Lazy Bear

Categories

RSS Feed

Site search

Meta

SE Asia Cycle Tour – Wrap-up

I wrote the posts for the first two countries I visited on my trip, covering the Mekong region of Vietnam and Cambodia, on a point-to-point basis. Although I feel the information in them is pretty useful for those cycling the region they took a long time to put together, and most of the information can be gained by looking at my Strava profile (go on become my friend, I won’t bite, much; lots of pics on there too). Also I got behind with posting and didn’t fancy sitting down for a week writing blog posts that few people read. So with that in mind, now that I’ve finished this trip (initial overview of my aims here) I’d like to put down a few thoughts on certain legs and on my feelings whilst cycling, which are probably hard to explain to non-cyclists. And what the hell, I’ll chuck in a bit of data and a few pics too.

Indeed, I’ll start with the key facts for the peeps that like that kind of thing

My general route is shown in this picture I generated in Strava. It is not 100% accurate as I got the ferry from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc, rode around there a bit, then got the ferry to Ha Tien. Also I sometimes took slightly quieter roads than the ones on the general route mapped out, and I also did a fair few km looking at sights and nipping out for dinner when staying at guesthouses at the edge of town.

My SE Cycle Tour Route 2016/16

I started from Mui Ne on the 1st of November 2015 and got back there on the 15th of March, so pretty much 4 ½ months of cycle travel. The key facts are

Number of point-to-point legs: 54

Legs per month: 12

Total Overall Distance: 4,610 km – 2,865 miles

Total Distance point-to-point (measured by cateye, so less than Strava GPS, which always seems to overestimate as it can shift satellite positions when you stop for lunch): 4,217 km – 2620 miles

Average distance of point-to-point leg: 78.09 km – 48.52 miles

Shortest leg: Pakse to Champasak: 37.04 km – 23.01 miles

Longest leg: 179.5 km – 111.5 miles (I’ve always wanted to ride a century (miles) so the last leg from Cam Ranh to Mui Ne seemed like a now or never opportunity, super proud of myself after this leg).

Total distance including training (a month riding around Mui Ne getting into shape beforehand): 5,015 km – 3,116 miles.

Weight Loss: 12 kg; 26.5 lb; 1 stone 12.

My First Climb (Ban Thap Lan, Thailand)

Other than a hundred or so metres of gradual climb over a leg in Cambodia, most of my route had been pretty flat or undulating.

Now was the time for my first climb, which would have me reach the Isaan Plateau. The mountain/hill that I needed to get up was 400 meters in height and classified by Strava as a category 2 climb; the climb itself was 6.3 km long at an average gradient of just over 6%.

I was looking towards the climb with a mix of anticipation and fear. Would I make it up the hill? Could I make it up in one go? Would I have to push my bike all the way to the top in shame?

When I was younger I used to do some mountain biking close to where I live in Derbyshire’s Peak District, I remember these climbs as being very stop-start affairs, cycling for 300 metres and then stopping by a gate for 10 minutes to get my breath; of course these were off-road and though not as high as this mountain the average gradients were steeper; that said I didn’t carry an extra 15 kg of luggage on the back of my mountain bike. So what I guess I’m trying to say is I know how knackering it can be to be up a hill, and getting up my first cat 2 climb was a concern.

I had about 40 km before the start of the climb to get warmed up, the head-wind I faced certainly made me warm. I stopped at a 7-11 about 5 km from the start of the climb, and got a cheese and ham toasty (390 calories of pure joy) and a 100 plus electrolyte drink down me.

Time to go, I reached the bottom of the mountain which immediately went to about 7% and round a corner about 200 meters away, by the time I got around the corner my legs were screaming and I was already feeling fucked, oh well get into 2nd gear and see how far I can get. At 500 m I was breathing heavily, change to 1st gear, determined to make it to the 1 km point at least, fix on points ahead, no view to see: trees to the left, road to my right. Made the 1km point, yeah bitch, looks like it flattens out a bit, ah that’s because its going to become an hairpin and I’m going round the outside, put the bike in 2nd gear, fuck me that was a mistake, back to 1st. That’s doable. Wow 2km done, a third of the way there, I’ll never make the thing but already gained 100 metres +, keep going – another hairpin. But now I need to follow the inside of the hairpin, I have a 1 m side-strip to ride in, and lorries struggling up beside me, its steep 20% easily, probably much more. The lorries are passing me in slow motion, I think that if I had no panniers I’d be the same speed as them, on a road bike I’d pass them; in a way I find this quite motivating. I start to waddle side by side in my 1 metre strip, get round the hairpin, flattens out, now done 3 km, half way up! Fuck me I wanna stop – if I stop it’ll be hard to ever get going again ­– carry on. Stand up, press press press, fuck that sit down again. 4 km, mmh mountains get steeper as you go up them, more hairpins, pain heavy gasping, what’s that a break in the trees and a view! Wish I could stop and take a photograph; wish I could stop! Carry on mainly cycling sat down, with a few seconds stood up every now and again – not changing down gears for speed, more of a shifting of pain for a few metres. 5 km, wtf only a km to go how did that happen, he gasps! Is that the peak I see in the distance, fuck yeah, is the gradient getting less or is it just a mental thing, who’s your bitch mountain, it ain’t fucking me, reach the top coast a few hundred metres, restaurant at the top, give me a coconut, and a coke, and damn it I’ll have a grilled chicken too.

Later check the climb on Strava, someone set the climb to finish on the downslope just past the restaurant, fair enough as the hill undulated for the next 1 km( at an average of about 0.1%) until it reached its true peak. Someone else had the segment missing the top 50 m and bottom 30 m to just cover the steepest parts of the climb: I did that 359 m gain in 46 min 19 s.

I rode another 5 km or so and stayed at a resort on the next top. I can’t really describe the feeling; it was like being on a runner’s high with a bit of yabba thrown in. I was ecstatic; I got up my first category 2, 405 metre gain without the need to stop.

Cycling down the Thai Hill

My next major climb, though the Hai Van pass in Vietnam was higher ~496 m, and a similar gradient of 5% over 7.4 km as I had many more miles and climbs in my system by now it was relatively easy (as in still a lot of effort and pain), I had a gear to spare for most of the way, just using it for the hairpins. Also the road was much less trafficked allowing me to zig-zag the road at the steep bits, and to go around the outside of hairpins. I got over this in 1 h 01 m 14 s.

Hairpin bend - Hai Van pass

Cycling down the Hai Van Pass, Vietnam

 

The hardest climb I did was a cat 4 climb, just out of Quy Nhon, was only about 1.5 km or so but with an average gradient of 9%, as the climb included a stretch of downhill the average gradient up was more like 11%, ramping up to well over 40% in many places, I reached the top gasping for breath, I then stopped and wanted to be sick for about 5 min, that climb was a bitch!

Quy Nhon

On Keeping Going on a Long Distance Cycle Trip

Cycling involves a lot of boredom and a lot of pain. I found my first 1500km, in Vietnam and Cambodia, to be the most painful. When riding, after around 50 km my arms would usually be aching like mad, and my legs would tire rapidly after about 80 km. I remember reaching Rach Gia after 100 km of riding (50 km of it on road being reconstructed) arriving with everything aching. The road was flat, nicely tarmacked, and no wind for the last 6 km, I was in the granny gear and could hardly peddle at 7 kph; I had to stop every 500 m or so at one point. I think it was passing a KFC that got me to the end, at that time the thought of greasy fast food was like the thought of eating ambrosia; plus I knew the next leg was a ferry trip to the beautiful island of Phu Quoc.

I think that the closest I came to calling it a day was in Thailand. I had five days of ~90 km days on a dual carriageway, with a wide cycle lane, with the same dull scenery all the way. Unfortunately it was still the dry season, everything was brown there was not a sign of life. Boring, boring, boring. The only thing keeping me going was the thought of meeting some good friends again in Ubon Ratchathani, who I hadn’t seen for a few years – and my friend David was also flying in from Bangkok to meet up for a few days. It was so good to meet up with John {great guy to talk to if you are looking to buy or rent a home in Issan} and drink beer Lao dark and talk shit after so many days of being by myself.

boring Isaan dry season scenery

I think in the rainy season the trip across Issan would be very pleasant with green rice fields and loads of wildlife; as it was it was dead and soul destroying.

Phi mai

Phimai

I went from the elation of riding my first mountain and re-visiting the beautiful ruins at Phimai – thinking that cycling is the best thing ever – to wondering what the hell I was doing, why I was doing it, and where is the next 7-11 as the only way of breaking the monotony was to stop for an energy drink and a toastie. It really was about reaching the destination, which is something that cycle touring should never be about, it should be about the moment, speaking of which…

What do you Think About When Cycle Touring?

