Riding through the lesser known towns and villages of central Vietnam was an unforgettable experience; if you like meeting people, understanding cultures and traditions and eating delicious food then this is the tour for you. You don’t even have to know how to ride a motorbike or scooter.
Hong from Original Vietnam Easy Riders was recommended to us by a friend who had taken a trip with him previously. We arranged the booking in advance over email and arrived with excited anticipation.
Da lat to Hoi An – a 6 day and 5 night tour, riding between 50 and 160km daily. Overnight stays in Ho Lak, Buon Ma Thout, Pleiku, Kon Tum and Kham Duc. Prices dependent on destination/number of days. Agreed price includes Easy Rider tour guides, motorbike hire, helmet, fuel, overnight accommodation and entry to sights/attractions. Price does not include food & drink.
If you are not an experienced or confident rider it is possible to have an Easy Rider guide per person and it is comfortable to travel as a passenger on the bike as well as having your bag strapped to the back of the bike. It will be covered in polythene sheeting to protect it from dust and rain. NB hard suitcases are not suitable; you need to bring a fabric bag.
All of their tours are suitable for complete novices, even if you have never travelled as a passenger on a motorbike before. You do not need to bring any special clothing with you, although a waterproof jacket is recommended. The motorbikes provided are locally purchased and the engine size is usually 125 or 150cc.
The tour was the complete highlight of our holiday in Vietnam; an absolutely wonderful experience that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone. I felt like we were getting under the skin of Vietnam, seeing and experiencing things without seeing many other tourists and being welcomed into people’s homes and businesses without a second thought; it was an amazing trip.
We arrived at the office in Da Lat and were greeted with Vietnamese coffees and completed the payment formalities. As my partner is an experienced rider, we had opted to have one bike between us that we would both travel on and our bags would be strapped to Hong’s bike. Whilst Hong strapped the bags to his bike, my partner had a quick whizz around the streets of Da Lat to familiarise himself with the bike.
Day 1 Da Lat to Ho Lak – 160km
Our first stop was Crazy House in Da Lat. Crazy House was built by a former President of Vietnam’s daughter, it is a functioning hotel, but is open to visitors during the day. Building began in 1990 and although it is ‘finished’ it is continually being added to. I can only describe Crazy House as being like some kind of film set from a trippy 1970s fairy tale movie with echelons of haunted castle and an enchanted forest. It often features on published lists of top crazy hotels to visit/stay in around the world. Entry is 40,000 VND.
We also visited a flower farm, where thousands of flowers are grown and sold to markets all across Vietnam. During the journey from the farm we came across a group of men cutting stone bricks by the side of the road. We stopped to chat to them about what they were doing, with Hong translating. They were chopping huge slabs of rock into square bricks with just a hammer and chisel. It was absolutely scorching in the midday sun and these guys were just working on through the blistering heat. They pile their bricks up by the side of the road and hope that someone driving by will want to buy them for any building work. All of the men had built a tin shack by the side of the road, which they were sharing at night; only going home to their families once every month or so. It was a humbling experience.
We also went to Trai Ham Da Lat coffee plantation which is famous for its weasel coffee. If you are unfamiliar with weasel coffee, you may be unaware that it could also be known as weasel poo coffee. The process involves feeding the weasels coffee beans, the beans then pass through the weasel, with the digestive acids said to improve the flavour. Someone then has the lovely job of collecting the weasel poo and sorting out the beans, which are washed and roasted and turned into coffee. It is the same process to make civet poo coffee in Indonesia (known as kopi luwak). One sad side to the process is that the animals are kept in cages and essentially fed only on a diet of coffee beans. I felt slightly uncomfortable about this, as it didn’t seem very humane. Researchers in Florida have developed a process to emulate the digestive enzymes of the animals, without having to involve them and some Vietnamese companies have also claimed to have done the same. I hope that this will become commercially viable and that soon people will be able to produce the coffee with the same tastes without the animals having to be used.
We continued on our journey and stopped at Elephant waterfall. The climb down to the ‘viewing platform’ was pretty treacherous with slippery rocks, tree roots sticking out, mud and at points getting soaked by the falls. There are some hand rails, but they are few and far between. Sturdy footwear is required, I saw people attempting it in flip flops and giving up half way. I am glad we climbed down as the waterfall is impressive, but they could certainly do with some hand rails all the way down! Entrance 20,000 VND.
