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Thread: Cycling Vietnam

  1. #1
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    Cycling Vietnam

    Hello,

    My name is Carl and I'm from the Netherlands. Now I've been living in Hanoi, Vietnam for the past four months. Me and a Vietnamese friend are planning to cycle to Saigon this summer. I've been looking up a lot of information on the internet but I nonetheless have some questions. I am not familiar with cycling such a distance, and from what I read I am not quite sure what I need. I do know that we need quite a lot of practice. The avarage day trip length will be about 75 kilometers.

    First of all, the type of bicycle. My friend rides a single gear city bike (chinese manufacturing), and was sort of thinking that he could do it on that. I have a three gear city bicycle (chinese manufacturing) here, and I am sure I am not going to do it on that. There really aren't any professional bike shops here, meaning that they just sell bicycles. When you say that you want something specific, they lower the price or say that they don't have that. The selection is rather slim here. The shops have some imported bicycles and then there is the chinese selection. The mountain bikes they have are decent, but I would rather not ride on tyres like that. I, myself, was thinking more about something along the racing/tour/road/whateveryoucallit-bicycle lines. However I am not sure. They have no real touring (travel) bicycles here, and not very good hybrids either. My Vietnamese friend found something that seems to be a hybrid, and he is comfortable with that. I think he is a bit aprehensive about my buying it for him... 1.8 million dong seems a lot.. but it's about 90 euro, which I think is not all that much. Before I really start rambing though my question is if I have the wrong idea here, and if I should be looking into mountain-types of bicycles instead of the tour-type.

    I've been thinking about what we want to take with us to, and most people seem to love the ortlieb bags. But again this raises the question if that fits on a tour bicycle. We plan to stay in hotels, and therefore do not want to travel fully loaded, but I wonder what kinds of spare parts I should be bringing... some inner tubes seem like a good idea, grease and some other parts. There are a lot of packing lists to be found on the net, but I am still wondering what things break down most often, or is that just all a matter of chance.

    I suppose I will have more questions, but I don't even know if I am on the right forum here. Any advice would be helpful though.

    Thanks a lot,

    Carl

    http://carl.q42.nl/default.asp?l=en

  2. #2
    Old School Rad mtnbiker66's Avatar
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    If the roads are rough you might look at a mountian bike and change the tires ot some slicks.If your going to be on the bike a lot you need to be comfortable so a good fit is a must.You are in a good place for info. You should get lots of help here.
    Like a circus monkey on a stolen Harley......

  3. #3
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    A man and woman from Carsrcoffins.com did a ride like what you are describing on SS thru SE asia. Their blog may still be on the site, or the guys there may set you up with info. Good luck tell us how it goes I want to do that trip too.

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    1.8 million dong! I hope you don't have to pay cash. You would need a wheelbarrow to carry the money.
    I get a mental picture of showing up at a U.S. bike shop to buy a bike with pennies.
    Last edited by Hal Hardy; 03-13-05 at 09:46 AM.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by CarlinVietnam
    Hello,

    My name is Carl and I'm from the Netherlands. Now I've been living in Hanoi, Vietnam for the past four months. Me and a Vietnamese friend are planning to cycle to Saigon this summer. I've been looking up a lot of information on the internet but I nonetheless have some questions. I am not familiar with cycling such a distance, and from what I read I am not quite sure what I need. I do know that we need quite a lot of practice. The avarage day trip length will be about 75 kilometers.

    First of all, the type of bicycle. My friend rides a single gear city bike (chinese manufacturing), and was sort of thinking that he could do it on that. I have a three gear city bicycle (chinese manufacturing) here, and I am sure I am not going to do it on that. There really aren't any professional bike shops here, meaning that they just sell bicycles. When you say that you want something specific, they lower the price or say that they don't have that. The selection is rather slim here. The shops have some imported bicycles and then there is the chinese selection. The mountain bikes they have are decent, but I would rather not ride on tyres like that. I, myself, was thinking more about something along the racing/tour/road/whateveryoucallit-bicycle lines. However I am not sure. They have no real touring (travel) bicycles here, and not very good hybrids either. My Vietnamese friend found something that seems to be a hybrid, and he is comfortable with that. I think he is a bit aprehensive about my buying it for him... 1.8 million dong seems a lot.. but it's about 90 euro, which I think is not all that much. Before I really start rambing though my question is if I have the wrong idea here, and if I should be looking into mountain-types of bicycles instead of the tour-type.

