Planning your trip before you go
Since opening its borders to tourists in the late 1980s, Vietnam has become an incredibly popular destination. Having said that, Vietnam is still an exciting, and relatively untouched tourist destination in Southeast Asia that holds many pleasant surprises for first-time visitors.
Vietnam has well over 3,000 kilometers of coastline, most of which is lined with sandy beaches. It is an excellent location for scuba diving and is becoming increasingly popular for beach holidays. The remote hills of northern Vietnam on the Chinese border are home to more than 40 ethnically unique minority peoples. The cultures and lifestyles of these ethnic groups have often remained unchanged for centuries, and exploring this region provides a rare glimpse of undiscovered Asia.
Vietnam is a safe, secure and enjoyable holiday destination. The political and economic situation is stable, and the country has been at peace for over 25 years. The legacy of Vietnam’s long history remains in evidence today. Cham towers dot the hillsides and entire towns and villages have remained almost unchanged for centuries. Vietnamese art and culture remain vibrant to this day with young Vietnamese artists recognized around world for the quality of their work.
In north-western Vietnam the mountain ranges are so high that it is not unheard of for it to snow at Christmas time. The trek up Mount Fansipan – Indochina’s highest peak – is a true challenge for even the hardiest trekker. Vietnam’s hotels and resorts are fast becoming recognized as some of the finest in the world, quite an achievement considering that four or five years ago there were no five-star hotels in the country at all.
Nowadays visitors can play golf on international standard golf courses, relax on superb beaches, enjoy the facilities of world-class hotels in Ho Chi Minh City and in Hanoi, and even find comfort and style in some of Vietnam’s more remote destinations. Vietnamese people are some of the friendliest you are likely to encounter anywhere in Asia. The genuine smiles of the people here are an enduring memory for almost every visitor. It is not unusual for complete strangers to be invited into a private home to share a meal or a cup of tea. UNESCO has recognized the importance of four separate sites in Vietnam and has bestowed World Heritage status on Halong Bay, Hoi An, My Son and the Imperial City of Hue.
Weather & Climate.
We operate this trip during the cooler or hot and drier season. Average daytime temperatures are variable in Vietnam (20oC – 28oC); nighttime from Dec, Jan, Feb temperatures are sometimes cooler, requiring a fleece jacket. This time is often misty and humid with showers. A good rain/paddle jacket is a must.
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Before you go, we provide you with extensive pre-departure information, including clothing recommendations, suggested reading lists.
Dont take our word for how great our trips are. Well be happy to provide you with references of satisfied past travelers.
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There’s no bike like your own, and many people choose to bring their own bike on our tours. We insist that you make sure your bike is well serviced before joining a tour, as there is nothing that infuriates a leader more than a bike in constant need of repair.
Although we recommend mountain bikes, hybrid bikes and tourers are also suitable for any tours NOT listed as mountain bike tours. Rigid front forks are also usually fine on most tours, however thin-tyred racing bikes are not appropriate on any of our tours. For all off-road mountain bike tours, mountain bikes are the only suitable bikes and front suspension is recommended.
Our detailed fact sheets will contain information on the appropriate bike to bring for each trip as well as advising you on the best types to fit.
Most airlines will accept a bike as part of your total luggage allowance – i.e. your bags plus the bike should not exceed the luggage allowance. This varies with the airline and the route; as a general rule the limit is 20kg, but the exact amount is shown on your ticket. A boxed bike typically weighs about 16kg, which does not leave much space for your luggage.
Bikes should be boxed for air travel in order to prevent damage and some airlines will not carry bikes that are not properly boxed. Most good bike shops will box your bike for you so if you are going to have your bike serviced before the tour it may be a good idea to have the shop box it too.
We cannot be held responsible for any excess baggage charge, and some airlines, especially in the US, have a fixed charge for taking bikes, regardless of the weight.
You can buy, extend and claim online even after you’ve left home. Recommended by Lonely Planet, World Nomads travel insurance is available to people from over 150 countries and is designed for adventurous travelers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and activities such as bicycle touring.
When to ride
Conditions are generally best from December to May. In the north of Laos and Vietnam, this period can be damp and cool but is still the best time to ride. May to October is warmer there but is also typhoon season.
The wet season (June-Sept) neednt be a complete washout, but it is extremely hard-going in South Vietnam and Laos, as many of the roads are unsurpassed. Even with Vietnams improved infrastructure, cycling through a tropical downpour is no fun. Check the When to Ride sections of each ride for more advice.
Lonely Planets Thailand, Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia Road Atlas is the best, most up-to-date source of maps for this region, and includes maps of all the major cities.
