Pedalnam….Biking  Vietnam Part 2

As I sit on the shores of Cambodia’s beaches watching the waves lazily slap the shores, the sweat and fatigue of the last month seem like a distant memory….I almost have to pinch myself to remember what we put ourselves through during our 28 day traverse down the length of Vietnam on two (not entirely trusty) wheels.

But indeed, we did it.  As we turned down the small alley in Vietnam’s southern metropolis that hid our hotel, we dismounted and realized, that was it.  No more early mornings.  No more stinky gear, no more pedalling.  We had set out to get as far down the length of Vietnam as our bikes would allow, and they had indeed taken us the whole way. Twenty eight days and 1800kms after pulling out of Hanoi, we arrived in Saigon.  

While I hope my life will contain many more, this will forever remain on the list of our ‘trips of a lifetime’.  Byron and I both strive for and seek out challenges, enjoying that which pushes us both physically and mentally, and this trip was no exception.  Day in and day out, we got up, put on our often rather repulsive smelling jerseys and shorts, and aimed for a spot on the map a relative good distance south from us.  As we got stronger we found we could average about 100kms a day, but that often varied depending on the terrain and distance to the next town  where we may or may not find a guest house (fortunately we always did).  On our slowest, and probably most difficult day going over the mountain pass to Dak Glei in Vietnam’s central interior, we managed to grind out only 58kms, all of which were uphill.  Other days, when the wind was at our back and the road seemed to always slope away under our tires, we rode as far as 132kms.  It seemed that luck was on our side for much of the way with weather as well; we left Hanoi just as the winter weather was setting in, and were able to keep it behind us for most of the way.  We met a system in Hue that kept us over an extra day as the city was deluged in a continual downpour, but for the most part we rode through only mild showers, which left us no more drenched then we already were in our own sweat.  At the top of the pass on our slowest day we donned our jackets and stopped for a hot coffee; the first time we specifically requested it.  We chuckled about how acclimatized we had become and kept the jackets on until we reached the warm valley bottom below.  

With a hardy constitution, an open mind, and a little bit of spirit I would recommend this trip to anyone.  Vietnam is a beautifully diverse country, both naturally and culturally.  As mentioned in my last post, it’s difficult to go more than a kilometer or two without a joyfully shouted ‘hello!’ from a stranger, or a wave and honk from a passing vehicle.  Vietnam can also break your heart in the same instance it lifts it though; as you pass through a village that consists of nothing more than a few poor farmer’s shacks, or you swerve your bike through the garbage and stray dogs lining the streets you realize culture, education and economics have not yet allowed for the same standards we are so fortunate to enjoy at home. 

But travelling is one of the best reminders that we are all different, and life plays out in many different ways for us all on earth.  It gives one reason to examine and reflect on your own life and habits, and perhaps better understand not only humanity, but your own self as well.  As we continue our travels through South East Asia I can only hope we stumble upon more crazy adventures and experiences like we found in Vietnam, and continue to learn and grow along the way.

xo Alison and Byron

*For those of you who are thinking of embarking on a bike trip through Vietnam, I can only say;  DO IT!  You wont’t regret it, and as Byron and I figured, if the bikes break down beyond repair you can always thrown them in the ditch and catch the next bus to the city.  You never know till you try! 
   

  
  

Breakfast time  

 

  

  The double chair, all day everyday

  

  
  

Coffee time
  
  

  

  

  

  

 

 
  

  
  

   

 
 
  

Four Wheels and a Scheme…Biking Vietnam Part 1

Well, against all odds we found two bicycles and bags that would fit our (excessive) gear, and made it out of the city of Hanoi alive.  Our crazy scheme came to fruition and our legs were only starting to realize what they were in for as we pedalled out of the city at 6am 22 days ago, with little to no idea what was in store for us.  It all started out so simple.. I came across A Cruising Couple’s blog post while we were still finishing up our time in Laos, and it sounded like a great idea; buy some bikes in Hanoi, pedal roughly 1600kms to Ho Chi Minh City, sell the bikes, and call it a day.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t think either of us were under any illusion that this was going to be easy; but we figured we’re both pretty fit, we enjoy biking, and we were looking for a new means of travel through Vietnam, so how hard could it be?  As we sit a little under 400kms from Ho Chi Minh City though, I realize this has been the most physically and mentally challenging experience of my life.  But it has also been one of the most rewarding.  After we stopped for a water break at the top of a series of never-ending hills the other day, Byron turned to ask me if I would ever consider doing this again, knowing what I know now.  And I said absolutely.  There have been moments where I have cursed myself for coming up with this idea, cursed Byron for being stronger and faster, cursed the wind for blowing in my face and not at my back, and cursed the sun for not spending enough time behind the clouds during the heat of the day.  But each time my mind turned sour, it would only be a matter of minutes before the vista of green jungle would remind me of the beauty surrounding us, or a sharp ‘hello!’ would come crying from the depths of a house we were passing by, as the delighted and humoured Vietnamese would see us and shout out a greeting. I swear if we were counting, there may be a hello for every kilometer we’ve pedalled.

Yesterday we came across the first bikers we’ve crossed paths with so far on our journey; it was like we found the only other fish left in the sea, we were so excited to stop and share our stories with each other.  And they said something interesting that stuck with me; of all of the countries they’ve pedalled through so far (Vietnam is their fifth!), Vietnam has been their favourite for one simple reason: the people.  And it couldn’t be more true; whether they’re laughing at or with us or offering a helping hand, the Vietnamese people have warmed our hearts and given us a boost whenever we’ve needed it most.

So for now I’ll leave our story at that and wait until we’ve pedalled our last kilometer into Ho Chi Minh City to write about this jouney at length.  But I will also recommend that if you’ve got a harebrained idea up your sleeve and you’re not sure if it’s going to work, go for it.  You never know where the road will take you, and you can be sure you’ll at least get a few ‘hellos’! along the way. 🙂

ps – check out Tan and Aleu’s blog and facebook page on their biking journey so far…they make us look like amateurs over here!

xo Alison and Byron