    I've been thinking about what we want to take with us to, and most people seem to love the ortlieb bags. But again this raises the question if that fits on a tour bicycle. We plan to stay in hotels, and therefore do not want to travel fully loaded, but I wonder what kinds of spare parts I should be bringing... some inner tubes seem like a good idea, grease and some other parts. There are a lot of packing lists to be found on the net, but I am still wondering what things break down most often, or is that just all a matter of chance.

    I suppose I will have more questions, but I don't even know if I am on the right forum here. Any advice would be helpful though.

    Thanks a lot,

    Carl

    http://carl.q42.nl/default.asp?l=en
    Hmmmmm... Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh.... do-able, but the roads. God, the roads.

    I haven't cycled it, but I have been by car, and sometimes, the roads are great. Sometimes, the roads are pretty freakin' bad. So do make sure you have some tough tires with you.

    As far as gear, I wouldn't assume you could readily get bike gear should your bike break down- or at least, not easily. On the main highway, the towns seemed pretty far apart, so it would be a good idea to carry enough inner tubes and patch kits to get at least 6 flats. Be especially dependent on the patch kits- don't go for the glueless patches. Get the good stuff. When you repair a flat, you want to know it's going to last for a while. The roads can get rough. By car, it takes like 3 days to get from Ho Chi Minh to Saigon, and that's including rest breaks and a long time in the car. Consider that when you're trying to figure out realistically how many km you can get in there.

    Take the time to thoroughly go over your bike before you leave- grease up all the parts that need the lubing, make sure your tires are fresh, your brakes are tightened, etc. Carry a good multitool kit and learn how to do some basic, preventative maintenance. And everyday, before you head out, take 20 minutes to thoroughly check over your bike and make sure everything is ok. The last thing you need is to be 40 km from the nearest town and stuck in 35 degree heat.

    Make sure you have enough water. It's beautiful, but it's dry and arid. So when you choose a bike, make sure you have enough water bottle holders or a way to carry a lot of water. Sunscreen wouldn't hurt either. You folks in the north have problems with prolonged times in the sun, I think.

    For you (and me), 1.8 million dong is no big deal, but for a Vietnamese person, that's quite a bit. If you're friend is not working in a higher paying job, don't be surprised if he's feeling skittish about getting a 1.8 million dong bike. For some people, 1.8 million dong may take several months to earn... if they're lucky. I had problems holding onto a million dong myself. It is quite a bit of money for Vietnam, so don't pressure your friend if he can't afford it. Encourage him to get the best bike he can with the money he has. Or find a place where they have used bikes or bikes people threw away. Maybe he can get a basic bike for cheaper then strip down other bikes from used bikes and stuff. Encourage him to be creative and think outside the box if he can't afford the bike he would like to have. Help him out, since you seem to have some savvy with bikes.

    If you have a rear rack for your bikes, you'll be fine to get some panniers. Some people swear by the Ortlieb bags, but they don't breathe, so if your clothes get damp or wet, you won't be able to dry them efficiently. I take clothes that I want to dry and bungee cord them to the rack anyway and let them air dry, but if that's not your thing, you might want to get a pannier that's breathable.

    Make sure you have good, strong lights if you plan on riding after dark. I don't think there were very many lights along the highways, so it would not be the safest thing in the world anyway to ride after dark. Make sure you have front and rear lights that are visible from at least 100 feet away.

    I was surprised to see how few bikes there were in Vietnam compared to motorbikes. In Saigon, there are a TREMENDOUS amount of motorbikes. In the evenings, there are thousands of teens and kids riding around on bikes. I was warned A LOT by other tourists and the Consulate to keep valuables close to your body, since someone on a motorbike will reach out and snatch your stuff and ride away faster than you can react. To that end, make sure you have a way of securing your belongings to your bike so that no one can easily ride by and snatch something you really need off your bike. That would suck.

    Good luck with your trip! There are great places to stop, and it's incredibly cheap out there! There are great boat day trips along the coast, and it's like 5- 10 euro tops. For that, you get a day trip with a bunch of other folks your age, and they sail out a bit into deeper waters, drop oversized tires into the water for you to lay in, and they have full buffets with all the food you can eat with plenty of beer and drinks. Some boats also island hop too, and by the end of the day, everyone's laying around in tires in the water, totally full, totally doped up, and completely exhausted (but happy). Lots and lots of fun, man.

