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April 9th 2013
Published: April 27th 2013
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Dalat Mountain BikingDalat Mountain BikingDalat Mountain Biking

Trying to look like I know what I'm doing
Dalat was a brief, one-night stopover on our way to Saigon from Nha Trang, reached after a four hour bus ride up an incredibly twisty road. The main objective was to see a little bit of the apparently quirky town, and sample some of the local mountain biking trails.

And quirky it was. Dalat was probably the most unusual place we visited, I can only describe it as an odd cross between a run-down alpine resort and a counterfeit Disneyland. Grand, French-built houses were dotted about in the surrounds of the large, man made lake just outside of Dalat's centre, a TV aerial made to look like the Eiffel Tower looms in the distance, and kitschy touches like the 'Valley of Love' - a romance orientated theme park - are in abundance. It's also much cooler here than the rest of Vietnam, the high altitude resulting in temperatures hovering around a much more pleasant 20 degrees. This also makes it a great place for adventure sports, like the mountain biking we'd be pursuing.

The next day, quite soon into the ride, it became clear that the bike tour operators - apparently the best in town - had made it sound like a fair easier task than it was. The climb up to the beginning of the downhill trail we'd been promised was relentless, and our guide seemed to have little concept of distance. For example, after climbing for another couple of miles after asking how much further until the downhill bit, it was clear his estimation of 100 metres was a little off. Rach really struggled, catching up to us whenever we stopped for a break red-faced and well out of breath.

We finally reached the downhill trail, which started off as a reasonably steep but fairly unchallenging wide track. This soon tightened into a very technical piece of single track in particularly poor condition. Large rocks, holes, tree roots jutting across at various angles and a sizable drop either side could all be counted among the various hazards we had to navigate. I charged down the ever steepening track with the other guy on our tour, pushing myself and the bike to the limit. Despite a few hairy moments, we both made it to the bottom unscathed. Rach, however, was less fortunate. After waiting for what seemed like quite a while, I thought she may well have come off. Sure enough, she came into view and gingerly rode down to where we'd stopped, blood teeming down her right leg. The other guide who was supposed to be at the rear of our group got bored of riding at Rach's pace, and decided to hang back for ages so he could get a good run at the descent and enjoy himself, rather than doing his job. As a result, poor Rach had to pick herself up and get going, when it was apparent that help was nowhere near. To top all that the guide in question seemed like an absolute tool, with no words of encouragement to say whatsoever.

After Rach had her leg cleaned up, we continued on for a little bit, but it was clear the ride was a bit too much for my poor, battered wife. The other chap continued on the route, while we left the trail with the nicer of the two guides, in hope of getting an early lift back to Dalat. On the way we ran into another group who'd also struggled on the same route. Rach was able to get her lift back with them, but with no more room the only option for me was to cycle back to Dalat with the guides. I didn't mind this so much, despite a punishing climb over a few miles, it was great to see more countryside, and have fascinated children wave and say hello to this strange outsider pedaling through their village.

After reuniting and resting up for a little while, we jumped on a coach to Saigon, leaving this strange place and a rather mixed experience behind. We'd originally wanted to get a sleeper bus to Saigon, but finding stuff to do in Dalat until 10pm and arriving in Saigon at 4-5am didn't really appeal, so we opted to hot-foot it to our next destination as soon as we could, and spend another night at the swanky hotel we'd decided to splurge on for our last destination. Despite being in the day though, it was still a sleeper bus. In one of these, you're placed in a chair that doesn't go fully up, or fully down, while your legs are cocooned in a plastic bin type thing. If you're anything over 5'6", you'll struggle to fit properly. I'm 6'1".


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