The Vietnam Tour Lowdown

The Vietnam Tour Lowdown

Meeting arrangements

The official meeting time for the tour is 6pm on Saturday March 15th in the lobby of the Hanoi Imperial hotel where we will spend the night before heading up into the mountains the following morning.

If you plan to arrive earlier we recommend, for the sake of convenience, that you book into this hotel – http://www.hanoiimperialhotel.com . We will inform the hotel that you are with the tour group if you book extra nights and they should then be able to coordinate the rooming allocations. Please note though that you should book a deluxe room category if they want to remain in the same room when the tour starts. There are presently some good deals to be found on the Agoda website.

If you are not able to get there before 6pm it isn’t a problem so long as you are ready to go the following morning. We plan to leave the hotel by 7am the following day. Simply let us know what time you are likely to arrive and we’ll organise things accordingly.

Our local partner in Vietnam is Grasshopper so in the event the hotel doesn’t know who Ride and Seek is they are probably working off a booking for Grasshopper.

Getting to the first hotel from the airport

If you wish to use our contacts to organise a transfer to the first hotel you need to have done this by March 12th. Cost of the transfer is $45 (one way) which should be paid directly to the driver. Payment in cash either in USD or VND (exchanged rate US$1. = VND21,000,000.) To book a transfer email Hoia at [email protected]

If you prefer to do it independently Vinasun and Malinh are two companies that are considered reputable and can be found easily in the airport. The following blog provides a bit of an overview – http://www.vietnamonline.com/transport/taxi.html – on the taxi situation in Hanoi.

Passports

We are required to show everyones passports at every hotel. From experience the best way to do this is for us to collect in the passports at the start of the tour and keep hold of them until the end. This isn’t obligatory but it is generally the simplest way to manage things.

Getting money out

We usually wait until we get in country to get local currency from ATM’s that can be located in the airport and across the city. Bear in mind though that most have a limit of the equivalent of $100/$200 per transaction so you might need to make a couple of seperate withdrawals.

Guide tips

Just a reminder that whilst your Australian guides are not expecting tips – a beer should suffice! – it is customary to tip the local guides. The suggested tip is $40 from each participant for the support team as a whole so please take this into account when you withdraw money. Hand this in to Matt or Dylan at the end of the tour and we’ll make sure it gets divided up correctly.

Guide team

Matt and Dylan obviously!

The local allstars!

Lead local guide – Thang. Translates. Requests things for you. Plans the logistics. Orders the other staff around. Travels on the back of a motorbike ahead of the group, so he can point out any major hazards. Orders meals, deals with authorities, manages the money, sweet talks the hoteliers and restaurateurs.

Lead rider – Mr Neth (Chanmakara Hong). Rides like the wind.  If he has any remaining energy, he’ll help Ratha with the bikes. Neth is Cambodian and has represented his country. He’s a nice fella and can ride well.

Mechanic – Ratha. Doesn’t ride. Cleans bikes, fixes bikes.

Cook – Thiem.  Ensures that there is a good variety of vegetables and meats provided by working with the local restaurants who in many cases, have limited capacity. Probably doesn’t sleep enough, drinks like a fish and has a temper. Just like cooks everywhere.

Massage therapists. Two gents who are masters of their profession. They’ll obviously do the bulk of their work in the afternoons and evenings.

Drivers. They drive. Probably smoke and talk on the phone too much, but never when driving. If they do, please feel free to admonish them and dob them into Thang. No, in all seriousness, they love this and they’ll usually do their bit by helping to fill water bottles and joke around with the riders.

Hotel list

1. Hanoi | Hanoi Imperial Hotel | +84 4 3933 5555.

2. Tam Son | Hotel 567 | +84 21 9384 6129.

3. Meo Vac | Hoa Cuong Hotel | +84 21 9387 1888.

4. Bac Me | Huy Duong Hotel | +84 914 420 594.

5. Nghia Lo | Nghia Lo Hotel | +84 29 387 0106.

6. Than Uyen | Hoan Quan Hotel | +84 231 378 4163.

7. Sapa | Victoria Sapa Hotel | +84 20 387 1522.

General Tips

Don’t drink tap water. Always bottled water. Water we provide is OK.  In Ha Giang, don’t drink water in jugs on tables. Actually, it’s fine for the majority of cases, but it’s often just filtered, so it depends on the filter condition.

