Part 1: Dalat – Lak Lake (160 km)
The first part of the motorbike trip is straight away fantastic, with a lot of sites to visit, beautiful scenery and treats to your taste bud and nose.
Instead of taking the highway QL 20 follow the DT725 – the road leads out of Dalat towards the West. A short while after leaving Dalat on this well maintained road the view becomes fantastic – driving along some cliffs offering a view over the surrounding area. You also start passing quite a few flower farms, some of them using greenhouses. Dalat is known as flower city for a reason, and plenty of that reason is grown along this route. On this route you will pass one of the waterfalls in that region – Vong Waterfall. It is apparently a smaller one, though I never visited it so far.
After a while the scenery changes and instead of flower farms you see something you can hardly see anywhere else in Vietnam – coffee plantations. Vietnam is the second largest coffee export nation, and in the Central Highlands you realise why – coffee everywhere. It seems the road cuts through the plantations. In this area there are several plantations that have a shops and cafes, providing lots of opportunities to have a break from the bike while enjoying a lovely coffee and the beautiful scenery. I stopped at Me Linh Coffee Garden, around 20km west of Dalat. Here are some details of this place.
Even after Me Linh Coffee Garden the scenery continues to be dominated by coffee plantation, with many more coffee places you could stop for a little sightseeing and coffee breaks. From time to time you will pass some little villages. In one of the village you will see signs for a silk factory you can visit.
It might sound a bit touristy, but I thought it was rather interesting to see the whole process. Here are some details about the site.
After the factory continue to follow DT725 and around 30km later you arrive at one of the largest waterfalls in that region – the Elephant Falls. It is a nice place to visit and should be included during this motorbike trip. Here are more details about the Elephant Falls.
From the falls you could continue following DT725 south towards the main road, QL 27. Or you can turn left from the falls and follow a smaller road getting faster to Q27. And this route is worth taking, as after a short while the scenery changes again – it really becomes stunning here. The road opens up, with valleys appearing on the right and left side, offering some beautiful views. And all the valleys and hills are full with coffee plantation and other fields, while you can see new mountains reaching the sky further away. You can easily stop here everywhere, sit next to the road and just enjoy this peaceful place.
Joining QL27 the road wind around more plantations, and there are lovely section where trees provide some welcoming shade. On this stretch you will pass more little coffee farms. If you are lucky and you can stop at one with a guide, it is well worth it. I saw a farm where the ground around the house was filled with coffee beans for drying, and inside fresh rice wine is distilled. While the smell is not that nice, seeing the process is nonetheless interesting. To cover this without a guide is a little bit more difficult with the small private farms.
After entering the mountains again, with some nice views, you will find some lovely little cafes, serving the freshest coffee you will ever have. My favourite was on the top of the hills I passed – and it had a hammock. Being comfortable in a hammock during a break, getting a fresh ca phe sua da and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere is just priceless. So make sure you include stops on the way. No need to rush through the area without enjoying what the area has to offer.
At some point you are back on a flat road that just passes more and more plantations. During this stretch, that while it is still nice it is a bit boring in comparison to the previous section, it might be worthwhile turning off the QL27 when getting into a village to explore it a bit. Some of the sights can be an eye opener. During one of this little detour (doing a little loop before joining the QL27 again) I saw several women going through a pile of leftovers from farms, collecting any rice or corns that were left – while pigs were eating leftovers as well. It was just a reminder of the poverty of villages in rural Vietnam. As a tourist you can easily forget it when you see locals smiling at you, waving, and just give you a warm welcome, especially the kids who are playing near these leftovers, waving at you or shouting Xin Chao, Hello or What is your name? – all done with a big smile in their face. It is a very humbling experience.
Around 30km before Lak Lake you will pass a large lake to your left – Buco Dong. It is nice to see something so blue after all the hills and coffee plantations. At one point the road actually cuts through the lake. I would recommend taking a little break here. If you are able to communicate a little bit, you could actually try asking one of the local fisherman to provide a little boat tour over the lake – something I didn’t do. Otherwise just enjoy the view here, with plenty of little houses on the lake as well as fish farms. It is another peaceful place with a great view. The road actually continues to follow the lake, and climbing the road to the top of the hill you could always stop there and enjoy the great view from there. Worth any stops you do!!!
The last 30km towards Lak Lake follows a mountainous roads, a valley hugging the road to your right, offering some nice views. If you arrive here in the afternoon, you will see trucks with lots of Vietnamese on the back – all heading back home after a hard day at work.
The final stretch is once again on a flat road, but instead of coffee plantations you will see rice fields here. Riding that road late afternoon when the sun starts to set, it offers a lovely view. Though you might not believe it, the area along the main road is not the best place to watch a sun set. For that head to the south-west part of the lake where you find plenty of rice fields, but also a few hills. You might to walk into the fields for the best view, but it is worth the effort. I watched one of my all time favourite sun sets there.
The QL27 will finally bring you to the town of Lien Son at the southern part of the Lak Lake. In town you find either guesthouses, or you could stay at one of the traditional longhouses. There are some activities to do in that area as well as some interesting sites, so in theory you could spend a day or two in this area. Here are more information about Lak Lake.