You will be glad to know that cycling gives you plenty of time to think, so much time that I have solved most of the world’s problems – I just need to convince the world to live under the great dictator Deano and everything will be solved; if you think Game of Thrones is brutal in its treatment of people who get in the way of leaders doing things then you know nothing, John Snow.

So once you have finished with the world’s problems what do you think of? Well more personal issues take up a lot of thinking time. I spent a lot of time thinking about the future, I’ve never been that successful money-wise as a self-employed freelancer solopreneur thingy (shite way of describing myself but much better than lifestyle designer). I just sort of get by, so one of the things I thought about a lot was getting some kind of job full-time job back in the UK, and deep in my mind was that cycling through SE Asia was perhaps a way of saying goodbye to a part of the world that I love so much; this was given a lot of thought at the beginning of my trip. So was family, who are all going through tough times health wise. When I was cycling I often thought of how nice it was that everybody I love will be fast asleep and not feeling any pain for a few hours (of course I’m happier when they are awake and full of life, but just for a few hours sleeping well, in peace, and only dreaming).

But mainly, I was just in the moment. This could vary from being in pain, thinking about what was to come, to looking at what was going on all around me. A lot of the time I was just as one with the bike, spinning the pedals without thinking about it, and not really thinking anything; I guess it is a state that many spiritual people dream about. I’ve always had a wandering mind, I love walking and get into a similar state of mind strolling the beach, but if you have me sat down to concentrate on thinking about nothing, perhaps with my own personal chant, then free thinking just ain’t gonna happen brother.

Yeah, to sum it up I spent most of the time on the bike thinking ‘how much I ache’, ‘what the hell am I doing?’, about personal problems, and in a state of wandering/forgetful/nothingness thoughts.

Cycling, even if it is for a short distance of 20 miles or so is great for clarification of your mind.

Four thousand islands

 

On Costs and Accommodation

I was in SE Asia so everything is relatively cheap. In order of cheapness: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand.

In Vietnam I was averaging $16 a day, Cambodia about $19, Laos $25, and Thailand $30. This is largely to do with accommodation prices; it is easy to get a guest house in smaller towns (typically small but clean fan room, flat screen TV, fridge, and hot water) in Vietnam for 150,000 to 200,000 VND ($7 to $9), and food is typically $1 to $3, and beer 50 cents a pop. This can easily double in tourist areas, but TBH after cycling alone for many many miles being in a tourist town seems weird, and I just couldn’t wait to get out of them. The cheapest I was paying for similar accommodation in Thailand was 400 to 600 baht ($11 to $16), the food was a similar price, and the beer three times the price. I had to pay 800 to 900 baht in a couple of places in Thailand, which was what I’d spend in two days in some places in Vietnam.

Finding accommodation is easy. Even in the most isolated of places in Laos and Cambodia it was never more than 30k or so between guesthouses, and usually the distances were much less. There seemed to be a lot of newer guesthouses on the outskirts of town, the closer you get to the centre of most small towns the older and more worn out the guest houses tend to be. As I was on a bike, staying 1 km or more from the town centre was not a problem as I could always hop on the bike to get some dinner, though I usually walked as it was good to stretch my legs after a long day on the saddle.

cycling in Thailand - Phi Mai

I also spent some money on a couple of bike services, a new chain, and other bike bits and bobs. I had a new sim card in every country, typically about $5 to 10 for a sim card and 1.5 gig of data. There was only one place I stayed in the entire trip that did not have free Wi-Fi, even in the middle of nowhere in Laos. Coffee shops were aplenty.

On Cycle Fuel

I don’t really like eating while cycling, sometimes in Asia a meal can go right through me, and this is the last thing that I want when cycling.

It is estimated that cycling burns about 25 calories a kilometre. I typically aimed to eat about 10 calories per km (900 calories on an average ride), which I thought would give me enough extra carbs when combined with burning fat. This was usually achieved by eating cereal bars (or biscuits when not available), and drinking Coca-Cola and sugar cane drinks when stopping for a rest.

I also drank a lot of electrolyte drinks, which are easy to get hold of, and seem as common as pepsi/coca-cola nowadays: (100 plus (and loads of others) in Thailand, Aquarius (Japanese brand I think) in Cambodia, and Revive (from 7-up) in Vietnam. Laos seemed to have a mix of the above. My favourite tasting one was Revive; this has less sugar than the others; taste the salty goodness.

I made up the calories in the evenings!

Cycling food Thailand

On Beautiful Places and Friendly People

I cycled through lots of beautiful places, I think that my favourites were the Pailin area of Cambodia and the Vietnamese coastline, the fact that there are lots of quiet roads in these areas also added to their beauty.

The whole of SE Asia has friendly people, when riding in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia you are never more than a few minutes from a friendly wave and a shout of Sabai dee or Hello. You’ll often have people cycle or ride alongside you and have a conversation, though in many cases this may be as in-depth as Hello, hello, smile, hello, goodbye. The little children waving and shouting as you approach, and jumping up and down in excitement as you answer back with an hello or wave are surely the highlight of cycling in the area.

Pig Sellers in Laos

One of my most memorable experiences was in Laos where I met a cyclocross guy from Huddersfield who had done a lot of touring, we got talking and drinking like you do. We were in a little Laos restaurant/bar and after a while they started playing Laos music, grabbed us, and taught us Laos dancing. A lot of fun.

Favourite and Worst Legs of my SE Asia Cycle Tour

I had a lot of legs that I enjoyed immensely in all countries visited, and some that were beyond dreadful.

The worst leg was riding the busy A1 from Tam Ky to Quang Ngai in the pouring rain, not being able to see anything through my glasses, and getting a puncture about 1 km from town, pumping it up repeatedly as it was raining hard and I was close to town, limping about town in the rain and spending about 20 min trying to find a guesthouse.

cycling in the rain - Vietnam

I tried to avoid the busy A1 as much as I could, and this was pretty easy as Vietnam has a lot of quieter roads running alongside the main highway; these provided some of the nicest cycling of the whole trip. That said I needed to take the A1 sometimes, this was usually a case of just grinning and bearing it and putting the foot down, so one of my biggest surprises was riding the A1 between Quy Nhon to Tuy Hoa which had some epic coastal scenery and the road was quiet away from the main cities.

Now the best leg, this is easy, and I recommend that anybody who is feeling down in the dumps carries out the first part of the ride in Laos as it will be sure to put the smile back on your face. I rode 130 km on this leg, the last 50 km was nice but nothing special, but the first 80k or so, oh boy!

The ride started in Xepon, Cambodia, then through 40 km of undulating roads populated with hill tribes, not only was the scenery nice but the cries of Sabai dee by both children and adults relentless, I rode this part of the leg with a great big smile on my face. Then after crossing into Vietnam there was a nice 200 metre climb to get the old euphoric hormones going before a descent of 40 km or so (from ~400 m to sea level) through beautiful mountain scenery, again in this seldom mass touristed area everybody was all smiles and waves; it was then on to Dong Ha. A truly great day on the cycle.

kids in Laos

On Cycle Touring and Weight Loss

Including the month beforehand, where I had a few training rides in Mui Ne, I lost ~12 kg of weight on my trip. I lost 9 kg in the first 2500 km, and 3 kg in the next ~2100 km. I would have lost a lot more if I drunk less and ate less of all the delicious food. I am happy to have lost what I have and ate what I did rather than stay in at night and avoid all the delicious goodness that Thailand and Vietnam could throw at me, just to lose another couple of kg.

I found that I ate way to much on rest days, I tried to stick to 2500 calories on these days but it was difficult as the increased levels of cycling has given me an amazing appetite. As I lost 12 kg, I’m guessing the cycle days more than made up for any over-indulgence on the rest days. I also expect that I have gained a bit of muscle on the old legs, so I have probably lost more than 12 kg of fat. As I rode 111 miles yesterday I am aching all over, so I’ll let you know if I feel any better for it another time.

My bike

I rode a Giant Escape 2 city hybrid. As the name suggests this is not a dedicated touring cycle. It coped reasonably well; an improvement that would have made a drastic difference would be a stronger back wheel. There are a lot of potholes and gaps between bridges on the roads out here – sometimes you can’t avoid them because of the traffic or just don’t see them until its too late. I popped six rear spokes in all, two on one day; I popped a spoke on the last day of my ride, I found it rather fitting as I had rode at least 1,000 km with a spoke missing on this trip at some stage or other.

bike by the beach in Thailand

I had three punctures in all; these were all caused by sharp wire discarded at the edge of the road hit at speed. The front derailleur often struggled to shift onto the bottom chain-ring, tightening the screw to the max and slightly bending it fixed that problem, it could probably do with a professional service but works fine (A better group set would have made a big difference here). I shifted the tyres round at 3,500 km, I think they’ll easily be good for another 1000km. I had a new chain at 3000 km, no problems there.