Close by to the falls is Lihn An pagoda, a huge Buddhist temple built in 1999 situated in beautiful gardens and home of a giant happy Buddha statue. Entrance is free, donations are welcome.
As Hong had arranged for us to have dinner with his nephew who lives near Ho Lak we visited a village inhabited by the M’nong people to buy some rice wine (also known as happy water!) to take with us as a gift. Rice wine is an alcoholic drink made from fermented rice and it is very strong. Similar to sake drunk in Japan but in my opinion somewhat less refined. In the village we were welcomed into the home of a M’nong lady who must have been at least 75 years old. Whilst she smoked her pipe she told us that she had a terrible hangover and that to make herself feel better she would sing us a song. She sung what I assume was a traditional song with vigour and joy. Then she asked us to sing a song to her. We were completely taken aback, could not think of anything else to sing apart from Happy Birthday; a bit embarrassing!
On our way to our hotel, we passed by Lak Lake at sunset, it was a striking view. We rode up to Bao Dai’s Villa, our accommodation for the night. This villa was the former holiday residence of Bao Dai, the final emperor of Vietnam, ruling from 1926 to 1945. Now a hotel with a free WIFI, air conditioning, a restaurant and lake views you would think it would be popular, but we were the only guests staying. Perhaps it is because it is a bit out of the way? Rooms from $32 per night including breakfast.
We were welcomed into Hong’s nephew’s house like we were part of the family. On arrival it was clear that a feast had been prepared including crab, grilled fish, salad, rice noodles and fish hot pot – each dish was absolutely delicious. There were around 15 members of the family there, all seated together on the floor and enjoying having dinner together. We had a lot of fun; the rice wine (happy water) was being passed around and drunk frequently. Hong was required for lots of translating, as we were keen to all be able to have suitable dinner conversation! After dinner, coffee was served and a plate of jammy dodger type biscuits appeared – it seems they were more than prepared for us Brits. The family own a fish farm; their humble house is on the land of the farm. The farm is doing well, but it is hard work and they don’t earn a lot of money. However it was easy to see that the happiness of the family and spending time together was of the utmost importance to them and they were very happy to welcome us into their home and share an evening with us. I felt privileged.
Day 2 Ho Lak (Lak Lake) to Buon Ma Thout – 50km
A shorter ride today, giving us time to make more stops and experiences. The lake was covered in a layer of early morning mist; combined with the traditional fishing net contraptions out on the water, it almost felt like the scene before us was taken from historical photographs. Cattle were being herded through the fields and along the roadside as we pulled up alongside a group of rice paddy harvesters. Did I want to have a go with the sythe? Yes please! Crouching down to chop the bundles of rice stalks was absolutely back breaking; I could not imagine doing that all day, especially in the searing heat.
Moving on we stumbled across a brick factory, the machinery was like something from Wallace and Gromit, but fair play to them it was efficient and they were producing a large number of bricks. Like everyone we met, they were welcoming and very happy to show us around and explain what they were doing.
Our next stop was a village inhabited by the Ede people. In Vietnam they refer to indigenous people or people from what is considered an ethnic minority ‘minority people’ or a ‘minority village.’ Although it sounds a little derogatory to us, it seems to be the accepted term in Vietnam. I am not sure what the indigenous people themselves think about it, as none of the people we met were able to speak English.
When we arrived in the Ede village we were quickly welcomed into a family home where we were eagerly shown around. Built on stilts, the house was essentially one large room, divided into separate areas. There was a kitchen area with a wood fire for cooking, a sleeping area which was separated by hanging sheets of fabric and a living space for socialising. There was no bathroom to speak of; I think the swampy pond out the back of the house serves as the family bathroom. The family were very proud of their wooden house, which has been built by hand and offers a cool, shady and friendly space.
