I now understand why I couldn't find the road on the map, it's because it's not really a road, more of a bridle path. What an adventure! It took us most of the day to get to Lake Lak and Mr. Duc ensured we saw the best of the Vietnamese countryside.
We got off to a bit of a ropey start, firstly with Duc arriving late, then he told me I wouldn't need to take anything so took my bag off my bike and chucked it back in the hostel- I was left with a camera, toothbrush and a spare tshirt. That was followed by the electric start on my bike packing up. Duc's self-acclaimed 'Smiling Vietnamese Easy Rider Tour', wasn't very smiley at half past 8 this morning. Things got even worse when his bike blew up on the road out of Nha Trang. I didn't really know what to do at the point but I had already paid him so what could I do? We limped back to his house where I got to meet his family and have coffee with his wife, sister, son and nephew, whilst he swapped bikes. By about half past nine, a little later than planned, we were finally on our way.
I didn't really mind about the mornings hick-up because I'm slowly learning that that's just Vietnam and regardless of what happens, they've always got a smile on their face. I think it's best just to roll with it and enjoy it for what it is.
It didn't take long before we turned off the main road and onto what looked like a farm track. This in fact was the infamous road we would be taking to Lake Lak. Along the way, we stopped at a minority village, home to the Mong people. Originally from northern Vietnam, they moved south after the war in hope of a better life. They welcomed me as if I was one of their own. They kids were shy to start with, unfortunately we didn't stay for long, but towards the end they were all posing for photos and chasing after our bikes when we left. It was amazing to see how they lived, living off what was around them and building their houses out of timber from the nearby forest.
Shortly afterwards, Duk stopped on top of a hill that overlooked the valley and the road we had been travelling on. At first it looked like many of the other valleys I had seen but it wasn't until Duk pointed out that what was growing were rubber plants and before 1968 it would have been dense jungle. It was because of the war and the chemical agents used by the Americans, that the rain forests were destroyed, leaving nothing behind. It's hard to imagine what it looked like after the bombing, especially with it looking so green as it does today.
Next stop was lunch. We stopped in the middle of nowhere at the kind of place that only a local would know. It's amazing the extras you get if you're in the know- the little old lady that greeted us then prepared a feast, fit to feed the 5000. I think in total there was about 10 different dishes of meat, tofu and vegetables, and bowl of rice the size of a kitchen sink. All for 50,000 dong, which is about $2. Safe to say we couldn't finish it all and I drove off feeling very full and satisfied.
It was one more stop, before Lake Lak, for coffee and a nap- apparently it's just what Easy Riders do. So it was a quick doze in some hammocks for an hour and then onto Jun Village, where we would be staying for the night. We pulled up to a single avenue of long wooden huts on stilts, metres from the lake-front. It's a surreal place, home to the M'nong people, with cows, chickens, pigs and dogs roaming free amongst the rest of the village. My bed for the night is a single mattress on the floor with a mosquito net above. Through the floorboards, I can see right through to the ground below and the animals sheltering from the rain. The rain has been fairly constant for the last few hours and looks like it has a few more hours left in it yet. I'm due to meet Duk for dinner at half 7 this evening, luckily I haven't been asked to help cook so I'm off for a walk around the lake and to watch the elephants being fed.
The outward-bound adventure I so badly wanted reached it's peak last night, after another hearty meal and a couple of beers with Duk, my so-called guide! As it turns out he wasn't staying with me, instead he was in a b&b down the road. After the meal and arranging what time to meet in the morning, he wished me goodnight and that was that. Stranded in the arse-end of nowhere, I started the long walk around the lake, back to the hut. This village barely has electricity, let alone street lights. Trying to find my hut was like finding a needle in a stack of needles, in the dark. Every hut looked identical and it was by sheer luck rather than judgement that I eventually found 'hut 85'. Everything made strange noises and twitched as I walked past, especially the dogs who found great delight in chasing me down the track. The walk back seemed like a lifetime, thanks Duk!
Thankfully I survived the night. I was woken early, either by the cows under the house or the family off to farm, I'm not sure which but it was around 5. I eventually came to at around half 6 and was greeted with bright sunshine- the first sun I had seen since arriving. I was due to meet Duc for breakfast at half 7 but he didn't surface until gone 8 because he fancied an extra half hour in bed. Clearly we were working to his watch.
We had another 240km to go before Nha Trang but it was on a different route and with new surroundings. Along the way, Duk showed me the coffee, cocoa and pepper plantations- all of which are very common in South Vietnam. After our lunch stop and another lie-down in some hammocks, Duk looked concerned and then proceeded to run across the road to the shop. He came back with ponchos and a smile on his face. He could tell we were in for some rain, quite how much rain, he didn't tell me. It turns out a lot and we got absolutely socked. My first biking experience in the monsoon season was a lot of fun but slightly painful. The open-faced helmet I bought in HCMC didn't really do a lot to protect me from the elements, which Duk found hilarious. And not to mention the chaffing of wet shorts and a wet seat! The rain lasted for about an hour and we arrived back at the hostel, in Nha Trang, at around 1715. I dumped my bike and raced down to the sea for a quick dip to try and tire myself before the 13 hours I have on a night bus tonight. Next stop, Hoi An.