The ride was a bit harsh, I have no doubt that a designated steel frame cycle touring bike such as a Thorn or Oxford would have made for a much more pleasant trip, but overall I was pretty happy with the bike over the SE Asian roads.

What’s Next?

I think it’ll be a while before I do anything too strenuous. I’ll probably ride the bike the few hundred km to Saigon or even on to Phnom Penh at some stage. At the moment my body has a lot of aches and I am tired. I’ll do a few rides around Mui Ne in the next week, as I am interested in how my times compare now to when I first started training for the trip. Then I’ll go cold turkey from the bike for at least two weeks.

Long term – but no time soon – I’d like to cycle round Scandinavia with no electronics (well perhaps a kindle, a GPS, and a call/text only Nokia), wild camping in the wilderness. I’d also like to do a long distance walk at some stage, I had been thinking of walking the Pennine way close to home or maybe doing a part of the Appalachian trail (after reading a great Bill Bryson book on the subject), but I recently came across a Buddhist pilgrimage that involves walking 1400 km around the island of Shikoku in Japan, that looks a great thing to have in my future plans.

Some Pictures of my Time in Thailand, Laos, and Central Vietnam

As I skipped doing full point-to-point discussions in this post I thought I’d include some of the pictures during the second part of my trip, I’m sure you will agree that SE Asia is really beautiful, and definitely worthy of a cycle tour.

Thailand

Dean in Ubon

in Ubon

Thai beach

Laos

Pakse

Pakse

Champasak, Laos

Champasak

Cycling along the Mekong, Laos

Off the beaten track, Laos

Central Vietnam

Quy Nhon Beach

On Quy Nhon Beach

Mui Ne Desert Road

Desert Road approaching Mui Ne – Nearly at the finish!

Final Thoughts

Cycling, bitch!

Dean on the bike

Cycle Touring Through Cambodia

The Cambodian leg of my SE Asia cycle tour would prove to be a stop-start affair; with prolonged stops because of sicknesses and injuries.

Cycle Route through Cambodia

Leaving Phu Quoc

I cycled across the island to the ‘Superdong’ ferry point (that will never fail to be hilarious), took about 50 minutes for 15 km or so. Very pleasant scenery. Arrived at the ferry terminal a good hour early, the only other westerners going to Ha Tien were a couple of German Guys.

Superdong Ferry

Cost of ferry was 230,000 VND + 50,000 VND for the bike (Total: $12.40; £8.25; €11.4). It takes about 1.5 hours on the ferry and then it is about a 5 min cycle across the bridge into Ha Tien proper.

I stayed at the Gia Phúc Guesthouse at 48 Dang Thùy Trâm Street (200,000 VN? a night ($8.90; £5.90; €8.10). A newly built place near the river, very clean smallish but nice air-con rooms.

I went for a roam and met up with the Germans guys from the ferry, who were looking a little lost. They had booked ahead on Agoda for a night in Kep. When they got to Ha Tien they realized the reason the taxi drivers would not take them to their destination was because it was in a different country! They had not realized Kep was in Cambodia. I do like that they had no real plans, just flew into Phu Quoc with the aim of seeing a few interesting places in Vietnam over a couple of weeks. Anyway, I showed them the guesthouse I was staying at, had a few drinks with them, and gave them a few pointers, leaving them buying a bus ticket up to Can Tho.

Ha Tien

I quite like the feel of Ha Tien, it’s a very small place, but pretty clean. There only appears to be one ex-pat bar (Oasis bar); the guy who owns it says he is the only full time ex pat in town, with a few other people being in town for a few months a year. The bar is good as it is the only place to have western food in town, if you fancy a change from all of the Vietnamese food. They also change Dong to USD, essential for crossing the border.

Stage 9: Ha Tien (Vietnam) to Kampot (Cambodia) via Kep

November 27th 2015; Distance 64.58 km (40.1 miles). Total Distance: 736.4 km (457.6 miles)

After a breakfast of sizzling beef and egg with a baguette I rode to the Cambodian border (7.6 km).

Ha Tien Breakfast

Getting through the border was easy enough, the official cost is $30 for the Cambodian tourist visa (30 days) but I knew in advance that there would be a few extras involved.

Leaving Vietnam was a simple stamp out, a ride down a road to a little security box, where they check that you have got your stamp, then a ride to the Cambodian side. I locked my bike up outside the office, then filled a few forms in and was asked for $35 for the visa process (a $5 add on). I knew at this stage that I had two options (1) pay and be done with it (2) argue about it – in which case (from first hand reports) I would be told to sit down, ignored for an hour, then called back and asked to pay $35, if not then be told to sit down again – they’ve got all day – but after a few hours of this game, you will eventually get the visa for the real price of $30. I went for the first option, three minutes later I had my visa. I then filled in a customs form (no charge) and was then sent to have my health checked (temperature measured in my ear) for a further charge of $1. So all-in-all it cost $36 to cross into Cambodia.

I then cycled towards Kampot, the scenery is instantly different from Vietnam, it is obvious that there is a lot less money around, the motorbikes are replaced by cycles, the way people dress was simpler.

Road to Kampot

The scenery was pleasant, I was thinking of staying a night in Kep, so I rode in that direction. As I was running out of water, and had no dollars or local currency on me, I stopped at an ATM for cash. Got $200 fast cash, got two $100 bills, that would be no use at all to buy a 12.5 cent bottle of water with! The ATM charged a $4 access fee, so I didn’t bother getting any more money out.

Kep Beach

Kep Beach

I decided not to stay in Kep, it looked nice, but I’d seen all I wanted of it from the bike, I decided to head the extra 15 km to Kampot, which is one of my favourite places in Asia. I had no water and only $100 notes, and typically the road got bad and very dusty.

Fortunately, there were a few garages about. I found that in Vietnam that all the garages had 20 litre bottles of water for their customers and were more than happy to let you top up your water bottles, some even gave me some free fruit J Fortunately it seems the same in Cambodia, a few smiles and friendly hellos and they are more than happy to give you some water. I was very thankful in this case.

View from Balcony Kampong

View from my Balcony in Kampong

Stage 10: Kampot to Takeo

December 1st 2015; Distance 87.12 km (54.1 miles). Total Distance: 823.5 km (511.7 miles)

As I mentioned above, Kampot is one of my favourite places in SE Asia. I especially like it in late afternoon as the sun is setting over the river. The view is pretty much how I imagined the Orient to be before I had ever visited: red skied sunsets over large rivers with tropically forested hills in the background, it really is beautiful.

Sunset over Kampot

The place has grown in size of ex-pat community and restaurants, number of visitors, and number (and sadly speed of) motorbikes since I had last visited. That said, I still think it has a few years left in it before it loses its peaceful demeanour; hopefully it won’t go the way of Sihanoukville and Siem Reap, where everyone is on the con, and become full of mafia controlled kids and mothers with drugged up babies aggressively begging everyone for money.

I intended to stay in Kampot for a couple of nights but ended up staying for four as I had a bit of a dodgy tummy. Still I was more than happy to extend my stay for a few days, I just made sure I avoided certain foods.

Making Noodles Kampot

I was lucky enough to find a place that had home made wonton and noodles, served with duck: I was happy.

Noodles Duck Kampot

I set off to Takeo, mainly because it was about half way to Phnom Penh (where I was now headed to get a spoke on my rear wheel repaired). As I was still a bit weak from the dodgy stomach, I took the ride at a pretty steady pace. Towards the end, when I turned off route 2 onto a side road, the surface got very bad. I had my tyres quite lowly inflated to help protect my spokes so could not ride out the bumps very well, the last 10 km were very painful on my arms and I was tired, 38°C heat didn’t help. I was more than glad to get it over with.

Road to Takeo

Takeo was a nice enough place. Fairly quiet and I stayed at a nice place (Daunkeo Guest House: $13 air-con; $7 fan). The place is on a lake in the wet season, but at this time of year the water had subsided to wetland, it was interesting watching the people dig for shrimp, which seemed to be a popular option at the many street food BBQs, as I had had a bit of a dodgy stomach I opted to have Spag bolognaise and a couple of beers from Le petit Bistro, it was very good.

Shrimp catching Takeo

Stage 11: Takeo to Phnom Penh

December 2nd 2015; Distance 78.25 km (48.6 miles). Total Distance: 901.8 km (560.4 miles)

Today was a bad day. It set off well enough; the road was good through Takeo and for the first 15 km or so. Then it got busy, and I mean big fuck off lorry busy, minibus busy, SUV busy. It was also dusty. Not pleasant at all, but this was bearable.

Busy road to Phnom Penh

Unfortunately about 25 km out of Phnom Penh I developed a little pain in my right knee. Five km later it was painful, I stopped at a café for 30 min. Another five km I was in agony. From then on I needed to stop about every kilometre. I was glad the surface improved towards Phnom Penh, as did the traffic, I just rode slowly, and by this stage I was mainly riding with my left leg and taking it very slow.

Eventually, I, painful knee, & bike, broken spoke got into town and booked into the first decent guesthouse I could find.

Phnom Penh

I stayed at the ‘Fancy Guest House’, it was $15 a night, not that bad as it was in a pretty decent location (quiet, easy to walk to the river). I ended up staying there for seven days. My knee was bad that day, but I could walk on it a lot better than I could ride on it. Next day there was no pain at all (walking, I did not ride the bike for five days).

Phnom Penh Wat

The first thing I did in Phnom Penh was take the bike to be repaired, I did this at Vicious Cycle shop. As their prices were so reasonable, I decided to have a full strip down service done too; it would be daft not to, as our Dan would have said. I also picked up some extra spokes and a spoke wrench. It cost $30 all-in, and the bike looked like brand new, and was set up much better than it was by the Giant shop in Vietnam. I was happy. Their charges are shown in the photograph below. Highly recommended.

Vicious Cycles Service Phnom Penh

Now Phnom Penh, I first visited here in 1997 when I was backpacking with my friends Chris and Dan. It was cowboy country back then. I remember we had to register at the British embassy (down a dirt track somewhere). The city has changed a lot, largely for the better, but…

It is amazing the amount of SUVs you see driving around, especially Range Rovers, with the 110% import tax, these cost about $150,000. Now everywhere you look, you see poor people, yet there are so many SUVs, you have a feeling that it’s all based on corruption. A lot of SUVs are owned by NGOs, who pay themselves $60,000 a year, drive around in a brand new over the top car, and feel good about themselves, because they are helping out the poor. A lot are also owned by people in Government and those who do business (some legit, many stripping Cambodia’s assets).

The average monthly wage in Cambodia is $75 (and if you were unlucky enough to work in one of Wal-Mart’s factories then you would not even get paid your $60 salary owed in back pay when they shut their factories down to comply with human rights; but that’s another story). So to see cars worth $150,000 everywhere is quite bazaar; there really is a massive difference between the haves and have-nots here; more than anywhere I’ve seen, I dare say enough to eventually cause a revolution. I hope this is not the case, but I think it will need a major redistribution in wealth, payment of taxes, to bring the rich and poor closer together.

Phnom Penh itself is fine for a couple of days, its very busy, and walking the street I feel unsafe from traffic more than anywhere else that I have ever been to in SE Asia. The Tuk Tuks and SUVs own the road, and drive like jerks.

Stage 12: Phnom Penh to Oudong

December 10th 2015; Distance 52.87 km (32.8 miles). Total Distance: 954.6 km (593.2 miles)

It was the best of times it was the worst of times.

Getting out of Phnom Penh should have been simple, straight down to the river, then turn left. Unfortunately their was a religious procession going on, so I had to brave the interior Phnom Penh traffic (SUVs and Trikes doing what ever they feel like) and ride around for about 30 min until I could get back in the right direction; on hindsight I should have just watched the procession. I eventually got onto route 5, which I had to follow for 10 km, very busy road, lots of large vehicles.

Road to Oudong

After about 15 km I turned left onto the ‘Basith Mountain Road’, which is a road through the lake. It was at this point that my beautifully serviced, quiet as a mouse cycle hit a massive pothole (I’ve not worked out how to bunny hop with panniers yet) and since then I’ve had a clicking come from the back, oh well at least I have spare spokes and a spoke wrench now; I need to keep an eye on it, but can’t seem to find any super lose spoke to tighten up).

Selling Lotus Flower Heads

The ride was nice here, the road much quieter with pleasant views.

Lake on the way to Oudong

It then got better. I turned right, about 10 km later up the Udong Mountain Road. This was a dirt road of about 20 km going through tiny villages, and eventually back onto tarmac when approaching Phnom Udong mountain temple, of which you get nice views of from the dirt track ride.

Phnom Udong mountain temple

I then reached Oudong, where I intended to stay the night (I decided to lower my distances a little to protect my knee; and to be honest most of my rides have involved some pain or other, especially in the last 10 km or so). I rode around for 20 minutes until I found a guesthouse; it is best described as a bit of a shithole ($6, fan, free insects). It was opposite a KTV, and I had a feeling that some of the rooms in the lower section, in a separate block, were used as short-term rooms, if you get what I mean. All that said, the shower wasn’t bad and it was glad to get rid of the fine red-dust that I was covered in.

I was thinking of going back to the temple, I could have rode there easily enough, but it was only about a four mile walk so I headed out, boy was it hot, I was soaked and for some reason my GPS wouldn’t pick up a signal so I was unsure of the way. I decided to call it a day after about two miles, one of which I think was slightly in the wrong direction, did I say it was hot; I was soaked.

White Wat Oudong

Got back to the hotel, it was full of insects, gave the room a spray with some insect killer I picked up in ‘nam. Went for some food, it was dark now, the town was dreadful, it is mainly along rRoute 5, and there are no lights. Plenty of big wagons going by, blowing dust everywhere, lots of barking dogs. Found a place that did Chinese dumplings, bought some beer (and ice in the bag), went back to the room and watched a movie. Fortunately I was pretty tired from riding/walking so fell asleep quickly.

Stage 13: Oudong to Kampong Chhnang

December 11th 2015; Distance 51.65 km (32.1 miles). Total Distance: 1006.2 km (625.2 miles)

I followed Route 5 out of Oudong in the morning, more than glad to leave the scruffy guesthouse. The ride was not particularly that exciting though pleasant enough, fortunately there seemed to be less traffic on the road once I got out of Oudong town. It was pretty dusty though, a fine red dust, and I could feel that I was getting a bit of a sore throat.

Road to Kampot Chhnang

I was planning on a rest day in Kampong Chhnang as I didn’t want to push my knee so much and I also wanted to see the floating Villages. I ended up staying six nights!

Kampot Chhnang Procession

The day after I cycled in I woke up with a very sore throat and a little bit of a cold, nothing too serious.

Kampot Chhnang

I walked the three miles or so to the jetty (I’ve always enjoyed walking, it’s easy to get a tuk tuk/moto for about $1 if you prefer) and then had a lady take me for a ride on her boat for an hour to see the Vietnamese floating village ($5 for one hour). The river and the village were very pleasant and are well worth a visit, it is amazing how people can live their lives so differently; I especially liked that many of the floating houses also had floating gardens.

Kampot Chhnang floating village

By the evening my cold was getting worse and I had developed a cough. I got something to eat and an hour later I was feeling absolutely knackered, I ended up going to bed at 7 pm and waking up at 10 am. By now all the muscles in my body were aching and I thought that I was developing flu, I didn’t seem to have a fever though (it is difficult to tell when it is 39°C outside anyway), and I didn’t have headache and sore eyes (nor have I gone on to develop a rash) so I don’t think it’s the Dengue (which I think I’ve had a mild case of in the past). After a few days the pain in my muscles subsided and I had a little ride around town (10 km or so, very leisurely pace). Next day I was still full of a cough, runny nose, sore throat, but feeling much better energy wise.

So my two nights in Kampong Chhnang turned into six; the Cambodian legs of my trip seem to be very start-stop.

Weight Loss

I weighed myself at Kampong Chhnang and had lost 6 kg. I was pretty happy about this as I thought that all of the prolonged stops, coupled with western food and beer, may have had me stuck around the 4 kg loss mark (measured in Can Tho), especially as I do not appear to have lost anymore off my waist (as this is the only place I bothered to measure, I’m guessing the weight has been lost from other areas, especially just above the waist, chest, and legs).

Recently I seem to have spent more time still than riding. I was fairly relaxed with just a few rides in Phu Quoc over six days due to the broken spoke; I had four nights in Kampot; seven nights enforced rest in Phnom Penh because of my knee; and six nights in Kampong Chhnang as I had cold, nearly a flu, some sort of bug anyway.

Stage 14: Kampong Chhnang to Krakor

December 17th 2015; Distance 63.45 km (39.4 miles). Total Distance: 1069.7 km (664.7 miles)

Glad to be on the bike again after six days of being ill. Still not feeling 100% but wanted to get things going again.

Road to Krakor

Once I got away from the main towns the road was much quieter, this made for nice cycling. I was feeling strong and thinking of going beyond my target town of Krakor and on to the next main town.

Buffalo on the Road to Krakor

And then…

My first puncture, back wheel. I lazily replaced the tube under a tree in the shade, and then just cycled the next few km to Krakor and called it a day.

Puncture repair on the road to Krakor, Cambodia

Stayed at the Paris guesthouse, bit basic but clean enough: $6.

Stage 15: Krakor to Pursat (via Kampong Luong Floating Village)

December 18th 2015; Distance 41.77 km (25.9 miles). Total Distance: 1111.5 km (690.7 miles)

It was only a short ride to Pursat so I decided to first ride down the dirt road from Krakor to the Kampong Luong Floating Village.