Ice. Only take it if it has a hole in the middle. This is drinking ice. In Ha Giang, you won’t encounter much drinking ice.

Soap and towels – All hotels will provide these but in Ha Giang there are few frills. Might be worth bringing your own towel and washing products.

Always wash hands. Be obsessive about it. We have never had a case of food poisoning, but there are always cases of viral gastro. We theorise that this is more to do with personal hygiene and the fact that bodies are under significant physical strain from the riding and general conditions.

If anyone is on antimalarials, they’ll probably be very sensitive to the sun, so they need to apply sunscreen more often.

Be careful with cash. A few of the dong notes are very similar in color and with all the zeros, they can be easily mixed up by foreigners. Notably 10,000 looks like 100,000 and 20,000 looks like 500,000. Be very clear on what you are handing to someone and count your change. It’s not such an issue in the provinces, but in Hanoi and Sapa, you need to be on your toes.

Don’t take mini cabs around Hanoi, stick with the Vinasun or Malinh cabs. The others tamper with meters and try all sorts of tricks.

It’s fair to bargain on anything you buy, unless it has the price marked. The Vietnamese love a bargain. Don’t think of it as a ripoff. It’s just a game and one they’ll play hard. Smile, laugh, joke and cut the price by 50%. If you end up at 75% of the original asking price, in most cases, you are doing well. If you do happen to be eating independently, ask for the price on food before you eat. In Hanoi only really.

Toilets – Along the ride route, there won’t be many toilets, so it’s just a matter of finding a large clump of bamboo. Good idea for ladies to take a sarong or something for this and good for everyone to take tissue with them. In many restaurants and roadside stops, the toilets if they do exist, don’t have tissue. In all cases, do not flush toilet tissue. There is a little bin next to the toilet where you put the tissue. 

In all cases, you will get further in negotiation or service requests by asking with a smile and not raising your voice. Even if the response is poor, maintain the smile and the calm voice and just push push push. If you get angry or pushy, the shutters go up and you have no hope of getting what you want.

There are a bunch of cultural taboos but many of these are forgiven by locals as they know foreigners are from someplace… foreign. Just try not to move things or point with your feet. Don’t point. Don’t pat anyone on the head and be ultra respectful of older people and you’ll get along well with all the locals.

When riding, bear in mind that everyone uses their horn. There is no aggression in this. It’s considered the most basic element of safe driving. It’s to warn people that you are coming. So a truck will come up behind you and give a toot, that just means I’m here, don’t move out. If there is repeated and urgent tooting, it means I’m coming, I don’t have enough space, you should get off the road!

Motorbikes are used to merging through each others paths, so they will tend to do the same with you. Riders need to be prepared for motorcyclists, sidling up to the pack and then trying to cut through the middle of it to get to the curb. They don’t mean to be rude, it’s just their way of driving. The riders need to be aware of this and it’s therefore not good practice to ride as a pack through towns. Leave about 3 meters between each rider or each pair of riders.

Trucks and all other vehicles like to cut corners, so never approach a bend or corner assuming that you have a clear run. Always ensure you have an exit point and for this reason, don’t ride two abreast into blind bends and corners.

Locals will sometimes come up alongside riders for a bit of a chat. It’s likely also that some young lads might side up to the ladies if they are in lycra for a bit of a perve. It’s worth keeping an eye on this and for one of the guys to be not too far off most of the time.

Route amendments

As is always the case with running a tour in remote Vietnam we are always at the mercy of the authorities with regards road repairs. Fortunately the monsoon season this year was relatively kind but there are still some significant road works on the route. Most of these we can can get around but on Day 5 there is a stretch which is basically unpassable. On this day we will have a shuttle in the morning before riding.

Visa information

Details about how to attain a visa in Australia via the consulate can be found here – http://www.vietnamembassy.org.au/Consular.htm.

Guest Survey

Before the tour starts we need some information off you in order to cover our insurance obligations as well as ensuring that we have the correct personal data for you. If you haven’t done so already could you fill out the following form – https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FT27ZNS

Weather

March is amongst the best months to travel in Vietnam; conditions are at their very best with dry, bright weather expected the along the entire length of the country. In the north where we are cycling you can expect plenty of sunshine and clear blue skies, and whilst temperatures start to rise it remains cool with little if any rainfall (avg temp: 19 °C).

