would you like to come on a cycling adventure through a stunning land?
On the 23rd of September I will be taking a small group of friends on a bicycle adventure through one of the most stunning regions of South East Asia that I have ever visited. If you are a regular reader of this blog you will recognise the tour as an adventure Phong and I embarked on last summer. The group coming along have all bar one ridden with me before, that one is a close friend of a lovely lady with whom I have cycled many times through Asia. There are still a few places left on the tour and the purpose of this blog post is to allow easy access to the tour information for any readers interested in jointing us on our adventure. Should you be interested please contact me ASAP on firstname.lastname@example.org for further details. Even if you are not interested in coming along you may find the pics and details bellow of interest, this really is a stunning area to travel though.
During the summer of 2011 my Vietnamese friend and colleague Phong and I set out on a journey we had long talked about, an exploratory journey to survey the feasibility of a bicycle tour in Vietnam’s mountainous north east.
Little did I know as I flew into Hanoi that my passion for bicycle travel was about to receive a stimulation far beyond anything I had imagined. Each day on the road brought something new, vibrant and exciting to stimulate the senses. Even in the misty humid conditions of midsummer’s wet season my camera was never away from my side as I tried to capture the grandeur of the fairy tale like landscape we cycled through.
Each new day brought with it something not more beautiful, for it was all equal in beauty, but some new and unique beauty. Phong and I are now very happy to be able to share this tour with others who, like us, find great pleasure and excitement discovering new and remote areas and the people who shape them. Our cycling adventure through Vietnams’s north east begins on Sunday 23 September in Hanoi.
DAY 2: Hanoi
The Old Quarter of Hanoi is a vibrant and exciting stage where peoples’ lives are played out amidst a maze of streets that wind through the wonderful colours and textures of fading colonial architecture. Today you are free to wander, explore, and soak up the atmosphere of this most vibrant and exciting of cities.
For those with their own bicycles we can build them up today, and for those renting we must take a little time to try the hire bikes for size.
This evening we will transfer to Hanoi’s main train station to board a comfortable sleeper carriage for the overnight journey to Lao Cai, the starting point of our journey.
Day 3: Lao Cai to Bac Ha. 77KMS
A comfortable over night sleeper train along the Red River takes us to the far northern border town of Lao Cai. A few kilometres to the north is China, but our journey begins with crossing the Red River and heading east on a little used road that winds and undulates through plantations of banana, rubber, fig, tapioca, cinnamon and the obligatory rice, to name just some of the contributors to this verdant blanket. After lunch we will begin our first major climb of the journey, the 18KM ascent to our destination for the day, the market town of Bac Ha at an elevation of 900 metres.
Day 4: Bac Ha to Huang Su Phi. 75KMS.
An early start is needed as we set out on an adventurous ride through a wonderful remote region. Leaving Bac Hai we climb for 10 kilometres on a hard packed gravel road before turning off onto one of the most beautiful rides in SE Asia. The road is mainly hard packed and though in places rough much of it is smooth jeep tracks. The mountain scenery is stunning, the locals are friendly and curious. There are several short harsh climbs that may leave some pushing their machines, the reward being an unforgettable morning of adventure cycling*. Following lunch we join a small sealed road dropping down to the regional headquarter town of Xin Mien
Our afternoon’s ride is a great contrast to the morning as we follow a small sealed road that undulates along the valley of the Chay River before a final three kilometre climb and descent to our overnight stop, the small town of Hoang Su Phi.
Day 5: Huang Su Phi to Vinh Ngoc. 60KMS. BLD
We set out along the quiet rural road that rises and falls along the Chay Valley. After 16 kilometres we begin the steep climb to the first of three passes that take us through a series of fairytale like valleys. The dense green forestation of the valley walls is streaked with the silver flashes of waterfalls, whilst in the valley below the colouring varies with season – brown, green, or yellow according to the rice harvest. The textures of nature combined with the man made rice terraces are breathtaking.