Kampong Luong Floating Village

I’d already done a boat trip out to the floating villages at Kampong Chhnang (and it was quite a painful experience on a very hard seat) so I decided just to ride down to the village. I was so glad I did. There must have been 1000 kids shouting and waving at me along the way, and probably a hundred adults too. Got to the outskirts of the village, took some pictures, had my cycle inspected by some locals.

Bike Inspection at Kampong Luong

I then rode on to Pursat, which is not a bad little town.

Obligotory Bike Pic

I was a little disappointed that a Pizza place, that got rave reviews on Trip Advisor had closed for renovation :-( Still, I managed to find another pizza place so my cravings went answered. Stayed a night, found a nice coffee shop.

Pursat

I quite like Pursat, not much there to see and do, but the place has a nice feel to it. I stayed at the Phnom Pech Hotel, good value at $8 for a fan room (it’s was quite cold at night so no need of air-con here).

Stage 16: Pursat to Battambang

December 20th 2015; Distance 107.80 km (67.0 miles). Total Distance: 1219.3 km (757.6 miles)

I had been dreading this ride. It was far the longest I’d done since injuring my knee and being ill. I’m glad to say that despite a light head wind for most of the way the ride went pretty well. I got pretty tired at about 60 km, but a can of coke sorted that out (I usually avoid soda, but it don’t half give you an energy boost when you are cycling). My knee began to hurt at about the 95 km mark, but nothing as serious as on my approach to Phnom Penh.

There were a few nice temples along the way, especially at Moung Ruessei.

Wat Sorya Moung Ruessei

There was a guest house there too, so could have stopped overnight if I had needed.

Wat Sorya

Stage 17: Battambang to Pailin

December 23rd 2015; Distance 104.42 km (64.9 miles). Total Distance: 1323.7km (822.5 miles)

Battambang

Battambang

Mmh, this was meant to be an 80 km ride. I took the wrong road and ended up doing an extra 25 km, and adding about 40 km of dirt roads to the journey.

Road to Pailin

What can I say it was a fantastic ride.

River on the road to Pailin

As I was off the main route I don’t think people were used to seeing cyclists, especially the kids. They usually shout and wave at you in Cambodia, here they look at you and when I waved and shouted hello they all screamed in excitement and then started giggling hysterically, often running off to their parents to tell them about the great adventure they had just had.

This area is very interesting. It was one of the last strong-holds of the Khmer Rouge; it is close to the Thai border, is known for its gems (mainly Sapphires and Rubies; the same stone: corundum), and has mountains close by to hide in.

Fortunately there has been a big effort to clear away land mines in this area. The effort is still on-going and as recently as 2013 there were 111 casualties from land mines in Cambodia. Very very sad.

Area cleared of landmines, Cambodia

The roads were pretty bad in this area and I managed to break another spoke. Despite having three spare spokes and a tool I could not fix it as it was on the cog side of the back wheel and I don’t have a tool to remove the cog. I will need the services of a bike shop once again.

Spoke breaking road Cambodia

After travelling fifty odd kilometres I re-joined the road to Pailin, about 25 km from Battamburg.

Mountains on the road to Pailin

The road was mainly uphill for the next 45 km, and then a nice few km of much needed downhill into town.

Scarecrows Cambodia

For some reason most of the houses on the last 30km into Pailin had scarecrows at their entrances.

I stayed at a new hotel that had just opened (Palin City Hotel, on the left hand side as you head to Thailand, just across from the market). They gave me a room for $15 a night, as they did not yet have many guests. It was an excellent deal, more like a $60 room with great views up to the temple and of the mountain. I was happy and tired. I spent the next day in Pailin, spent an hour or so exploring Wat Phnom Yat.

Buddha at Phnom Yat Pagoda

The main Stupa/Pagoda is very beautiful with bells atop chiming gently in the wind, truly wonderful.

Buddists Hell

Phnom Yat Pagoda, Pailin, Cambodia

Bleeding Buddha at Phnom Yat Pagoda

Stage 18: Pailin to Chanthaburi (Thailand)

December 25th 2015; Distance 87.84 km (54.6 miles). Total Distance: 1411.5km (877 miles)

If you are not with family and friends then cycling your bike from one country to another is probably one of the best ways that you can spend Christmas day, and you get to lose weight to boot.

An undulating ride to the Thai border with beautiful views of the mountains in the background. This was one of the easiest and friendliest border crossings I’ve ever had in SE Asia. Both the Cambodian and Thai officials were all smiles as they processed my passport.

I then rode on upwards towards Pong Nam Ron.

Cycling into Thailand

According to Strava the road went up, down, then up again for another 150 m in height. The road started going down and down. As I was getting closer to town I was beginning to get a bit despondent thinking that I’m going to end up going up a 1 in 10 slope or something. But it never came, and I arrived in Pong Nam Ron wondering what the fuck had happened to the hill. As the rest of the ride was as expected from the profile I can only think that the height of the road around the Thai/Cambodian border is much much higher than what Strava has it as.

I arrived at Pong Nam Ron needing food, and there it was, my first Thai 7-11 of this trip, only one thing for it: a cheese and ham toasty, 390 calories of pure joy (especially after a few beers (or in this case a few miles)).

After a rest, I headed down to Chanthaburi, which included a nice 200 metre drop over a few km, I got chased by a dog, as I was going at 60 kph it wasn’t an issue.

The road then flattened and I had a pleasurable ride to the gem town of Chanthaburi. An interesting place for a night. It has a beautiful cathedral (I can’t recall seeing any other cathedrals in Thailand, there probably are others), but it was the hundreds of gem shops that were more interesting; these were mainly occupied by traders sat at desks (a lot of middle easterners) inspecting stones (again it was the Sapphire/Ruby that caught my eye, but lots of other less valuable gems too) that the locals had collected. This is meant to be a great place to buy gems, lots and lots of shops selling polished stones and jewellery. I know nothing about gems (well I have an A level in Geology so I know a little bit I suppose) so I did not buy, though I did check out a sapphire necklace for my mum. Sorry, maybe another time mum.

Cambodia Round Up

Thoughts: I enjoyed cycling the minor roads in Cambodia immensely. Unfortunately, most the time you need to travel on main roads as they are the only point-to-point options. The lorry drivers usually give you plenty of room but the minibus and SUV drivers go crazy fast, often coming at you in your lane and overtaking on blind corners like complete dickheads. The roads are also very dusty.

Weight Loss: Now lost 8.1 kg.

Things lost: Sony headphones at a Phnom Penh café :-(

Things repaired: 1 Spoke, 1 puncture.

Things broken: Another spoke (Sprocket side – needs a special tool/bike shop to repair).

Total Distance of trip including ride abouts/sightseeing: 1565.5 km (972.8miles).

Total distance since buying bike (includes training in Mui Ne): 1970.7 km (1224.5 miles).

Cycle Touring through Southern Vietnam

Mui Ne to Rach Gia (through the sand dunes and the Mekong Delta for Phu Quoc and Ha Tien)

I described my main aims and bike set up in my last post: see here.

Though I didn’t stick to my plans exactly, in the last week of my training month up in Mui Ne I completed two 50 km rides. As I was getting ready to start my tour I decided to just go for it.

My thoughts were that if I found myself rapidly tiring after 50 km or so then I’d just stop at some guesthouse. That said my initial aim was to try to ride about 80 km (50 miles) per day.

Before I go on to describe the routes, I’d like to talk a little about distance measurements. My phone does not like Strava (or vice versa) so I am using Runkeeper to get a general overview of route travel. The problem with the GPS tracking on my phone is that when I pause for a while, it will turn itself off and on again about a dozen times, adding time to my rides and distance to the trip even if I am just sat down eating a snack.

On one occasion, when the GPS was poor I reached a speed of 125 mph, and travelled an extra few miles in under a minute: proper cycling legs I’ve got.

Anyway, all distances are taken using my old fashioned CatEye with a speed magnet on the front wheel. Interestingly having a speedo on a bike has proved to be of great interest to many people in the more rural areas, especially aboard ferries when people don’t seem to have much better things to do than give it a good poke.

Vietnam Cycle Touring Route Overview

Cycle Tour map Vietnam

Approximate route. See Strava for exact stage routes.

Stage 1: Phan Thiet to La Gi; November 1st 2015; Distance 76.1 km (47.3 miles)

First ride on my cycling Vietnam / SE Asia trip. Went well, very tired legs in last 10 km. A section of about 7 km would have been better on a mountain bike, broken road turning into sand track, all uphill.

I set off with a little anticipation and some nerves. How far would I get, would I enjoy myself, would I keel up and die by the side of a Vietnamese road?