Further along the journey we visited a family of tapioca farmers, who were peeling and drying their recent harvest of tapioca in their garden. Every inch of space was being used to dry out the root, which was being peeled by the entire family, including the children. Tapioca is the root of the cassava plant and is used to make MSG (monosodium glutamate) which is used in many different foods throughout Vietnam. The root is also used to make tapioca pearls, which you will know if you are a fan of bubble tea. Tapioca is easy to farm as it doesn’t require nutrient rich soil and is not as susceptible to disease and pests as other crops, making it a good choice for families who could not afford to have a failed crop.
We parked up outside a large building which Hong told us was a business that made magic mushrooms. This was very confusing to us, as in the UK magic mushrooms are also known as psychedelic mushrooms and are known to give hallucinogenic experiences. However, this was not a place in the business of illegal drugs; they were cultivating black mushrooms, which are popular to eat with noodle dishes. The cavernous dark room was full to the brim of polythene bags hanging from poles, stuffed with sawdust and stony sand that are watered each day and currently sprouting huge ear shaped black mushrooms. It was a strange sight. I think the magic part is because they are grown inside a building, using sawdust rather than out in the fields.
We stopped at a ‘truck stop’ for lunch. The car park was full of lorries hauling their goods between big cities. The restaurant only served one dish, chicken and rice, but boy was it delicious. The truckers were very surprised to have two westerners walk in whilst they were having their lunch and they were keen to come and sit and talk to us. They seemed impressed that we were going to eat the same lunch as them! The dish was approx. $1.50. During this lunch we also learned the rules of throwing your bones, used paper napkins and other debris straight onto the floor. Everyone does it; and it is a good indication of restaurants which are popular and the food is good – the more debris on the floor the better the restaurant. It felt alien to us, but we soon got into the swing of it; it actually felt quite liberating!
After lunch we continued towards Buon Ma Thout stopping at Dray Sap falls, another impressive waterfall. Entry is 30,000 VND and there is a 600m trail to get to the waterfall. You can walk further along a rope and wooden bridge to get a good view. There were very few tourists and just a handful of locals having a picnic. It is possible to swim, the water is very clean.
Our last stop before arriving into the city centre was a small family business making rice noodles. This husband and wife team had some small machines for making and cutting rice noodles, which they sprinkle with crispy onion and black mushrooms. This is a popular breakfast dish. We were served a bowl each and they were absolutely delicious.
Riding into Buon Ma Thout was a slightly hairy experience; it is a large city home to around 350,000 people and we had arrived in rush hour. Motorbikes where whizzing from all directions and we had to negotiate several large roundabouts. Arriving in one piece, we checked into Eden Hotel. Rooms from $20, this is a clean hotel with free WIFI and air-conditioned rooms.
Day 3 Buon Ma Thout to Pleiku – 180km
An early start for a long ride, first stop – Hong noticed some cocoa growing next to someone’s house; it turned out to be a small farm. We asked for permission to enter and Hong picked a cocoa fruit from a tree, he split it open and the inside was not at all what I expected, there was a white fleshy fruit surrounding the cocoa beans. The flesh is actually very tasty; it’s very sweet and quite sticky.
We paid our respects at a war memorial on the outskirts of the city; the sheer number of names of those who perished in the war just from this small area was shocking. We went to a local market, which I always enjoy immensely; I love looking at all the different produce on offer and discovering foods that are unfamiliar to me.
Continuing our ride through the bustling villages and marvelling at what can be carried on the back of a motorbike, we spotted a wedding taking place. We stopped at a respectable distance whilst the bride and groom were having their wedding photos taken. Next thing we know, we are being dragged over to join in the photos – there I am in my dusty clothes and with grit in my hair, being pulled into have photos with the bride and groom, photos with the bride, photos with the bride’s family, photos with the grandparents…..you get the picture. Then we were invited inside, promptly sat down and offered drinks and then some food was brought out for us. We sat with the bride and groom and with the band who were having their meal break plus the very drunk man who I can only assume was some kind of embarrassing Great Uncle (we all have them!). He was wearing a military uniform and insisted we were from Russia. It was pretty bonkers. We stayed at the wedding for around an hour, being introduced to various family members and being constantly brought food to try. It was hospitality like I have never experienced, imagine pulling strangers off the street into your wedding? Although none of them spoke a word of English we had a great time; I hope they did too.