    Koffee

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    Thanks for the replies.

    We are aware that the roads aren't all we would like them to be, and they are one of my main concerns as well. We will need good tyres, and spares, and patch kitts to get there all the way. Most of the websites I have been reading all say this about touring. As such I am looking to ride on tyres that they do more or less have everywhere, and nothing special. It'll be a little difficult to buy a bike with different tyres. They more or less sell you a bike here or nothing. As for finding bikes that people threw away, they throw nothing away here that is big or looks like it still works.... but perhaps we can negotiate for better deals and certain parts. My friends brother has already offered to negotiate... for most salespeople being white mostly means that they can charge you more.

    My friend being Vietnamese really helps though in sorting most things out...some things you just can't quite explain with your hand and feet.

    As a 'northern' type I am indeed quite worried about the sun, and I'll be sure to stay out of it as much as I can and drink as much as I need. Next to the roads, I am worried about my skin most...

    About the whole money deal... they have bills here that are half a million dong. I regurlarly walk around like a millionaire here when I get paid somewhere. I plan to pay for my friend though, I know full well that he couldn't afford it otherwise. He has a slightly different idea about what we need for the trip though, but I think we can make it work. Thanks for the advice on bags and bikes. I'll keep you guys posted on our progress... we won't be going for another three months though.

    Any other advice is welcome,

    Carl
    Last edited by CarlinVietnam; 03-14-05 at 02:02 AM.

  7. #7
    You need a new bike supcom's Avatar
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    You might check out www.mrpumpy.net for some tips from a guy whos done a lot of cross country cycling in SE Asia.

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    I haven't cycled in Vietnam, but I've cycled in Southern Laos and extensively in Cambodia. I've also seen Chinese mountain bikes. I can assure you that you're gonna have a very tough ride. This year has proven to be a very dry spell for SE asia, and the summer will be searing hot, progressively towards Hochimin city. I believe your friends can survive the trip even on their single speed bike, since they are on their turf. But you'll certainly need mt bike and lots of determination. This is not to discourage you. BTW have you seen my post on Tsunami bike trip? This is an all paved road bike ride, and it's for a good cause. If you can get to Bangkok, the cost of the ride is very cheap at less than 40Euro for 6 days ride, inclusive of accommodation and some meals and airconditioned bus return ride to Bangkok, with your bike. You can rent bike in Bangkok and learn about long distant touring. If you can take bike back to Hanoi, you can get good bike in Bangkok for less than you'd pay in the US. Same brand, same model, similar specification.
    Last edited by wheelin; 03-14-05 at 04:32 PM.

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    I've just came back from my cycling trip from Hanoi to Saigon, here's some of my biking background: I'm an avid mountain biker who bike regularly everyweek for the last 10 years, and run 10k couple times a week for lunches, I bike on the roads often enough and know how to listen for the incomming traffic from the behind. My mountain bike is $US3000 litespeed that I built up myself 5 years ago. I packed light but has all the essentials such tools/medicines/first-aids/powder gatoraid/emergency food gels/ bike parts...and most important couple thousand bucks.

    So how did like the trip? It was rough, the roads are not too good because many portion are being reworks. Traffic was hectic, couple buses almost ran me over. I biked off paved road often enough to get out of the traffic. Near Saigon, it was hot and dusty. Out of the 2000 kms, only about 200 kms are scenic.

    Kids/aldults on those crappy either local make or chinese bikes tried to race me and my loaded bike and I just blowned them away...For the most parts the roads are pretty flats, but there number of mountain passes the requires low gears, well unless your legs/knees are great shape, prepare to push your bike up the passes instead of biking it up.

    Everynight I stayed in the best hotels I could find even it costed up 40-50 bucks a night, my lunch in Saigon costed 150,000 viet dong and regularly spent more 2,000,000 dong a day. What the heck, after such rough days I just needed some rewards.

    My advices, make sure you get your trainning in order, your bike fit you, every little discomfort that you didn't notice, will show up 1000 kms later.

    I've seen so much, made so many friends, I love the country and and will go back again and again but not with the bike. Don't mean to discourge you, just my personal opinion.