What to Bring
For this regions bumpy roads, we recom-mend riding a mountain bike. Bring all the cycling gear you require from home. Al-though Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong have a good range of products, you cannot expect to find much in the region. However, most tailors and bicycle repairers can knock up a customized piece of clothing or a spare part at a fraction of the cost back home. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the only city with parts for expensive mountain bikes.
Weight and weather are essential consid-erations; your legs will soon feel it if youve packed too much gear. Clothing should be ventilated to offset the high temperatures.
As little as possible is the best policy but not so little that you dont have anything relatively smart to wear when the occasion demands it. Except for cycling clothes, its very easy to find almost anything you need along the way its better to start with too little than too much. The Your Bicycle chap-ter has handy tips on packing your panniers.
On the Bicycle
It is best to wear padded cycling shorts known to cycling as knicks. These are designed to be worn without under-wear to prevent chafing. Those that dont fancy Lycra can get shy shorts: ordinary shorts with lightweight padded knicks inside.
Repairs on the Road
While you wont find Western-style bike shops in the region, basic bike-repair shops are in most towns and villages, usually centred around the market. Youll even pass repairers working by the roadside in the most unex-pected spots (however, they will be harder to find in the north of Laos and Vietnam).
Roadside stalls can fix a puncture or fit a set of brake pads (most likely recycled!), but re-pairs to complicated foreign gears are likely to be a no-no. If the problem is serious, put the bike on a truck or bus to the nearest town. The town bike shop may not be familiar with the sophistication of Western bikes but it will stock a greater selection of parts. You may even be able to get a spare part copied for your bike.
The language chapter at the back of this book gives words for basic parts and some useful phrases. If youre really stuck for words, we suggest pointing at the problem area and taking a polite, patient approach-you might be surprised what the repairer can do to keep you on the road.
Equipment Check List
This list is a general guide to the things you might take on a bike tour. Your list will vary depending on the kind of cycling you want to do, whether youre sharing a dorm in a guesthouse or planning on luxury accommodation. Dont forget to take enough water and food to see you safely between towns.
|* See the First-Aid Kit boxed text in the Health & Safety chapter, and the Spares & Tool Kit boxed text in the Your Bicycle chapter.|
Children can travel by bicycle from the time they can support their head and a helmet, at around eight months. There are some small, lightweight, cute helmets around, such as the Lil Bell Shell.
To carry an infant or toddler requires a child seat or trailer. Child seats are more common for every-day riding and are cheaper, easier to move as a unit with the bike and let you touch and take to your child while moving. Disadvantages, especially over long distances, can include exposure to weather, the tendency of a sleeping child to loll, and losing luggage capacity at the rear. The best makes, such as the Rhode G
ear Limo, include extra moulding to protect the child in case of a fall, have footrests and restraints, recline to let the child sleep and fit very securely and conveniently onto a bike rack.
With a capacity of up to 50kg (versus around 18kg for a child seat), trailers can accommodate two bigger children and luggage. They give good, though not always total, protection from sun and rain and let children sleep comfortably. Its also handy to be able to swap the trailer between adults bikes. However, a trailer will make dodging the regions many potholes ever harder! Look for a trailer that is lightweight, foldable, brightly coloured with a flag, and that tracks and handles well.
Be sure that the bike to which you attach a child seat or trailer is sturdy and low-geared to withstand and help you withstand the extra weight and stresses. Seats and trailers are treated as additional luggage items when flying.
From the age of about four, children can move on to a trailer-bike (effectively a childs bike, minus a front wheel, which hitches to an adults bike) or to a tandem (initially as stoker the rider at the back with kiddy cranks, or crank extensions) this lets them help pedal. The tandem can be a long-term solution, keeping you and your child together and letting you compensate if the child tires. The British publication Encycleopedia, by Alan Davidson et al, is a good guide to quality trail-ers, trailer-bikes and tandems available from manufacturers around the world.
Be careful of children rushing into touring on a solo bike before they can sustain the effort and concentration requires. Once they are ready and keen to ride solo, at about age 10 to 12, they will need a good quality touring bike, properly fitted (A$400, US$250, UK$160 up)/
Bike touring with children requires a new attitude as well as new equipment. Be sensitive to their needs especially when theyre too young to communicate them fully. In a seat or trailer, theyre not expending energy and need to be dressed accordingly. Keep them dry, at the right temperature and protected from the sun. Keep their energy and interest up. When you stop, a child traveling in a seat or trailer will be ready for action, so always reserve some energy for parenting. This means more stops, including at places for children to play. Older children will have their own interests and should be involved in planning a tour. Before setting off on a major journey, try some day trips to check your set-up and introduce your child to cycling.
