Cycle Touring Part 1: Vietnam (23-26 Dec 23)

From Đồng Hới we returned to Saigon – with more time that expected due to our flight rearrangements. We visited the War Remnants Museum which was sobering, and also interesting to read from a Vietnam bias.

Hipster cafes along with the best of them in Saigon

More upbeat was a Street Food Tour on the back of scooters with local university students. We got some delicious food and it was also great (if slightly terrifying) to be part of the traffic chaos rather than just dodging it.

Street food tour

We survived the Saigon traffic

View from our room. This was a quiet traffic moment!

The next phase of the trip was a 13 day cycle tour (though day 1 & 13 were just arriving/leaving). The trip was marketed as Saigon to Bangkok which sounds pretty impressive. However, there was a lot of sitting on the bus as well as cycling, so maybe not as impressive as it sounds.

We met up with the group in Saigon. There were 16 paying clients on the cycle tour – many countries represented – Scotland, England (3 resident, 1 via Greece), Canada, New Zealand, Poland (via Switzerland), the remaining 8 living in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Brisbane). Probably a few too many Australians for some people! We had a consistent Group Leader across the 3 countries the tour went to, but local crews (& bikes) in each country. At minimum we had a bus driver, truck driver, mechanic in each country, and other cycle/tour leaders/photographers (!) depending on where we were.

Unsurprisingly, given the traffic in Saigon, we didn’t start riding straight out of Saigon but got a bus south to the Mekong Delta.

The Vietnam bus

Our first day was only 30km of cycling, followed by a boat trip to our homestay for the night. This happened to be Christmas Eve. Saigon had been in full Christmas mode – Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Christmas decorations everywhere. But once we got into the more rural areas there was little to remind you of it.

I think the group had been a bit apprehensive of how basic the homestay was going to be – it was better than I was expecting. Segregated rooms (well walls) in a large building with en suite (outdoor) bathrooms.

Mekong Delta boating

Group on the boat

Christmas Eve dinner

In Vietnam we were on Trek mountain bikes as the surfaces weren’t consistent, particularly while we were riding through the delta on paths that were largely used by pedestrians or scooters. Christmas day was one of the longest cycling days of the trip. We had some lovely sections, including through a flower market, and some lovely shady paths through rice paddies.

Christmas day touches

Rachel cycling

Tom cycling

Delta cycling

Goose farm in the delta

Christmas day lunch

Ferry across somewhere in the delta

However the itinerary had set an expectation of 75km, and the day had been full of misinformation. “It’s 1km to lunch” 4kms later… etc. So when we were told at 70km we had another 15km to go, with another (optional) 29km to the hotel, I wasn’t too happy. In the end 4 of us pulled up stumps at 75km, 7 going on to 85km, and then 5 strong riders doing the optional 29km to finish with a 114km day. My ego was a bit deflated stopping at 75km but when I saw the state of my saddle sores later that evening I knew I’d made the right choice.

Going to the homestay on the first night we had to pack a small bag with our overnight gear, rather than take all our luggage. This essentially locked us into whatever we’d decided we needed for day 2 of riding as well. It wasn’t ideal as we had to make those decisions before we’d even seen the bikes. I’d made a poor choice of bike pants for day 1, and continued to suffer for that choice on day 2 as well.

Our third day of riding took us on a very straight road all the way to the Vietnam/Cambodia border.

Rice paddies en route to the border

Bye, bye Vietnam. At the border with the Thai crew

Riding in Vietnam was over just like that. Whether it was because it was Boxing Day, or just lucky, the border was very quiet and so we got through as fast as a group of 16+ foreigners could expect to… We were obviously an unusual sight as the border guards were taking photos of us queuing – of course we didn’t dare take any photos ourselves.

Continue to Part 2