We entered the home workshop of a husband and wife blacksmith duo. They were making various knives and trowels. Everything done crouched over a fire with rudimentary tools. It was impressive and very hard, hot work. By now I was getting used to walking into people’s homes and businesses, what once felt alien now felt more normal; these people were proud of their businesses and the products they were making and only too happy to show them off. If someone turns up at my work and stands next to my desk staring at me, I don’t think I will be so accommodating.
Although we had a lot of kilometres to cover, we couldn’t help wanting to pause at places of interest. We had a quick look at a cotton plantation and then popped into a black pepper farm. The farmer immediately invited us in for a cup of tea and we chatted with him for a while. He was very keen to tell us all about his family and his farm.
Time for a quick photo at Phu Cuong waterfall before continuing on to Pleiku. A city of 220,000, it was strategically important for the USA during the Vietnam War as it was the end of military supply route. The city was left in ruins at the end of the war and was rebuilt with the help of the USSR, giving it somewhat of a Soviet feel.
We stayed overnight at HAGL Hotel this is the biggest hotel in Pleiku, but as the saying goes, biggest isn’t always best. The ground floor is a bar, has karaoke and live singing each night from 7pm until late. It is loud and very audible from the rooms. To top it off, the singing was awfully out of tune! I would definitely recommend staying elsewhere in Pleiku.
Day 4 Pleiku to Kon Tum – 50km
A very pleasant ride to Kon Tum, beginning with a visit to Chua Minh Thanh pagoda followed by a walk around Gia Lai museum. The museum features artefacts from the indigenous Ba Na (also known as Bahnar) people. There is also a hysterical collection of taxidermy animals.
Riding past Bien Ho a beautiful crater lake, known as the ‘eye of Pleiku,’ we arrived at a tea plantation and took a walk along the waist high tea bushes; it was very peaceful. Before we stopped for lunch we went to see a family who were huddled under tarpaulins in their front yard, stripping the bark off from long thin tree trunks. They were collecting the sap to make glue. In the midday sun under those tarps it felt like being in an oven; I have the utmost respect for these hard working families.
At lunch I had my first experience of not liking a food in Vietnam – bitter melon. It’s a vegetable, which was served stuffed with minced pork and in a clear broth as a soup. It lives up to its name; extremely bitter. I could not eat it, but I did eat all of the minced pork which was delicious. Luckily this was served as a side dish alongside some delicious grilled pork and rice.
Arriving in Kon Tum we went to see the Roman Catholic wooden church, built in 1913 it is architecturally impressive and ornate. We then rode onto an airfield that was used by the US during the war, overlooked by the famous Charlie Hill. The hill was a stronghold of South Vietnam during the war and was the scene of a bloody one and half month battle with the Viet Cong with mass causalities on both sides. The hill was heavily mined during the war and is unsafe to climb.
Visiting a Bahnar village, we were welcomed into people’s houses and shown around the village. We were taken into the longhouse, a large structure on stilts made of bamboo and a tall thatched roof. Longhouses are generally used for village meetings and also serve as a village court of law; this one was also doubling up as a school for the children of the village. The construction is impressive, standing at around 12 metres tall it is built with no nails; the bamboo poles are simply tied together. Looking up into the roof from the inside shows that it is a serious architectural accomplishment.
We spent the night at the Konklor Hotel which has 25 rooms and boasts excellent staff who are very willing to ensure their guests are happy. The rooms feature a lot of bamboo including the bed, the en-suite bathroom is a wet room which has been nicely decorated. The surrounding small gardens are beautiful and we witnessed a wedding photography shoot in the gardens when we arrived which made for entertaining viewing. Rooms from $16 USD.
Day 5 Kon Tum to Kham Duc – 170km
First stop of the morning was a business where they were drying out ground down tapioca powder in the sun on huge circular trays, ready to sell on for MSG production. Afterwards we saw a group of wood carvers creating intricate statues and furniture, all with hand tools.
Pushing on, we came across some people selling rubber tapped from nearby trees to a broker. I was fascinated by this female broker; Hong told us this was a predominantly male industry so she was not the norm. Her demeanour was friendly but feisty; she was only going to pay the price she wanted to pay – even though all of the negotiations were in Vietnamese I could tell she was driving a hard bargain. To test how pure the rubber being offered is, she ladled some into a frying pan that was heated on a gas stove to evaporate any water and then rolled the rubber into a ball and weighed it.