Children need to be taken into account in deciding each days route traffic and distances need to be moderate and facilities and points of interest adequate. Given the extra weight of children and their daily needs, you may find it easier to opt for day trips from a base. The very fit and adventure-ous may not need to compromise to ride with children, but those who do will still find it worthwhile.
As with other activities, children bring a new perspective and pleasure to cycle touring. They tend to love it.
Ideally, a training program should be tailored to your objectives, specific needs, fitness level and health. However, if you have no idea how to prepare for your cycling holiday these guidelines will help you get the fitness you need to enjoy it more. Things to think about include:
Foundation You will need general kilometers in your legs before you start to expose them to any intensive cycling. Always start out with easy rides even a few kilometers to the shops and give yourself plenty of time to build towards your objective.
Tailoring Once you have the general condition to start preparing for your trip, work out how to tailor your training rides to the type of tour you are planning. Someone preparing for a three-week ride will require a different approach to someone building fitness for a one-day or weekend-ride. Some aspects to think about are the ride length (distance and days), terrain, climate and weight to be carried in panniers. If your trip involves carrying 20kg in panniers, incorporate this weight into some training rides, especially some of the longer ones. If you are going to be touring in mountainous areas, choose a hilly training route. Given the overpowering heat in the region, taking an exercise bike into a sauna might be the surest way to get acclimatized for the trip!
Recovery You usually adapt to a training program during recovery time, so its important to do the right things between rides. Recovery can take many forms, but the simple ones are best. These in-clude getting quality sleep, eating an adequate diet to refuel the system, doing recovery rides be-tween hard days (using low gears to avoid pushing yourself), stretching and enjoying a relaxing bath. Other forms include recovery massage, spas and yoga.
If you have no cycling background this program will help you get fit for your cycling holiday. If you are doing an easy ride (each ride in this book is rated; see Cycling Routes in the Regional Facts for the Cyclist chapter), aim to at least complete Week 4; for moderate rides, complete Week 6; and com-plete the program if you are doing a hard ride. Experiences cycle tourists may start at Week 3, while those who regularly ride up to four days a week could start at Week 5.
Dont treat this as a punishing training schedule: try cycling to work or to the shops, join a local touring club or get a group of friends together to turn weekend rides into social events.
* Steady pace (allows you to carry out a conversation without losing your breath) on flat or undulating terrain
^ Solid pace (allows you to talk in short sentences only) on undulating roads with some longer hills
The training program shown here is only a guide. Ultimately it is important to listen to your body and slow down if the ride is getting too hard. Take extra recovery days and cut back distances when you feel this way. Dont panic if you dont complete every ride, every week; the most important thing is to ride regularly and gradually increase the length of your rides as you get fitter.
For those with no exercise background, be sure to see your doctor and get a clearance to begin exercising at these rates. This is especially important for those over 35 years of age with no exer-cise history and those with a cardiac or respiratory condition of any nature.
Along with a first-aid manual, a possible kit could include:
The bonk, in a cycling context, is not a pleasant experience; its that light-headed, cant-put-power-to-the-pedals weak feeling that engulfs you (usually quite quickly) when your body runs out of fuel.
If you experience it the best move is to stop and refuel immediately. It can be quite serious and risky to your health if its not addressed as soon as symptoms occur. It wont take long before you are ready to get going again (although most likely at a slower pace), but youll also be more tired the next day so try to avoid it.
The best way to do this is to maintain your fuel intake while riding. Cycling for hours burns con-siderable body energy, and replacing it is something that needs to be tailored to each individuals tastes. The touring cyclist needs to target foods that have a high carbohydrate content. Foods that contain some fat are not a problem occasionally, as cycling at low intensity (when youre able to ride and talk without losing your breath) will usually trigger the body to draw on fat stores before stored carbohydrates.
Good cycling foods include:
During lunch stops try such things as rice, noodles and baguettes; for breakfast, you may also find cereal and banana pancakes.
Its important not to get uptight about the food you eat. As a rule of thumb, base all your meals around carbohydrates (eg, noodles, rice and bread) of some sort, but dont be afraid to also indulge in local culinary delights.
Most cuts will stop bleeding on their own, but if a blood vessel of any size has been cut it may bleed for some time. Wounds to the head, hands and at joint creases tend to be particularly bloody.
To stop bleeding from a wound:
Never use a tourniquet to stop bleeding as this may cause gangrene the only situation in which this may be appropriate is if the limb has been amputated.
These tips on riding technique are designed to help you ride more safely, comfortably and efficiently:
In the wet
Pick-a-Plank (Wooden) Bridges
Information from Lonely Planet Cycling Guide Book
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