The final pass is called Heaven Gate II, and from here we begin a seventeen kilometre descent into the small town of Vinh Ngoc and our hotel for the night.
Day 6: Vinh Ngoc to Tam Son. 46KMS
We begin today with a short transfer to the regional capital, Ha Giang. Here we must obtain permits for our journey into the restricted zone that tracks the Chinese border.
Riding north we follow the Lo River through a valley flanked by jungle covered karst hills. The river flows brown and the valley floor is given over to rice cultivation. Initially two lanes the road soon narrows to a quiet rural single lane that leads us to the first pass of the day. We follow the narrow road across the plateau until the final three kilometre climb, our second Heaven Gate pass in three days. The views from the pass are indeed heavenly as we descend to Tam Son, our resting place for the night.
Day 7: Rest Day. Tam Son. 0KMS
For a well needed rest day we take a break in the district centre town of Tam Son, a quiet and friendly little town set amidst stunning scenery. Although quiet, Tam Son has several small cafés where one can relax with a coffee or beer and a good book. For those still keen to explore, the beautiful countryside is easily accessible by bicycle or foot with several small traditional villages worthy of exploration.
Day 8: Tam Son to Yen Minh. 47KMS.
We begin our day with a ten kilometre descent into the Nho Que Valley where we cross a small suspension bridge that takes us through a remote Hmong village. From here we follow the brown waters of the Nho Que River. The road away from the Nho Que follows a clear mountain stream as it climbs to the pass above and onto a lovely ridge-ride dipping in and out of the shade of fragrant pine trees through which we get tantalising views of the rich textures and colours of rice terraces, corn fields, and woodland in the valleys either side. The day ends following the ridge as is descends for ten kilometres to where the two valleys become one, and the town of Yen Minh.
Day 9: Yen Minh to Meo Vac. 68KMS.
Leaving Yen Minh a wide fertile valley leads us to todays first climb, seventeen kilometres up and onto Caonguyenda, The Rocky Plateau. Punctuated with jagged limestone ‘rocks’ and waves of karst hills stretching off into the distance it is akin to riding into a mythical Chinese painting. Crossing the plateau is a series of small stiff climbs and wonderful downhills, the last of which is 13KM with a backdrop so fairytale like that you can well imagine mythical creatures wandering the plateau. Along the way we can visit the Vuong Humong King Palace where our guide will tell the fascinating history of a royal families’ successful relationships with both their colonial masters and the communist revolutionaries.
Day 10: Meo Vac to Bao Lac. 73KMS.
Leaving Meo Vac a short steep climb leads us away from the Rocky Plateau. After three kilometres we cross a pass and then undulate through the last of the dramatic grey limestone before beginning a magnificent seventeen kilometre descent during which we loose over a thousand metres of altitude. For the afternoon the road is rural with little traffic. The jungle covered valley walls drop to an often cultivated floor as the road undulates along the valley with no significant climbs or descents for the rest of the day.
Day 11: Bao Lac to Tinh Tuk. 77KMS.
Today is a day of following valleys and crossing the small passes between them as our altitude wanders from three hundred meters to over a thousand. The valleys are green and fertile, rice is the main crop here and the sides of the valleys are often dense with vegetation. During the latter part of the ride we may need to dodge butterflies as large as a man’s hand. Towards the end of the day we climb to over 1000 metres and are rewarded once again with stunning views before descending to our hotel six kilometres beyond the town of Tinh Tuc.
Day 12: Tinh Tuk to Hanoi. 36KMS.
A ten kilometre climb is the work, the reward being the longest descent of the journey. For twenty-six kilometres we freewheel gently down into the valley below barely turning the pedals. By the time we are required to put a little effort into our cycling we will have lost a thousand metres and be back in the tropical warmth. One final climb and a three kilometre descend leads us into a small town for our final lunch on the road. Whilst we dine our crew will load the bikes into our support vehicle ready for our afternoon transfer back to Hanoi where we can celebrate a truly memorable cycling adventure in one of the city’s fine restaurants.