I’d planned my route south on Strava, trying to pick quiet roads. From what I see most cyclists (and indeed scooter riders) tend to be in a hurry and head straight onto the main Vietnam A1 highway. That is something I did not want to do. I was in no hurry; I wanted to take nice quiet roads with fresh air instead of traffic fumes.

I knew the road out of Mui Ne was uphill, but I have done it many times, so despite my excess weight I knew I could get up it no problem. According to Strava, I had one more hill on the route, a little higher, just outside of Phan Thiet, and then it was flat.

What Strava did not tell me was this road was basically a bridleway, quickly going from broken road to dirt track and then to sand. Fucking brilliant! And I do mean that, I just put the bike in a low gear and was doing some technical uphill off-roading within the second hour of the trip, no traffic, loved it.

Road out of Phan Thiet

Road out of Phan Thiet

After about 7 or 8 km the road hit the main coast road and the surface improved dramatically. I had decided to just go as far as I could today, with a general aim of making it to LaGi, about 75 km down the coast. There’d be no shame in stopping after 40 km if I needed to.

Paddy Fields in Vietnam

What can I say, the scenery along this stretch of coastal road was stunning, sea on one side, desert on the other.

Sea, beach, and desert.

Seaside road.

And all the way, people, not only the school kids, were shouting Hello.

Getting some much needed energy.

Sugarcane Juice and Dragon fruit, getting some much needed energy.

I reached the fishing village of LaGi no problem.

Fishing boats in LaGi

Fishing boats in LaGi

Drying Squids in Lagi

Drying Squids in Lagi

Quickly found a guest house (150,000 VND), and then lay down in a state of knackerdness. I later went out and explored the town, grabbing a Bahn Mi, before resting again and going out for some Bánh xèo in the evening.

Banh Xeo for Dinner

Bánh xèo for Dinner

Stage 2: Lagi to Long Hai; November 2nd 2015; Distance 81.4 km (50.6 miles). Total Distance: 157.5 km (97.9 miles)

Started the day a little sore but feelling fresh after a good sleep. Cycled inland a bit up a hill for a few km before the road hit the coast again.

Beautiful Vietnam

Beautiful Vietnam

Sea and desert

Sea and desert

This time the coast became perhaps even more stunning; again it was quite surreal riding with beach on one side and desert on the other.

Beautiful beaches all along this stretch (Ho Coc)

Beautiful beaches all along this stretch (Ho Coc)

I arrived in Long Hai tiring fast, and was glad that I was planning a few days rest.

Rush hour traffic away from Saigon

Rush hour traffic away from Saigon

I can hardly describe how beautiful the coast is in this stretch of Vietnam. The roads are very quiet. There are many resorts springing up, and even a Casino at Ho Tram. I recommend everyone to visit this part of Vietnam as soon as they can.

Presently most people go to Mui Ne or Vung Tau as they are convenient to get to. When the new airport is built in Saigon, this stretch of beautiful beach will probably only be an hours drive away, and I can see it rapidly being spoiled by development. You can read more on this route (from the point of view of a scooter driver) but in the opposite direction here.

Stage 3: Long Hai to Saigon; November 5th 2015; Distance 103.2 km (64.1 miles). Total Distance: 260.7 km (162 miles)

My first ever 100 km ride (just under 5 h 30 min of riding time, maybe I should have used EPO!).

I wanted to get to Saigon in one go as I knew the route would not be much fun. I was planning to spend four days with my friends David and Lukas (links to their super duper businesses), and generally eating a lot of Sushi and Beef Brisket.

Fresh meat Vietnam style.

Plenty of fresh meat on this trip. I think they keep the head so you know you are getting cow and not buffalo, or maybe it is the tastiest bit, who knows?

The first 60 km or so were along a busy highway, and not much fun. I just pedalled and stuck to the edge. Then I had to make the turn towards Saigon. I had decided to take a quieter way in and head towards the Cát Lái Ferry; since a new bridge has been built most heavy traffic avoids this route. Even better, due to road works all cars had been diverted to a different route. So I shared a quiet, bridle-path-like road with the scooters for the next 20 km, sweet.

Saigon Cat Lai Ferry

Catching the ferry to Saigon: cost 1,000 dong.

After the ferry, all traffic was separated with moto/cycles having their own lane with a concrete barrier. So though there was a lot of scooters it felt pretty safe riding into Saigon. I then reached a big bridge, which was a bit like going up a hill, especially after 90km of travelling.

Saigon Bridge View

View of Saigon from the bridge.

As expected the last 10 km into Saigon to Japanese town in D1 were as busy as could be. But you just ride with the flow, so it wasn’t that bad. Arrived in Saigon, absolutely knackered and starving, grabbed a rice bowl and had Brisket and beers that night.

Stage 4: Saigon to Go Cong; November 9th 2015; Distance 59.3 km (36.8 miles). Total Distance: 320 km (199 miles)

Set off a little later than normal to avoid the early Saigon rush hour. Was still busy for the first 10 km out of Saigon, but I then took a back road south towards Go Cong instead of the main highway, and it was pretty much just me and scooters.

Saigon back road

Taking a quieter road out of Saigon

The road got quieter the further I rode. And the scenery improved likewise, I was soon riding over bridges and taking my first look at the many offshoots of the Mekong.

Saigon Bridge

Leaving Saigon by a somewhat smaller bridge.

I felt pretty good physically until about the 40 km stage, then I hit a headwind for about 15 km and my left knee started to hurt. I was thinking about going to My Tho, but decided to stay at Go Cong instead.

Market at Go Cong, great to get some fruit down me after 60km cycle trip out of Saigon.

Market at Go Cong, great to get some fruit down me after the 60 km cycle trip out of Saigon.

Stage 5: Go Cong to Ben Tre; November 10th 2015; Distance 61.2 km (38.0 miles). Total Distance: 381.2 km (236.9 miles)

First section was along a nice country road, lots of pleasant scenery.

Cycling from Go Cong

The road from Go Cong

Rode through My tho, which was a lot bigger than I thought it would be.

Crossed the bridge over the Mekong there, very high and long, fantastic views off the top of it.

Then rode into Ben Tre, a great little town.

By the river at Ben Tre

By the river at Ben Tre

Grinding the coffee for my Ca Phe Da

Grinding the coffee for my Ca Phe Da

Wonton with egg noodle

A deserved bowl of Mi Hoanh tran (Wonton with egg noodle soup).

Stage 6: Ben Tre to Tra Vinh; November 12th 2015; Distance 74.3 km (46.2 miles). Total Distance: 455.5 km (283 miles)

Though this ride was about 75 km there were a further 10 km or so of ferry rides, as the Mekong is very wide here.

Took a longer route out of Ben Tre so that I'd avoid the busier roads. avoid the

Took a longer route out of Ben Tre so that I’d avoid the busier roads.

Chilling on the Mekong

At one point I was riding on an island between two branches of the Mekong. Some of the nicest riding that I’d done in the Mekong, absolutely beautiful.

Boats on the Mekong

Boats on the Mekong

I am already fed up of big busy bridges. Try to take the ferry across if I can.

I am already fed up of big busy bridges. Try to take the ferry across if I can.

Felt a lot stronger physically than for a few days and didn’t really tire until about 60 km.

This little piggy went to Dean. Carbing up in

This little piggy went to Dean. Carbing up in tra Vinh

It was a very humid day, and I was soaked in sweat and developed a case of runners nipple. A plaster and then a dousing in coconut oil helped to fix that.

Squid and octopus stirfry with rice (25,000 dong, just over a dollar).

Squid and octopus stir fry with rice (25,000 dong, just over a dollar).

Stage 7: Tra Vinh to Can Tho; November 13th 2015; Distance 88.0 km (54.7 miles). Total Distance: 543.5 km (337.7 miles)

I was initially going to head south towards the south of Vietnam, but on reading up it turned out that the things this area are most famous for are mud and mosquitoes. Erm, I turned right to Can Tho; one of my favourite Vietnamese cities.

As you head south the religions diversify. My first glimpse of a Khmer style temple.

As you head south the religions diversify. My first glimpse of a Khmer style temple.

Lots of Churches here too.

Lots of Churches here too.

And a happy Buddah

And a happy Buddah

The first 35 km of the ride I felt strong, but then I had to wait 30 min for a ferry, with a further 25 min to cross the Mekong (quickly followed by another 20 min ferry ride) and my legs sort of seized up and never really recovered.

Long ferry ride over the Mekong.

Long ferry ride over the Mekong.

Even though I stopped a few times for sugar cane juice I never really felt good cycling again and the last 20 km turned into a painful struggle and required a lot of willpower, despite the road being as flat as can be.

View from the millionth bridge I crossed cycling to Can Tho.

View from the millionth bridge I crossed cycling to Can Tho.

To top it off, it got busy as hell about 15 km out of Can Tho, I looked it up later and learnt the population of Can Tho is 1.3 million, I had never realised it was that big before cycling through it.

