The Motorbiking Chronicles – Kon Tum to Kham Duc

Day four of biking (also the official six month milestone of Liam and my relationship) was definitely one for the books. This is probably the story I tell most often when speaking (read: bragging) about our motorbiking adventure.

The day started off wonderfully with breakfast at our lovely little hotel in Kon Tum. We had the usual Vietnamese hotel breakfast of baguettes with jam and cheese (gotta love that French influence) along with Vietnamese coffee, but for some reason this particular hotel had the flakiest, yummiest baguette and strongest coffee of all time! We couldn’t stop raving about it as we put off getting our bikes ready for the day.

When we finally ventured out into the courtyard to tie down our packs, we came upon a pair of fellow bikers who happened to be heading the same way as us. Irony struck, when we came to discover that one of them, Max, was from a town in Georgia that is less than 30 minutes from my own hometown! Small world.

After accidentally barging through a morning produce market and very nearly avoiding being T-boned, we took off onto a beautiful road chock full of vast mountain views.

After a while we stopped in a tiny roadside village for some coffee. We were patiently waiting for the drip to finish when all of a sudden a local man came running in, yelling for Liam to come outside. Sure that our bikes had been stolen or some other terrible incident had taken place, I went running out after him only to find that Mr. Vu, the owner of our hostel in Da Lat and the supplier of our bikes himself was waving to us from the other side of the road! He had recognized our bikes parked outside and had stopped to invite us to join him.

Vu and his assistant were carrying a British couple with them on an Easy Riders tour, and they were kind enough to let us crash their excursion. We quickly jumped on our bikes and tried our best to keep up with him around the ensuing twists and turns.

Along the way, Mr. Vu stopped to walk us through some beautiful rice paddies. He took us across a suspension bridge then pointed out where the real Ho Chi Minh trail used during the war was. He also stopped several times to show us huge sections of the mountainsides where American troops had destroyed the jungle in an attempt to find the Vietcong. It was incredible, if tragic, to see that these landscapes are still recovering after all of these years.

From there we began the big climb through the tallest mountains in southern/central Vietnam. It was spectacular.

However, about five minutes into the high mountain pass, a particularly steep incline proved too big a match for my decrepit little bike, and it puttered to a very sad and futile stop. It just so happens that I was bringing up the rear when this happened, so everyone else continued on their merry way, and there I was, stuck on an uphill climb.

I rooted my feet to the ground and sat their in disbelief, fighting gravity for control of my heavy bike and pack. After maneuvering to the side of the road and realizing that cellphone service was a laughable concept at this point, I sat talking to a few baby goats, hoping someone would eventually notice my absence.

This face says it all.

Liam managed to maintain his position as boyfriend (it was precarious by this point) by finally realizing I was nowhere to be found and turning around to find me. Mr. Vu zoomed on unaware, so Liam, just as lost and unsure as I was, went riding off to see if he could find a mechanic in the vast wilderness. Doubtful, as we were in the middle of nowhere, I began pushing my heavy bike up the mountain, ugly crying and, in a sadistic twist of fate, still wearing a helmet with the word “SUCCESS” emblazoned across the back.

After what felt like an eternity (the goats and I were definitely on first-name-basis by now), Liam came skidding to a stop next to me. No dice. He hadn’t been able to find anyone in either direction. Miraculously, right as he was delivering this disturbing news, a local man pulled up beside us to see if he could help. Next thing I know, Liam is off on the back of a stranger’s bike and I’m chilling on top of a mountain in the Vietnamese wilderness alone. Again.

The very kind man took Liam down the mountain to a minority village where they found the closest thing to a mechanic that they could. Due to the apparent excitement of the situation, not only Liam, our friendly helper, and the so-called mechanic arrived, but the entire village followed them up the mountain to see what was happening!

A crowd of men crowded around my bike, poking and prodding. I’m certain I saw duct tape being used for something, and at one point a 12-year-old boy was armpit deep in my engine.

Liam and I were perched on the guardrail watching them all laugh at how bad my bike was looking and trying to convince one of them that no, Liam did not want to get on his bike and go for some homemade liquor while they were working, when Max from our hotel in Kon Tum pulled up!

He had been in not one, but two wrecks, his bike was in pieces, and his clothes were torn, but he was in very high spirits. We later learned to expect that kind of blissful optimism from him.

When all of the repairs had been made and the thank yous and goodbyes said, we finally took off again. The three of us wound our way through the spectacular mountains just as the golden sunset hour set in. Cascading waterfalls, canopies of jungle, and the glistening rice paddies of local farms kept us captivated, and before we knew it we were seeing the signs for Kham Duc.

This group stopped to take pictures with the weird, bearded Westerner.

I began to worry as we got closer and I saw no sign of development, but all of a sudden we found ourselves in front of a very lively hotel chock full of western bikers en route.

Max made a friend!

Vu came running out to find out what had happened to us, and rushed us inside where he told the woman behind the counter to give us her best rate. We all spent the night sitting outside on the patio drinking beers and laughing about the day’s shenanigans.

4 comments

  1. That boy from Ga. you met is my son Max! Blissful optimism, what a wonderful way to describe his nature. Max’s motorcycle adventure left him with many wonderful ( insane) stories and memories and he truly made some awesome new friends. I can guarantee he’d do it all again . Jane Vandewiele

  2. Wow, why had I not seen this before?? You are an excellent writer and these pictures are really awesome. I already forgot the names of a lot of places I went to so it’s great that you have this written account to go back on. You guys were the greatest biker gang a kid could ask for.

    1. Thanks! Glad you liked and don’t hate me for posting photos of you all over the internet haha. Are you still in Georgia?? We should have a reunion! Liam will be here all of next month!

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