Day 13: Finish. 0KMS
The tour officially ends this morning. For those heading home we will arrange your transfer to Hanoi airport. For those staying on we can arrange optional extra tours including a night aboard ship at the beautiful World Heritage site of Halong Bay.
DATES: 23/09/2012 – 05/10/2012
TOUR PRICE: £1000
Minimum 4. Maximum 14.
A total of Distances 558KMS ranging from 36KMS to 77KMS per day. The daily average distance is 62KMS spread out over 9 days of cycling. Although these daily distances are not huge there is a lot of climbing and descending with a maximum altitude gain in one day of 2000 metres. Participants need a reasonable level of cycling fitness finding cycling 100KMS in a day none to stressful.
Autumn is a great time for cycling. The end of the monsoon season, although there may be a few scattered showers the sky is generally blue and the air clear, lovely for photography in this beautiful region. We can expect temperatures of around 24 to 28 celsius with cooler nights in the mountains.
What is included?
Included in the price is:
13 nights accommodation
12x breakfast, 9x lunch, 8x dinner
Drinking water and snacks (fruit, biscuits, nuts, tea, coffee, juice etc) whilst cycling.
Support vehicle and driver (1 or 2 depending on group size)
kayak.co.uk is a good source of flights. At present they are showing various airlines including Thai and Cathay Pacific offering London Hanoi returns for under £700.
Hire Bikes: £130
Due to the hilly nature of this tour if you are in two minds as to whether to bring your own bicycle I would suggest you do so. Mountain-bike, tourer, hybrid or cyclocross bikes are all suitable.
Our hire bikes are Trek 3 series MTB or similar. If you do choose to use one of our hire bikes it is worth bringing a saddle you are used to and clip in peddles if you use them.
All accommodation is included in the tour price. Rooms are allocated on a twin share basis although single occupancy is generally available at an extra cost of £190. We will be travelling through a remote region of a developing country so whilst we do our best to provide comfortable accommodation it will not be luxurious. All hotels have en suite bathrooms and AC where necessary. Many hotels and guesthouses have WiFi.
Single Supplement: £190:
The tour price is on a twin room share basis. Single room occupancy is available for £190.
Food and Drink:
Most meals are provided except on the rest day and in Hanoi. Snacks and drinking water are provided whilst cycling but you may wish to brink more western style snacks such as chocolate or energy bars as these are not widely available in Vietnam. Meals generally use rice or noodles as the staple with stir-fried meat and vegetable, eggs and soup. Lunch will sometimes be picnic and sometimes hot food. Baguettes are often used for breakfast and picnic lunch.
We are in a hot tropical climate at the end of the rain season. Sun protection is essential. Cool clothes will be necessary most of the time but in the mountains temperatures may drop especially at night. A fleece or light down jacket may be useful as will light
It is an essential condition of booking that you have adequate travel insurance that covers bicycle touring.
Those arriving at Hanoi International airport on the first day of the tour will be met at the airport and transferred to our joining hotel. Those arriving early or by a means other than air will receive instructions and advice on where and when to meet.
Visa on arrival can be issued on presentation of a certificate of approval issued by the immigration department. The certificate is a simple formality and can be processed and issued with minimum fuss via email by our agent in Hanoi for a fee of US$20. Arrangements must be made at least two weeks in advance. The visa fee is payable on arrival in Vietnam and generally costs between US$30 and US$50 dependent on nationality. (This fee is subject to change). Alternatively a visa can be obtained in advance from a Vietnamese embassy.
A £200 deposit is appreciated to confirm your booking.
Optional Extra: Ha Long Bay.
Ha Long Bay is World Heritage site of outstanding natural beauty. It is a very popular trip for people to make at the beginning or end of this tour. There are many options for accommodation and duration of a visit. This can be from a rapid day trip from Hanoi (rather rushed), to several nights on a luxury cruise boat. Our agent in Hanoi offers help with this optional excursion ranging from simple free advice to booking an all inclusive package trip.