At night temperatures will go down to around 15 degrees so pack accordingly and during the day we expect a few hot days. Since we are in the mountains though it is always best to come prepared and wind-breakers and arm/leg warmers are good insurance.

What to bring?

This is a section that we could spend an age on but I think that packing is such a subjective thing that it really isn’t worth it. What I will say is that the nature of the tour is such that you will want plenty of bike gear as it won’t be easy to get stuff washed and dried along the way. You’ll find a way to wash your kit but with changing hotels every day it is important that you bring a few spares – there’s nothing worse than soggy knicks!

In terms of evening wear there is nowhere that we go that has a dress code and casual wear is the order of the day. Warm weather clothing is an important consideration. As mentioned in the weather section March is not usually a month when temperatures drop below 15 degrees but even so it is a good idea to bring a wind-breaker and arm/leg warmers just in case.

With your bags your main luggage will be in the back of the van and not always readily available. Whilst it is possible to access these bags during the day we recommend that you also have a day pack that you can keep at the front of the van.

Ride and Seek kit

We have a limited supply of the Ride and Seek jerseys for you to buy for the not too princely sum of AU$80. The photo on the right is our 2014 tour jersey – let us know if you’d be interested and will dig around for your size. Another option is to get kit through our newest sponsor – Danny Shane. We are delighted to be associated with these guys and they are willing to extend a 10% discount to all of our guests. Check out their website to view their range – http://dannyshane.com. The image on the left is of one of guests wearing their kit on a recent tour in Europe.

 Training preparation

The grading for this tour makes it clear that this tour is a challenging endeavour and we hope that your training to date reflects this. That said we are also aware that not everyone has the luxury of being able to dedicate themselves to training for a bike tour and a few of you might be a little undercooked.

The important thing to remember though is that you still have time to get yourself well prepared for the tour ahead. Probably the most important thing is simply preparing your body for sitting on a bike for multiple hours and then doing it again the day after. It is important to get that saddle time in so that when you’re on the tour you don’t spend the first few days trying to avoid sitting down!

Also go looking for hills. We don’t want to scare you with the elevation profiles on this tour but this it will be hilly! Whilst it is unlikely that you will have anything that compares to longer climbs we’ll encounter in your backyard you can still get yourself prepared by doing hill repetitions. Whilst it is pretty tedious doing reps up the toughest hill in your neighbourhood this sort of training will really build up your power.

At the same time go a little easy. You don’t want to arrive on tour already overcooked so remember to taper off a little towards the start of the tour. It is important to arrive fresh with your energy levels conserved. Don’t think you can fit in all of your training the weekend before!

Note that when you are actually on the tour you will have access to the van which among other things acts as a sag wagon if you want to take a break. There is absolutely no shame in taking advantage of this and we’d prefer it if you did rather than smashing yourself on one day and being out of action for the next two. You’ll know what condition you’re in so don’t be shy in signalling that you want a lift.

In essence though the more prepared you are physically for this tour the more you will enjoy it. There is still plenty of time to get your fitness levels up before the tour start.

Of course if you’d like to put together a more scientific approach to your training remember that Matt is a cycle coach and would be happy to help – [email protected]

The Vietnam Adventure

We are really excited to be exploring the region of Ha Giang on road bikes. A lot of research has gone into making this happen and in collaboration with our partners we believe that we will be running the first road bike tour to this beguiling region.

As such though it is important to recognise that we really are off the beaten track and as such salubriousness will not be the order of the day. Aside from the start and end of the tour the accommodation will be basic – all be it with private facilities, the food simple fare and the road surfaces inconsistent at times.

The scouting trip has been completed and we were relieved to find that the harsh monsoon season has not wreaked the havoc we feared it might have. A couple of the roads have been adversely affected by heavy truck movements and there is some road works that we’ll have to get around. The result will be a couple of changes to the original itinerary but nothing too dramatic.

We look forward to running an awesome tour but please come prepared with an open mind to the adventures that await!

Bikes – General

Bike Build

Please don’t unpack your bike on arrival as it will be taken off you on Saturday evening and shuttled up to the start point. The mechanics will then build them up and they will be ready to ride when we get to the start point of the ride on Sunday afternoon. On arrival at the first hotel you will be issued with luggage tags for your bikes. Give the tags for your bike to Thang at the Saturday intro meeting and he will arrange for them to be loaded on to the shuttle that evening.