A well deserved green tea iced yoghurt with lychees.

A well deserved green tea iced yoghurt with lychees, pineapple, and mango.

An update on weight (Can Tho) and thoughts on calories burnt per KM/Mile when cycle touring

I spent about three weeks training in Mui Ne (started at 30 km up to 50 km) and have now done seven rides (62km to 103km).

During this time I have tried to keep at 2,500 calories on a non-ride day, increasing to about 3,000 calories (sometimes a little more) on ride days.

So far I have lost 4 kg, this represents 30,800 calories of work (based on 7,700 calories/kg of fat burn). Together with the 7 ride days x 500 extra calories above base (3,500 calories), this comes to 34,300 calories.

Given I have now ridden 941.1 km, I estimate that I am burning 34,300/941 = 36.4 calories per km or 58.6 calories per mile.

Given that I am about 20 kg overweight, on a touring bike with panniers, and in a hot humid climate, does the above estimate seem right? Seems a lot higher than the usual 25 calories per km / 40 calories per mile I seem to read when reading about cycle calorie burning. Any thoughts on this, then see my Reddit post.

On another note, by Can Tho, I had lost 8 cm (3.1 inches) from my waistline!

View of Can Tho from the L'escale restaurant.

View of Can Tho from the L’escale restaurant.

Stage 8: Can Tho to Rach Gia; November 17th 2015; Distance 113.3 km (70.4 miles). Total Distance: 656.8 km (408.2 miles)

Once I got away from Can Tho towards Vi Thahn the scenery became some of the nicest I had seen in the Mekong.

A quieter branch of the Mekong

A quieter branch of the Mekong

Obligatory SE Cycle tour bike Picture

Obligatory SE Cycle tour bike Picture

Lots of paddy fields with farmers working in their hats (just like you imagine in a stereotypical image of Vietnamese rice farmers); marvellous.

Beautiful Vietnamese Paddy Field just south of Can Tho

Beautiful Vietnamese Paddy Field just south of Can Tho

I felt very strong and soon reached Vi Thahn and decided to head to Rach Gia, despite it being by far the furthest I would ever have cycled.

About 5 km later road works and gravel roads started, and lasted for the next 35 km, the energy drained from my legs rapidly, and I crawled into Rach Gia, aching everywhere, in a small gear and at about 15 kph despite the final road in having a good surface and as flat as a pancake; last 5 km there was little energy left in my legs.

Roadworks ahead

Roadworks ahead

Spent a few days working in Rach Gia then jumped on a ferry to Phu Quoc for six days on a tropical island.

Rach Gia

Mekong meets the sea in Rach Gia

Taro and Macaroni omelette, Seems to be a Rach Gia thing. Good for carbing up

Taro and Macaroni omelette, seems to be a Rach Gia thing. Good for carbing up

Other non point to point rides when Cycling Vietnam

In addition to the main point to point rides I have also done a few rides in other areas, especially when I have had work to do, and wanted to put a few miles in when I had not ridden for a few days, and during my time in Phu Quoc.

Presently these add up to about a further 72 miles (115 km). I suppose that exploring around should be included in my total km/mile count. I’ll think on it.

Rach Gia towards Ha Tien, about 20 miles

This was a dreadful journey. I was initially thinking of taking this road to Ha Tien (about 90km), and then getting the ferry to Phu Quoc.

Anyway, I had decided to get the ferry to Phu Quoc from Rach Gia instead (8.45 am; cost 340,000 VND for the ferry & 50,000 VND for the cycle (Total 11 GBP; 17 US$; 16 euro).

I thought I’d do a round trip to the half-way point to Ha Tien, then once I’d got to Ha Tien (Ferry from Phu Quoc to Ha Tien; 8 am or 1 pm; 210,000 VND + 50,000 for the cycle; total cost: 7.5 GBP; 11.5 US$; 11 Euro) I’d do a similar trip from Ha Tien towards Rach Gia, to link the points up, and complete the cycle route.

Anyway, the road from Rach Gia to Ha Tien is by far the worst and most dangerous road I’ve personally cycled in Vietnam. It seemed to have an unnatural number of local buses and tour buses, that tended to drive past me very closely and then immediately pull up in front of me to let someone off/on, then repeat the process, there were a similar amount of heavily loaded lorries on the road, which to add to my woes was potholed like hell. After 12 km, I hit major road construction, called it a day and rode back to Rach Gia.

Rides around Phu Quoc

On my journey from Can Tho to Rach Gia (largely through road work gravel) I noticed a click coming from the back of the bike, I thought it was gear/chain related, but I couldn’t find anything. Anyway, upon closer inspection of my bike in Phu Quoc I found out the cause: a broken spoke; great.

Panoramic view from my balcony in Phu Quoc

Panoramic view from my balcony in Phu Quoc

Long beach Sunset, Phu Quoc

Long beach Sunset, Phu Quoc

I was really looking forward to cycling around Phu Quoc Island and had three, possibly four trips planned of about 60 to 80km. My plan was to just go with one pannier, carrying a towel, swimming shorts, and some food and drink with me. Then to find some nice isolated beach to chill a while, cycle another 20k or so, and repeat. Anyway the broken spoke put paid to this.

There are no cycle shops I could find in Phu Quoc, and the scooter shops could not help. I read up on it a bit, and apparently if one spoke goes, you should be ok to ride a little, but a second spoke breakage is likely to follow. Ideally, you’d replace the spoke immediately to stop damaging your rim.

With the above in mind, and the fact I really wanted to explore the island, I decided to go for a couple of short rides (40 km or so), without panniers and at a more leisurely pace than what I normally travel at.

Beach at a resort in NW Phu Quoc

Beach at a resort in NW Phu Quoc

As usual, this plan went slightly askew due to road works. On my first trip to the NW of the island, I pretty much rode 10 km of dirt track alongside the beach; it was very pleasant at my much-reduced speed, trying to avoid every bump.

Taking it slow, riding with a broken spoke on a dirt track on Phu Quoc island.

Taking it slow, riding with a broken spoke on a dirt track on Phu Quoc island.

On the second trip south, the same thing happened but worse, as it had been raining the road (read dirt track) I wanted to take was all mud and puddles, it would have been a blast on a 26 inch wheeled bike (new dream bike) but not on mine with a broken spoke, I decided to call it a day.

Dirt track becomes mudtrack.

Dirt track becomes mudtrack.

I did get some nice views on my trips, especially towards the NW of the Island, which is beautiful. In the SW of the island they seem to be building a lot of resorts, glad they are not spoiling the NW coast.

Building the new Novetel Phu Quoc Resort. Prsonally, think it is a shite location.

Building the new Novotel Phu Quoc Resort. Personally, I think it is in a shite location. Guess they’ll spend a few million quid renovating the beach.

That’s it for now. I have a 15 km trip to get the ferry to Ha Tien, next. I’m hoping I can get a new spoke fixed there (and to buy some spare ones and a spoke key). If not I’m not sure what I’ll do. I’ll probably have to go up to Phnom Penh, and given the states of the roads it may be better to stay on the Vietnam side and head up the Mekong and jump a boat to Phnom Penh. Ideally, I’d get it fixed and head to Kep/Kampot in Cambodia and then towards Battambang, avoiding Phnom Penh altogether (I’ve been there loads of times).

Key Facts

Total Distance since buying bike in October: 1177 km (731 miles).

Total Distance point to point: 656.8 km (408.2 miles).

Total Distance on my SE Asia Tour 771.8 km (479.69 miles)

Weight loss: 4 kg as at Can tho, done a few hundred km since then though, that said ate a lot of western food on Phu Quoc!

Delicious Bacon Beefburger at Winston's, Phu Quoc

Delicious Bacon Beefburger at Winston’s, Phu Quoc

Cycling in Vietnam: Awesome sauce.

More specifics on my routes can be found on my Strava page.

Cycle Touring SE Asia

Those that Bike: Cycle touring through SE Asia for Adventure and Weight-loss

As most people who know me know, I have a little bit of a weight problem at the moment. I guess over the years I’ve added a kilogram or so a year on average, and even in good periods when I am maintaining weight for months on end I am still carrying a big chunk of fat around with me.

There have been a few periods in my life when I have lost good amounts of weight, the last time was a couple of years ago when I was eating and living primal in Turkey; I lost 29 lbs. in about nine weeks (~13kg). The other times I have lost weight have been when I was cycling (in Bedford & Ithaca; and during all my time living in Cologne, when I biked most days).

Eating Primal

My Primal diet in Turkey contained plenty of cheese and olives :-)

When I was a teenager/young adult I was normal weight, I was never one of those fat kids you see everywhere nowadays, I played a lot of football and badminton at the youth club, I was always the world’s worst runner, I enjoyed a little mountain biking, amusing all of my friends by being out of breath at the top of a climb and then smoking a fag.

