Vietnam Cycling Trip
The cycling trip through Vietnam is all a bed of roses. There were heaps of crappy roads, bad traffic, constant honking and unsanitary conditions for us Westerners. The World’s Greatest Cycling Routes includes Vietnam’s Highway 1. There were a few excellent sections but we were relieved whenever we found our way off it. That said, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was the experience of a lifetime.
Many dramas can be avoided with bringing the right equipment for a trip like this. It was a bit of a learning experience for me so I payed close attention. Here’s a list of what we brought that we couldn’t have lived without (in no particular order):
There are cheap laundry facilities everywhere. It might be a good idea to bring some of your own laundry soap though. It ooked as though our clothes were scrubbed on rocks or something. Lycra doesn’t like this. It might be a better idea to wash your expensive knicks yourself and give your cheap t-shirts and shorts to the laundry service. Most of us brought 3 sets of kit which was perfect. 3 or 4 t-shirts, a pair of shorts, bathers and sandals was all that was needed. Also, laundry soap worked terrifically for washing our bikes.
One of things that worked out incredibly well was having one person (i.e. Dear Leader) pay for everything out of a kitty fund. Everyone threw in a couple hundred dollars and all meals and small purchases came out of this fund. It was so much easier than figuring out the bills (which were ridiculously cheap anyway). Dear Leader also chose where we all stayed, what we ate, and our travel route for us with no questions asked. It was a pure dictatorship. Otherwise we would have had 10 guys debating about where to eat, where to stay, which roads to ride, etc.
A Vietnamese translator
We’d still be wandering around HCMC airport without Dear Leader. There were many doors that we wouldn’t have had opened for us without someone who spoke the language. Outside of the cities there were very few people who spoke English. I’m not saying that this trip wouldn’t be possible without a translator, but it would be much more difficult.
Van and driver
This cost us $100 each and was worth 10 times that. He was basically our swany for two weeks. He got us water, found our hotels, brought us food, etc.
Spare set of wheels
One person brought a front wheel, and another person brought a rear. With a group of 10 it’s inevitable that you’re gonna get a few punctures and broken spokes. A spare set of wheels proved to be invaluable. If everyone keeps their drivetrain in decent condition you shouldn’t have much of a problem using a Campy cassette with a Shimano or SRAM groupset (or vice versa). It’ll work just fine.
Everyone should put on new tyres before departing as well as bring a spare tyre or two. With some bad roads we had to endure there were a few cut sidewalls. I brought Conti GP4000′s (24mm) which worked well. Another one of us sweared by the 25mm Shwalbe Durano Plus tyres. Obviously bring a few tubes and a puncture repair kit as well.
A competent bike mechanic
Our bikes took an absolute beating and there’s no such thing as a bikeshop in rural Vietnam. At least have someone who knows the basics riding with you (adjusting gears, truing wheels, replacing cables, re-greasing bearings, etc).
For wiping down the bike, your shoes, your hands, etc. You can buy these at any shop in Vietnam so you can just pick them up locally.
Sunscreen…and LOTS OF IT
We couldn’t find sunscreen at any of the stores and you’d be screwed without it.
I wish I had brought a set of gloves with me. With all the sweat and sunscreen all over my hands I would have liked to have a set of gloves. They also came in handy for the 3 guys who crashed.
You’ll be wiping down your chain with babywipes everyday and lubing your chain every morning. Everyone will be bumming lube off you as well, so you better bring lots.
Came in handy for a few things like damaged bar tape.
Internet & Wifi
Free WiFi was unbelievably accessible – even in rural towns. Computers were usually available in hotels and were basically free. I brought my own laptop because of obvious reasons, but if I weren’t updating this blog I’d be happy with just my iPhone.
Charger for camera battery and Garmin
Vietnam uses 220V and a 2 prong adapter is all that’s required.
Very important. Most current dual mode GSM phones will work on the Vietnamese mobile networks (900MHz and 1800MHz). Most of us bought SIM cards and minutes for $10 (from Vinaphone) and never ran out with extensive use. Having mobile phones came in very handy to communicate with each other when we got split up.
Everyone except for me snored like a chainsaw. Especially Dear Leader and #8 (our driver)
First Aid Kit
Some of the roads weren’t overly safe to be riding on and there was a good chance that a crash would happen (we had 3 crashes). Bring a good first aid kit was lots of saline, gauze, disinfectant, etc.
For less than $100 you can get unlimited medical coverage and $4k of lost or damaged belongings. I went with AAMI. Well worth it.
Almost Airlines companies to Vietnam you’re only allowed 20kg of baggage to check-in and 7-10kg for carry-on. Anything more will cost you $5/kg if you don’t pre-pay for supersized luggage. All we did to get around this was take half our stuff out of our bags, get it weighed and tagged, put all the stuff back in, and then carry it over to the oversized baggage drop-off area. Worked like a charm. The old “foot trick” on the luggage scale worked great as well (prop your foot under your bike bag/box to reduce the weight). With the carry-on bags we simply hid any extra bags out of the check-in agent’s site and brought it on the plane after we got our tickets. The carry-on baggage rule was abused to it’s limit.
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