    /td

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    Hey Mustard

    I read your post with great interest since I am also planning a trip to Vietnam in early 2006 with three of my friends. Your experience and knowledge with the people, customs, and sights sure would be a great help to us in our planning. Although our level of fitness may be bit less than yours, we still do pretty well for a bunch of 50 something cyclists who get out 2-3 times per week. Our intent, at least for now, is to use a tour company (either Spice Roads or Cycle Vietnam) and ride half to two thirds of the distance from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi over a three week period. This will give us enough time to see some sights and enjoy adventure while putting in some miles. My role in the planning process is to define the route (others are handling air travel logistics, bicycle transport/maintenace, and guide/support availability)


    I have three questions for you and anyone else who would like to weigh in. First, are there particular towns, villages or sights that you recommend we visit or avoid? Second, where can I buy some good maps that are current and up to date? Third, where exactly are these scenic areas that you spoke about?

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by CarlinVietnam
    Hello,

    My name is Carl and I'm from the Netherlands. Now I've been living in Hanoi, Vietnam for the past four months. Me and a Vietnamese friend are planning to cycle to Saigon this summer. I've been looking up a lot of information on the internet but I nonetheless have some questions. I am not familiar with cycling such a distance, and from what I read I am not quite sure what I need. I do know that we need quite a lot of practice. The avarage day trip length will be about 75 kilometers.
    Just a couple comments. First, summer will be hot and in fact it is the rainy, monsoon season. Second, avoid dealing with the police in any context. Avoid them if you can; get them to go away as quickly as possible if you do have to deal with them. Third: the main road from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh city/Saigon/Whatever is under extensive construction in many places; but I found it quite doable and pleasant enough. The USA bid on the contract do the work, but of course we didn't get it. I had a Cannondale T-700 with hybrid tires, and found very little problem.

    Fourth: a good way to find an inexpensive place to stay is to patronize a local 'restaurant' at dinner time and make snoring/sleeping noises. Many people have rooms to spare and need the cash tourists bring. I am sure your Vietnamese friend will help. Fifth: if the police DO show up at the place you've decided to stay and hassle the local family about it, there is nothing you can do...go where they bring you and suffer your lumps. You are likely to get beat up if you refuse to stay where they bring you. Its a racket...but this, after all, a socialist paradise. One cop stole my helmet and i stole it right back!

    Don't forget your malaria medicine; get your rabies inoculation; and enjoy! I loved it. Hanoi is such a gorgeous city with its parks. I found the food to be very delectable, even if I often wondered what I was eating.

    roughstuff

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  12. #12
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    I would also recommend the Lonely Planet guidebook. I've used it in Vietnam, and I found the information in it very accurate. It was like my bible out there.

    Koffee

  13. #13
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    Me and my gf (at the time) rode down highway 1 from Da Nang (just over half way up the country) to Saigon on a Thaiwanese touring motorbike. I was constantly warned beforehand that the roads were a death trap, and while they were dangerous, for the most part we felt these warning were over-stated.

    Overall, it was a once in a lifetime experience, not quite pleasurable but certainly exhilirating. As someone has stated above, the scenery is pretty bland for the most part with km after km of flat rice plains intersperced by small roadside towns. There are some breathtaking sections though, and you'll appreciate they all the more when you ride through. Some of the empty stretches of beach are sheer paradise.

    On the way south we encountered two mountain passes that you'll be forced to navigate. However, they don't last long and I can't see you having any problems. Just watch out for the buses who scream past at breakneck pace. Definately carry a side mirror and pressure horn.

    One thing you should know is that outside Hanoi, Saigon and the bigger towns, knowledge of English is very poor and you could find yourself in a stick if you don't know a little Vietmanese. Walking into a restaurant and asking for something as simple as a Coke in English will draw large laughing crowds. Don't take offense at this - it's just something you'll need to handle.

    If I were you I'd consider avoiding Highway 1 as much as possible and heading into the central highlands. Looking back I wish we'd done more off-road exploring.

    Good luck

    Some pictures for you to enjoy from that very trip:
    Last edited by maximum01; 05-16-05 at 03:00 PM.

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    This info is too late for the OP but if anyone wants to find out more about cycing in Vietnam, they should check out this forum xedap.org, it's a vietnamese cyling forum, frequented by vietnamese cylist in Vietnam, most of them are former racers and they can tell you everything you need to know about cycling in Vietnam, like where to buy a good, pro bike or help you to plan out the route or even ride with you.
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    Harold... this thread is three and a half years old! D'oh!
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