This section from Di Linh to Phan Thiet is the twenty-third instalment of my bicycle ride from Yunnan to Cambodia – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Di Linh in the morning
Di Linh from our hotel window

We are woken by the sunlight peering through our curtains. I had chosen this hotel because of its excellent view over the valley behind Di Linh and with this morning sun drenching the fields and mountains in white gold, I’m even happier with my choice.

Katya and Mirek are also awake but since managing vegetarian food is becoming increasingly difficult, we each find our own food. Given the freedom of choice, we try something entirely new for me: Hu Tieu, a kind of goulash-like noodle soup. The beef inside is stewed to the point of falling apart and is very tasty. We load up on a few litres of water blended with tea drinks and then set off. Our two riding companions are still loading up, but we’re sure we’ll see them on the way.

Landfill on the QL28

Immediately after taking the QL28 off the busy QL20, the traffic dies out. We’re just left with a wavy road shared with a few motorcycles and the very odd car. It takes us through a few villages and parts of Di Linh with plenty of cafes and places to eat, with views over the sun-drenched valley but perfectly sheltered from the sun itself. If I’d known that, I’d have started my morning here.

The morning air is crisp but the sun is already making us sweat. A few climbs and downhills remind us that this is the fifth day without resting. True, the distances haven’t been exceptionally long, but I think that we should treat ourselves to a little break tomorrow.

Tu climbing
Tu climbing

We spot a resort, carefully located nearby some waterfalls. When we pass it, we stir up the beehive of easy riders and motorcycle tourists inside that come flying out.

We stop to greet some of them carrying a nice Dutch couple at the top of a climb and they point out an interesting weed whose root smells like Tiger Balm. It is indeed one of the ingredients and Tu decorates her bicycle with the stuff.

QL28 forest reserve panorama
The QL28 leads through a national forest reserve. All is quiet and beautiful.

After that we keep climbing to the highest point of our day at 1240m. It is probably the last climb of our ride, as we are headed for the coastal city of Phan Thiet, where we will follow the coastline on minor roads towards Vung Tau in order to take a ferry to Saigon. There are no more mountains or highlands until our goal of Siem Reap.

We’re very happy we took this road instead of the busy QL20 straight to Saigon. It may take an extra day to reach Saigon, but at least there’s no mind-numbing traffic and the views are beautiful. Also, it is unexplored terrain for me and I’m always happy to see something new.

an old tractor
Before industrial design became a thing

After we reach the summit, we get a few short downhills and then keep hanging in suspension on what is some sort of a plateau. With the exception of the forest management house, there isn’t a building to be spotted for miles until we reach Gia Bac (北家), a poor minority town.

We stop for some food at an odd restaurant whose sign is entirely in English. The owner is a majority Vietnamese man and his wife. He speaks relatively good English and is very interested in meeting foreign people. One of his daughters is living in America and they desperately want to send the other one off, too.

Mr Thanh
Mr Thanh and his guestbook, and the game of Chinese chess he’s losing

We order some fried vegetables, and play Chinese chess and drink a few beers while we wait for the food. Mr Thanh, because that is his name, keeps a guestbook with pictures and notes from people that stay and eat at his place. We find many entries from Belgium, USA, Canada, China and other places.

During lunch, he also explains that the minorities here are very poor and apparently a bit backward. Instead of eating their pigs, they just use their blood to write charms to cure disease, which proves rather ineffective.

A dog keeping watch over two sleeping pigs
A dog keeping watch over two sleeping pigs

Katya and Mirek had texted us that they had some mechanical trouble and were behind. When, after an 1.5 hours, we still see no sign, we decide to go on by ourselves. We say goodbye and head to the actual pass, from where it’s all downhill. In a few kilometres of narrow switchbacks, we lose 800m of altitude. The temperature shoots up and our bottles go pop with increased atmospheric pressure.

At the foot of the hill, we find in several farming villages on what is now an open plain. This also means that we have to battle the wind, but thanks to the gently sloping road, we’re able to make good time.

The Tutin consuming some ice cream
The Tutin consuming some ice cream

We take another break for coffee and coke and then pedal through ever larger fields. The main staples here are no longer coffee, but rather dragon fruit and rice. Dragon fruit (Thanh Long) is the fruit of a cactus-like tree.

It looks impressive with its red skin, green extensions, white flesh and black seeds. The tree itself too, looks like a crazy creation by God after a night of drinking. When really really ripe, the flesh tastes great: sweet and slightly tangy, with the seeds giving it a kiwi-like crunch. When not so ripe, it doesn’t taste half as impressive as it looks.

Dragonfruit trees bearing fruit
Dragonfruit trees bearing fruit

We make some more stops for ice cream and drinks but Katya and Mirek seem to be unable to catch up with us. So we just head into Phan Thiet alone. The actual distance would’ve been 98 km, but because we need to find a nice hotel and because Tu wants to ride a metric century (the mythical point of 100 km), we spin around town a bit before settling on the Sinh Tai hotel, in a quiet yet central neighbourhood.

Sundown at Phan Thiet's inner harbour
Sundown at Phan Thiet’s inner harbour

We shower, wash up and eventually the others also arrive. They had a broken shifter cable and messed around quite a bit before they got it fixed. Unfortunately, they had to do so in the scorching sun next to the smelly landfill we passed. Thank god we got to escape that!

Together we go on a food and drink binge before crashing into bed at 10pm.

Nonsensical blanket
Oh hello China

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *