We picked a hostel mostly at random in Da Lat. It simply had cheap rooms and the reviews said the staff were very friendly. On the bus ride from Mui Ne, the driver kept talking to us about Easy Rider tours. We'd never really heard of it but it sounded pretty neat.
The concept is simple: you ride on a motorbike with a Vietnamese guide who knows the countryside in and out, stopping in many spots along the way to give you history and culture lessons. It's the best way to see the real face of Vietnam, and is eye-opening in a way that a bus ride between major cities could never be.
When we got to the Easy Friends Hostel, we were greeted by Ut, who helped us with our bags and chatted with us over coffee about their tours. We'd already been approached by others in Da Lat near the bus station so we were a bit hesitant, but Ut's friendliness won us over and the next day we decided to book the 3-day tour to Nha Trang.
The next day we strapped our bags to the bikes and hopped on, wondering if we'd survive three days riding motorbikes through the backroads of Vietnam.
On our first day, we basically did a day-trip of Da Lat. Ut and Bom took us to coffee farms, a café serving the famous "weasel coffee" (weasels help process the beans by eating and pooping them out), a silk factory, the Elephant Waterfalls, and a temple.
After all of that, we got further out of town, riding along the countryside and stopping occasionally at a farm or fruit stand to sample the wares of the people there. Ut and Bom seemed like old friends with everyone we met, but insisted that they know nobody out here, and it's just the Vietnamese way.
People would let us into their houses, give us a taste of coffee beans, persimmon, or whatever else they were producing on their farm.
Ut told us that they don't have a schedule or specific location for the various things they show us, they just stop when they see a good spot. For instance, when we stopped at the coffee farmer's house, Ut said he smelled the rice wine as we passed and knew what the guy would be up to. After he mentioned it, I started occasionally smelling that same smell as we passed a coffee field, and got the feel for the land in a way that I would have totally overlooked if not for his commentary on how they conduct the tour.
One really fun surprise was a boat crossing! We were just riding along and out of nowhere is a river with no bridge. At first I didn't understand, but there were three boats each positioned under a rope that stretched across the river. Before we knew it, we were on the boats with people heaving us all the way across the river. How cool!
After the bridge crossing, we stopped less frequently and drove faster for longer stretches. After getting used to the bike for most of the day, it was quite fun to go fast! As the sun got lower, we stopped at a bridge to watch it dip below the horizon, then spent another hour racing toward our goal for the night, Lak Lake.
We checked in, went back out for a delicious hotpot dinner, and went to bed super early. What a day we had! We went to sleep excited for the next adventure, feeling lucky that we'd stumbled into such a special tour. Not just the bike tour but Ut and Bom themselves. They are really great fellas and earned our respect with their knowledge and love for their homeland.
Too often when travelling, I find myself focusing on making it from point A to point B, not considering how much can be discovered in that gap between two places. Even on the first day of this motorbike tour, I realised how much I can learn by slowing down and appreciating every sight, every smell, and every person we passed on the road. It brought a realness to Vietnam that I think is very important, and will try to seek out everywhere (even at home) as I continue down life's path.