In cleaning up my computer, I found this blog post I’d saved and meant to post before our bike trip in Nov 2008. For me, the most exiting part of my three weeks in Vietnam wasn’t seeing a particularly historic Cham tower, or visiting a particularly gorgeous coastal town, or sampling a simply delicious meal. My most exciting part was discovering how capable I was on the bike and how much fun I was having with the cycling. I played sports as a kid (just as I also did student council, science club, or yearbook), and I like to hike as an adult, but I’ve never really identified as athletic.
It felt really good to be able to finish a day and say “I just rode 130km, up and down multiple mountain passes, through the rain and monsoon, in the 80-90F tropical heat, battling for road space from motorcycles and chicken buses, dodging children and mangy mutts, carrying 40 pounds of gear on a heavy 40 pound bike!”
Planning to cycle Vietnam was my first real fitness goal, and even then it was a vague goal. I hadn’t ridden a bike more than 5-10 times in the past 17 years, so the idea of a cycling trip was kind of a long shot for me. (Multiple staff at REI and Recycled Cycles threw professionalism out the window and told me directly “You’re crazy” when I told them I was doing the trip as an inexperienced biker who was actually kind of scared of biking). What made me pick a cycling trip? I didn’t. My boyfriend and his best friend were going, and they invited me along. I’m always game for adventure and I definitely identify as a good traveler, so I guess I figured the biking component would just fall into place.
I started riding the 5 mile trek to work a few times a week for a couple of months before the trip (when I wasn’t out of town on business trips), Mez and I did about four Saturday morning prep rides, and we did a one day sample ride on Lopez Island after installing out bike racks, lights, and weighted down panniers. I read warnings (like on the excerpt below) and still decided to go for it. It wasn’t terribly much prep, but somehow I’m proud to say it was enough!
Excerpt from the VeloAsia Cycling Adventures website by Patrick Morris:
“Riding on Highway One can be unnerving, but it is still ridable. Remember: cyclists are at the bottom of the food chain, or pretty close to it. In tight situations, drivers will expect you to get out of the way. Fortunately drivers almost always honk whenever passing, but try to stay far to the right and be prepared to bail out to the side of the road. Rural people (and animals) seldom look up when crossing the road unless they hear an engine or horn. An easy way to get killed cycling in Vietnam, or much of the world, is to ride at night. Many drivers keep their lights off and will not see you. Rocks, pot holes, drying rice and coffee, darting children, chickens, dogs, water buffaloes demand your undivided attention to the road ahead.
Danger update: Unfortunately, much has changed for cyclists since this article was written about a decade ago. The most important change, in terms of cycling across Vietnam, is the tremendous growth in automobile, truck and motorbike traffic. In many places, the roads have become dangerous to the degree that several tourists on bike were killed in Vietnam in early 2001. If you do go by bike, there is plenty of information and advice out there to research, although some of it is of the “go for it!” and “you’ll be glad you did it” variety. But in a country with the highest road fatality rate in the world, this would be foolish without at least knowing what you are getting into and preparing accordingly. Ride defensively and on the safer routes (“I’m going to ride every mile” may be a foolhardy). I also urge you to consider taking out emergency medical and air evacuation insurance for your trip – a small price to pay if you have an accident. We have also posted a notice that female travelers should read. “