our hotel and relaxed.

After taking the next 48 hours off from cycling we would only have five days left until we reached Hồ Chí Minh City.




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