Transportation

The onus is on you to get your bike to the start point of the tour. Whether you choose to pack your bike in a hard or soft case is your prerogative – either way we will transport the case until the end of the tour and can assist in unpacking and packing your bike.

If you require a shuttle from the airport to the first hotel let us know and we’ll put you in contact with our local partner (note that there is an additional cost of US$45 for this).

Spares

Our mechanic will have all the necessary tools but we suggest that you bring your own spares along too – inner tubes, pump etc

Tyre choice

The road quality in Vietnam can vary a lot and there is also the added complication of impromptu road repairs to deal with. Our advice is to fit at least 25mm tyres to your bike and if you have sufficient clearance you could also consider the 28mm option.

We also recommend that you choose a tyre that has a reputation for being hardy against punctures.

Gear ratios

There will be hills! A 53/39 is workable on the front but in terms of back cassette we’d recommend that you make life easier for yourself with something like a 11/28. Other options would be to fit a compact chain set or if you really wanted to make life easier and love the idea of a granny gear a triple is always an option.

The Roads

These are a series of shots that were taken during the recent scouting trip. Closer to Sapa we will come across some lovely smooth bitumen but by and large the road surface is all a bit average – hence our suggestion that you bring wider profile tyres that are not prone to flats.

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And here is the really ugly and the bad on the ride. The image on the left is where we will take the shuttle on day 5 as they have dug up a large part of the road.  In Vietnam when they decide to do road works they don’t seem to do it in small stretches but rather dig up the whole road and then start the repairs. The image on the right on the other hand is the sort of surface we will find in patches. Not a  problem to ride over but at the same time not overly pleasant. On our Vietnam odyssey we encourage you to expect the unexpected. Our lead guide will be on a motorbike though to hopefully manage those expectations on our behalf.

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Food

The hotels at the start and end of the tour are the most sophisticated and will have a reasonable range of options. However, once we are in the region of Ha Giang the cuisine will become more ‘local’ with fewer frills. We will bring some supplies up from Hanoi to provide a bit more variety but as we really are off the beaten track the banana pancakes of more frequented parts of South East Asia will be conspicuous by their absence!

Accommodation summary

On this tour we start and end in 4 star hotels with all the usual amenities. Once on tour though we are fairly isolated and will stay in simple guest houses that with the exception of one all have private bathrooms. Below is a collage of some of the guest houses in Ha Giang.

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General hygiene

For food, if you like to eat out of stainless and shiny white kitchens, you should probably not look at where your dinner is being produced. I would say though, that we’ve never had a case of food poisoning on a tour anywhere and the same goes for our partners who have run countless tours in Vietnam. The most common issue is viral gastro, which can be picked up from so many environmental sources. We eat in local restaurants with high turnover of ingredients and not much reliance on refrigeration.

Gels & Hydrolytes

We will provide snacks on the road in the form of fruit and refreshments. However, if you would like to use gels and hydrolytes during the tour it is up to you to bring your own supplies.

Massages

The massage option clearly appealed and pretty much all of you have paid the supplement which will entitle you to a 45 minute massage each evening that will no doubt be greatly welcomed. If you haven’t taken up this option and would like to do so let us know ASAP.

Internet

Internet is available in Hanoi and Sapa and is reliable in both places. Ha Giang and Meo Vac, not so reliable.  3G SIM cards are prepaid and can be bought from various phone shops around the place. Vietnam has more phone shops than any other kind of business.  There are also dongles/USB modems available that you can slot SIM cards into. SIMs cost maybe $10, modems cost about $50.

Insurance

This is obviously an important one and is why we asked for your insurance details in the guest survey. Could we also ask that you provide next of kin details and the emergency contact number that your insurance company provides in the event of the need for an evacuation.

As is standard with bike tours we will get you to sign a risk waiver before the tour starts. A few people believe that these waivers are not worth the paper are written on but they are an important acknowledgement of the risks that are involved with going on bike tour. It is fundamental to us that we run a safe tour, but it is also important that all participants are aware of what is involved and have sufficient insurance cover in place.

What’s not included?

Bike hire, flights, visa fees, tips for Vietnamese support team (we suggest $40 from each participant), drinks other than water at meals, insurance, single supplement (price based on dual occupancy).

Facebook

A few of you are already ‘friends’ with us on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/RideandSeek – and if you use it we recommend that the rest of you join us too. It’s a great medium to post photos and news both in the lead up to and during the tour when we post almost daily. It is also a great way to engage friends and family.