This section from Thanh My to Kham Duc is the seventeenth instalment of my bicycle ride from Yunnan to Cambodia – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

The day begins brilliantly as both of us awake at 8.30am in an almost perfectly quiet hotel room on a perfectly hard bed (we both like hard mattresses). To make matters even better, the sun is shining outside and the smell of rainforest humidity creeps through our bathroom window. The latter pleases me more than Tu, who seems to be well used to hot tropical humidity. For me, it invariably conjures up memories of holidays and adventure.

We pay a visit to Hai Lua, our beloved country bumpkin, who seems to have at least a vague recollection of who we are after last night presumed drinking spree with his friends and newly-weds. A lot less talkative but no less smiling, he gets to work and serves some of the best bun we’ve had in a while. To our relief, the liquor he had promised to share does not appear on the table – I’m sure it’s the last thing he wants to sniff today.

Hai Lua makes us a great Bún to start the day!
Hai Lua makes us a great Bún to start the day!

We leave in a perfect mood and roll over the undulating road along the river. It’s hot out but people ask us if we’re not cold. They’re obviously used to hotter days. We enjoy the almost traffic- and dust-free Ho Chi Minh highway. Such a relief after riding on the coast for a few days.

Today’s Ho Chi Minh highway coincides with what during the Vietnam war was called the Ho Chi Minh trail: a vast maze of footpaths and trails through the thick mountainous jungle in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos that served as a smuggling network for weapons and supplies for Vietnamese freedom fighters in the Vietnam war.

River to Kham Duc
The river we follow pretty much all the way to Kham Duc

Not all the trails have been paved, but the Ho Chi Minh highway still encompasses more than one road: the QL14 A through E and the QL15. The new road was in fact constructed to siphon off traffic from the overcrowded Highway 1, but apparently without much success. I cannot see why: it’s a lot safer and cleaner than the 1A, and the detour is often just 100 km long.

The heat and direct sunlight seem to be a problem for Tu, who’s increasingly struggling to get on. After crossing the bridge to the other side of the river, especially, the going gets tough. But a few good rests in the shade and plenty of water seem to do the trick. On we ride!

First rest
First rest

The scenery is absolutely beautiful. Thick vegetation on the hillsides show human newcomers that mother nature gets what she wants in the end. Immensely tall trees rise up from between the green coat, reaching high to seize their much-needed sunlight, and a myriad of small waterfalls crash into the river on their way to the sea in Da Nang.

Two eagles frolic in the sky and sit on a branch. Unfortunately, they’re still too far away to photograph, but what majestic birds! Other interesting sightings include small lizards, a completely bright blue-backed bird, a bird with two long appendages to its wings, tame boars and the ubiquitous stupid-looking-water-buffalo-in-a-pond.

Three pigs
Three pigs

When Tu needs another rest a bit later, the weather gets a bit darker. Clouds move in and the temperature drops noticeably. The silence on the road is eerie, but it does not rain. We realise we’ll need some food and extra drinks soon, but we don’t see any places for a long while, so we keep fighting.

As the valley narrows, the road undulates more and more strongly and it’s starting to take its toll on Tu. Severe exhaustion sometimes gets her muscles in a cramp, including the muscles around her heart, which always results in hyperventilation, serious pain and extreme stiffness and energy depletion afterwards. We’re unfortunate enough to have it happen today and we’re out for an hour.

No one home in this roadside café
No one home in this roadside café

Fortunately she recovers quickly and we’re able to go on for a while more, even though she feels very weak. After a few kilometres, however, only 9 km before today’s goal of Kham Duc, she needs to give up. Her leg muscles are completely cramped stiff and she’s unable to ride another metre. A private house-turned-cafe by the roadside is open but there’s no sign of the owners. So we just grab some tea from the kettle and piss off before the dogs get angry.

A helpful man on a motorcycle agrees to take her and her bicycle to Kham Duc. She holds the bicycle while I take her luggage and her saddle on my own bike. Having exchanged my emotional for a physical burden, I am more or less able to continue at my own rhythm and I power up what I think is the last hill before Kham Duc.

Loading a bike on a motorbike
Salvation on wheels. It’s kind of hard what’s going on here, but from front to back: driver, Tu, her bicycle!

Turns out I was slightly mistaken, and that my battle with that diesel truck wasn’t a particularly good idea. The climb is a lot longer than I think and is quickly followed by another climb. My legs quickly sour but eventually I roll into Kham Duc, sweaty and salty. Upon checking my Strava app, I’m happy to find out I’ve won a King of the Mountain award for one of my climbs!

Tu’s already made some friends at a stop, one of which turns out to manage the best hotel in town, the Be Chau Giang Hotel. She had used her charm to negotiate a price of 200.000 VND for a room, and it turns out to be the best room I’ve had since I’d left Kunming.

I thought this was pretty
I thought this was pretty

Riding through town, we see some foreigners crossing the street. The hotel manager explains that they are Russians and that they belong to a much larger group of foreigners that rents a huge chunk of his hotel. They are here working for foreign mining companies.

Once in our hotel, where all the staff speak marvellous English, we take a hot shower, wash some of our clothes and then go out for a big bowl of gruel with goat and chicken meat, followed by common-people rice (Com Binh Dan, 平民饭) with meat rolls, omelet, pork ribs and several vegetables. 60.000 VND for the whole meal!

Cafe with library at Kham Duc
This café at Kham Duc has an extensive library! How cool!

Tu’s exhausted so we make tonight an early one. We agree that she will take the bus to Kontum tomorrow and I will try to make it to Kontum as soon as I can. If I take only the very necessary, I can make it in one day (and ironically won’t even need the very necessary), otherwise I may have to stay a night in Plei Kan.

Good night!

2 thoughts on “Slap the Belgian! Sunny Christmas Ride”

  1. Beste Sander en Tu,

    Jullie hebben de beste fiets tocht gemaakt! De eerste maand is altijd niet gemakkelijk! Maar geloof me dat jullie het kan doen!

    Groetjes,
    Vicky En Raggie

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