You know those days where you go to bed with a smile on your face, and a warm glow in your heart? Camping in Bao Loc was one of those days. Nay, Bao Loc was one of those PLACES. Never have I felt so welcomed into an unfamiliar and off-the-beaten-path city.
Camping in Bao Loc. Pretty random right? But oh such a special experience. If you follow me on social media then you’re probably aware that I’m fairly active on Instagram stories; Well, this special story of new friendship all starts from a little Instagram geotag in a lesser frequented Vietnamese city.
Here is the story of how Bao Loc stole a special place as one of the highlights of my Vietnam motorbike trip
I hadn’t planned on visiting Bao Loc on my road trip across Vietnam, and ended up there by happenstance. Me being me, I updated my social media with a quick Instagram story, geotagging Bao Loc in the video. If you aren’t an Instagram wiz you might be a bit clueless to this – geotags allow people to see the video if they watch the local Bao Loc video/hashtag, even if they don’t follow you. As a foreigner in a very local Vietnamese city which sees few foreign tourists, my video caught the eye of some local creatives who messaged me with recommendations!
Travel lesson 101: if a local gives you a recommendation, you best take it on board! Locals ALWAYS know the best places to make sure you LOVE their town.
So, we head out for breakfast to a cafe that multiple locals recommended. Just wow. We were blown away with how quirky and hipster the cafe was. Coffee Coi Rieng is tucked away in a back street of Bao Loc – there is no chance we would have ever found it without their recommendation.
I hopped back onto Instagram and sent messages to the locals thanking them for the successful breakfast suggestion. One of the guys, Lâm, invited us to grab a drink and meet his friends later that night – again suggesting an ultra hipster and fun shop/bar called DC – $treet Cocktail. After our surprisingly good find in the morning we were sold on sticking around to check out the bar! This turned into such a special evening.
Our new local Bao Loc friends: Lâm is front and centre in the denim jacket.
Us, barely any Vietnamese: Them, barely any English (other than Lâm who acted as the interpreter between us).
We spoke in beers (1,2,3..Yooo!), gestures, music and laughter. This night holds a place as one of my favourite evenings of the summer. As the night was winding down Lâm started suggesting things for us to do the next day (we’d already decide we liked Bao Loc enough to stay longer). And then out of the blue, someone suggests camping. The details were as hazy as our tipsy heads, but hell yes we wanted to go camping with our new friends.
“Just bring your motorbikes, warm clothes and a blanket for sleeping. We’ll bring tents and food.”
As easy as that.
Camping in Bao Loc
The next evening rolls around – we sneak some blankets out of the hotel and layer up all of our jumpers in an effort to stay warm (it’s monsoon season in Bao Loc and the temperature is around 20°C). Oh boy: little did we know the adventure we were in for.
We head to our meeting point, one of our new friends motorbike shops, and await the arrival of the whole crew. There are a total of 11 motorbikes coming on this spontaneous camping trip. The guys all look at my motorbaby and make the decision for me to not bring her, and instead grab a ride on the back on someone else’s bike. Apparently we’re going up a mountain and my motorbike won’t make it up – I scoff at them, trying to convince them that my bike is totally capable (I have the faith in my baby, you know).
Well, my bike 100% would NOT have made it.
When they told us we were going up a mountain, I envisaged a road…of some sort. Nope. We were actually driving up the narrow hiking trail. Ha, yeah I’m not a skilled enough biker for that (already feeling thankful that I’m playing passenger). The wind starts to pick up, the sky darkens and then the heavens open upon us. Drenched through all our layers of clothes, but still full of excitement we arrive at the base of the mountain.
Yikes, it’s steep. And no joke, a dirt track wide enough for one person to walk. Cue visions of us falling off the mountainside, getting lost in the storm and basically just never making it back to civilisation. You know that feeling when you know you’re doing something really stupid, but too scared to say anything?
Our Vietnamese friends head up the mountain first. Everyones wheels are locking on the muddy trail. Lâm, along with his dog on the bike, completely topples over in front of me, his bike sliding back down the trail towards us. At this point we are all getting off our bikes and having to physically push each other up the hill. I’m at the front of our pack, actually walking up the mountain having decided it wasn’t safe to be a passenger in these conditions. All I’m thinking about are the guys I’m travelling with, only one of which has more than 2 weeks experience driving a motorbike. But thankfully, after an hour long struggle IN THE MONSOON, we make it to the top of the mountain.
Once at the top we huddle inside the hut, away from the pounding rain outside. Someone lights a fire, we hang up our clothes to dry and take off our shoes for the night. There’s no phone signal and no electricity, so everything we’re doing is by the light of our phone torches and the fire thats slowly warming us up.
Our new friends start to make dinner, old school style over the open fire. On the menu for tonight is rice soup, BBQ sweetcorn, sweetcorn tea, roasted chicken (brought with us from town) and sweet potatoes. We huddled around the fire sharing stories while we wait for food to cook. When the food is ready we transition from sharing stories to sharing bowls, cutlery and cups: we may have only known each other for 24 hours but we’re acting like old friends. Beers are flowing and laughter is ringing, working its magic to turn what could have been a miserable, damp evening camping in the cold into something beautiful.
After a sleepless night of wind whipping the tent, rain turning the ground below us into mud and our bodies struggling to maintain any warmth (seriously no one warned us how cold the central highlands could be in summer), we venture out into the sunrise.
5am. Sleepy eyes and weary heads, we’re greeted by a hazy morning sky and the company of our new friends.
While the sunrises, green tea is boiling on the fire. We pull on our damp clothes, pack away the tents and tidy up the hut from the night before.
We pack up the bikes and slowly start to make our way back down the mountain. But like, really really slowly because the ground is a swamp and the bike breaks are just locking the whole way. Honestly I’m so glad it was dark when we made our way up the mountain, otherwise I’m sure we would have fully reconsidered decisions. But nothing good comes easy, and this adventure in the mountains of Bao Loc was sure proof that heading off the beaten path can reveal beautifully raw human interaction and sights of wonder.