We drank some freshly squeezed sugar cane juice from a roadside seller; it was absolutely delicious, served with a squeeze of orange. We followed the winding roads to Kham Duc, climbing higher and higher and following parts of the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail. The ‘trail’ was a logistical supply route used during the war and running around 1,000 miles from Laos, through North Vietnam to South Vietnam. Weapons and other supplies were transported along the route to arm the communist guerrillas who were fighting against Southern Vietnam and US Forces. The scenery was stunning and we stopped by several villages to meet some of the indigenous people who live along the trail.
We stayed at Be Chau Giang Hotel which is one of the only options in Kham Duc. The rooms were clean and the fried eggs for breakfast were delicious. Rooms from $11, breakfast not included.
Day 6 Kham Duc to Hoi An – 100km
We descended from the Highlands towards the coast. The temperate increased the closer we got to Hoi An. We made many stops along during the final part of our journey; we saw rice crackers being made, tasted sweet pineapple dipped in salt & chilli, visited a family making rice paper and then had a go at making incense sticks with a machine that wouldn’t look out of place in a Victorian museum!
It was a fun final day and although we were sad to be finishing the tour; we knew we had something to look forward to as we had treated ourselves to a luxurious hotel in Hoi An – Anantara Hotel.
We vowed to Hong that we would be back again soon for another tour, it had been a brilliant and fascinating adventure and we had loved every minute of it. Hong was a thoughtful guide, quickly picking up on the things that most interested us and incorporating as much as possible into our days without making them too long and tiring. Above all, Hong was great fun and always had interesting stories, anecdotes or snippets of history to tell us.
But now it was time to check into the plush Anantara, wash off the dust in the plush bathroom and put on the comfy bathrobe.
Rooms at the Anantara are from $166 including breakfast. The hotel consists of 93 rooms and suites and also boasts a spa, two swimming pools, free bicycle rental, free WIFI and 4 restaurants.
Guests can also participate in Vietnamese cooking, language, painting and lantern making classes.
About Original Vietnam Easy Riders
Hong was one of the original Easy Riders in Da Lat, starting in (1994), since opening his own tour business with his son in law Phuong, they have been successfully taking people all over the country on interesting and fun tours. They also offer 1 day city tours around Da Lat, taking in the many sights of the city and surrounding area.
All of their riders take safety seriously and they ride at a suitable pace for the conditions of the road. The idea is not to go as fast as you can like being in a race – it’s to go at a steady pace, to take in the sights and enjoy being in Vietnam.
You can find Original Vietnam Easy Riders here:
67 Truong Cong Dinh Street, Da Lat 610000, Vietnam. – MAP
Tel +84 (0) 166 763 2059.
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Read Trip Advisor reviews about Vietnam Easy Riders here.
Key facts about Vietnam
- The currency is Vietnamese Dong (VND). At the time of writing it is approx. 22,000 VND to $1 US.
- US Dollars are widely accepted.
- The official language is Vietnamese. English and French are popular second languages.
- Vehicles drive on the right hand side of the road.
- Vietnam is 7 hrs ahead of GMT and does not observe daylight saving hours.
- Many Vietnamese people do not consider themselves to be religious, the most popular religion is Buddhism followed by approx. 12% of the population.
- It is not recommended to drink the tap water in Vietnam. Bottled water is cheap and readily available.
- In South Vietnam the dry season is from Dec to April and the monsoon rains are usually from May to Nov.
- In central Vietnam the rainy season runs from Nov to Dec, sometimes continuing on until Jan. This is also the area that can be hit by typhoons, occurring during Autumn months.
- In North Vietnam the weather is warm and sunny from Oct to Dec and then gets colder as it gets deeper into the winter months. It begins to warm up from March and between May & Sept – the summer months – it can be very warm but this is also the rainy season.
- If you plan to visit the whole country the months that are considered best are between Sept and Dec & March to April.
- You should check with your travel insurance company that they will cover you to ride or travel on a motorbike under your policy.