My main gain in weight started when I gave up smoking, and since then my weight has been up and down like a yoyo, until I have reached the point where I am now, where I would like to lose about 20 kg (I have been heavier than I am now in the past, not that that really matters, just thought I’d mention it).

Why Cycle? Why Exercise to lose Weight and not Diet?

As I mentioned above, I have generally been at my healthiest when I have been cycling. I work online, so I am sat at a computer all day long, its not good for you.

Although I lost weight following a paleo diet I found that it only worked when I was cooking for myself (which I do enjoy) and due to all of the fantastic food available in SE Asia where I am currently based and the lack of a kitchen, going paleo just does not work for me.

So what to do, losing 20 Kg (44 lbs.; 3 stone 2 lbs.) is not going to be easy by diet alone, unlike smoking where the longer you quit the easier it gets, when dieting the longer you have to keep controlling calories the harder it gets. I am not interested in anyone’s weight loss opinions here, especially anyone who has never been overweight and tried living on deficit calories for months on end, as like most overweight people I could probably write a book on nutritional advice, but as for me carrying out all of the insights from that book, now that could prove easier said than done.

So the obvious answer for someone like me who loves food far too much is to exercise more.

New Directions

On another note, that I don’t want to go into too deeply at the moment, I am finding that I am quite bored of many things in my life at the moment, well not bored, that is the wrong word (completely the wrong word, can’t be arsed editing, would rather waffle on), I am never bored – there is always something to do – I think complacent is a better word to use, not much seems to be happening in my life, even though I am where I want to be and living in a country I love, I am craving a little adventure.

So putting things together, need to lose weight by exercising more, at my healthiest when bicycling, and craving a little adventure then the answer is somewhat obvious — I need to go on a long distance cycle tour around SE Asia.

But I don’t have a bike and I’m overweight, where do I even begin to start for my SE Asia cycle tour?

I live in Saigon, cycling is much more popular nowadays and there are a few good bike shops popping up here and there. I found that I had to visit a few shops, mainly centred here, to get everything that I needed, and I also had to take a trip out to district 7 to ‘Saigon cycles’ to buy some panniers and a few other little bobs and ends.

I didn’t want to spend too much on a bike for a variety of reasons (costs/nickability) but wanted to get something that was reasonable OK.

Another reason I did not want to splash out and buy a super duper bike was because after a certain price point it costs a lot of money to save a little bit of weight and components, although super awesome and light, they may not be to rugged and easy to replace.

But the main reasons for getting a cheapish bike were (1) every 5 lb in weight I lose is probably worth $100 in upgraded component costs, and (2) I am going to carry all of my belongings with me in panniers; why spend an extra $100 to save a lb in weight only to put 22 lb.+ of luggage over the back wheel?

Anyway, after a few trips out and a lot of umming and arring, I decided to buy a Giant ‘Escape 2 city’ (pictured).

My SE Asian Touring Bike Bought in Vietnam

The bike cost 8,600,000 VND and I got a voucher for 400,000 VND in accessories from the Giant bike shop. I bought a few things there, and a few from next door where they had non-Giant products that would do the same job for much cheaper. The folks at the Giant shop were happy to fix these for me when setting up the bike. I then went to Saigon cycles the next day to buy a few other things I needed.

Giant 2 City

My new Giant 2 City bike, ready to tour SE Asia and chuck away a few pounds.

Bike Costs

So here are my start-up costs for my cycle trip (note there are a few things that I still need and will get next time I am near a big supermarket before I set out in earnest (Multitool/Spanner/Allen keys/Screwdriver).

(Prices in VND when purchased, late September 2015)

Bike: Giant Escape 2 City                8,600,000 (382 usd/252 gbp)

Helmet (Giant)                                  680,000 (30.25/19.23 gbp)

Panniers                                             1,050,000

Cycling shorts                                    670,000

Cycling Gloves                                    350,000

Cycling computer                              200,000

Pump                                                   322,000

Front light                                          287,000

Bottle cage                                         70,000

Spare tube                                         100,000

Back light                                           50,000

Oil                                                       140,000

Puncture kit/tyre levers                  70,000

Lock                                                    190,000

Water bottles                                     130,000

Computer case                                  140,000

Small Bag for passport etc.,              90,000

With the discount/Giant voucher of 400,000 the total costs for my SE Touring Bike came to ~12,700,000 VND (373 GBP; 572 US$; 503 Euro).

On training for a long distance cycle ride in SE Asia

So now I’ve got a bike, what is the best way to approach my long distance cycle trip? There are two main options (1) get on the bike, go as far as I can, even if it is only 30 km, then grab an hotel or (2) base myself somewhere for a few weeks, work on building up fitness/hardening up certain body parts until I am happy sitting on a bike for 4 or 5 hours/50 miles/80 km.

Although I was very tempted to take the first option, given my fitness levels and the fact that I had a lot of work to do it made more sense to go for the second scenario. So I decided to base myself by the beach and sand dunes of Mui Ne.

Mui Ne Beach

My Mui Ne Beach Training camp

Train from Saigon to Phan Thiet

So I put the bike and myself on the 6.40 a.m. train from Saigon to Mui Ne (cost 165,000 VND for me, foreigner ticket, and a further 165,000 for my bike – non-foreigner ticket, had to share a goods carriage with the local scooters; so just under 10 quid/ 15 US$ / 13 euros altogether to get to Phan Thiet station). The process was easy enough, I bought the tickets the day before (counter 4 at the station) and I then needed to be at Saigon railway station in D3 (location) at 6 a.m., wait by a gate for ten minutes until they opened it, then cycle to the train, along with the scooters to the guards van, and have them load the bike into the goods van (I took my panniers and helmet on the train).

Train to Mui Ne

Waiting to put the bike on the train from Saigon to Phan Thiet (for Mui Ne)

The train arrived 3 and ¾ hour later in Phan Thiet (so much quicker and nicer than going by bus). By the time I had got off the train and walked to the goods van, my cycle was waiting for me. I gave the guard the release ticket to prove it was mine, and off I went.

Cycling from Phan Thiet Train Station to Mui Ne

Although only 15km, this was the furthest I have cycled for a long time, and I had the added bonus of using the fully loaded panniers for the first time (not including a 3 km ride to Saigon train station in the morning).

Everything went well, it was hot and I was naturally sweating a lot in the heat, until I came to the hill leading into Mui Ne (about 55 metres gain in height).

I have read up a lot on gear theory and maintenance since, but suffice to say I struggled to get up this hill, largely because my front chainring would not shift down onto the smallest cog, meaning I could not get into a low enough gear to peddle up the hill without using brute force.

So a relatively easy hill became a mountain, involving me stopping about four times for a rest. I finally made it to the top, and then it was downhill or flat to my $10 a night guesthouse in Mui Ne.

(I corrected this gearing problem by twisting the tension on my gear lever wire by about 1/4 of a turn clockwise).

Cycle Touring Training Plan and Routes

After spending some time on Strava mapping out routes, I came up with a nice little 20 mile circuit around Mui Ne, this has a few hills, and a rather flattish but bumpy finish.

Cycling Mui Ne

My 20 mile (~32km) route around Mui Ne

The first time I did this course it took about 1 hr 55 min, making it a nice little circuit for building up my endurance and getting fitter (update: my current time for this route is about 20 min quicker). Of course, at my level of fitness I should not really be going this far, for so long a time, and by the end my arms and bottom were rather sore, and my legs knew they’d been going around in circles for a few hours.

The next route I planned out was a 10 mile (16 km) flat but bumpy trip from my guest house to close to Mui Ne town and back (~45 min at my present fitness level).

My two main training aims at the moment are (1) increasing my cadence to around 90; it is presently naturally about 72. Increasing cadence rate works the slow twitch muscles over the fast twitch muscles, thus allowing further distances to be travelled without fatiguing the muscles; and (2) increasing my distance and time on the saddle.

My training routine (for the start anyway) is as follows:

Day 1: 20 miles circuit (endurance)

Day 2: 10 mile recovery (concentrating on improving cadence)

Day 3: rest

Day 4: 20 miles circuit (endurance)

Day 5: 10 mile recovery (concentrating on improving cadence)

Day 6: rest

Day 7: Longer ride of 3 hours (Ride 2 hours; spend some time at a café; another 1 hr ride).

Day 8: 10 mile recovery ride.

Day 9: rest

Repeat days 4–9 (As I work for myself I do not need to worry about following a seven day weeks/weekend rides schedule).

After the first repeat I am hoping to gradually increase the distances over the next two weeks, until I am fine to ride for 50 miles.

Hopefully I should achieve this within 4 or 5 weeks.

(Update: I’m currently up to 30 mile rides, and will probably just go for it now (in a couple of days time) as there will be plenty of options to stop at if I get a little tired).

Planned Route for SE Asia Cycling Tour

Where do you go and how do you travel in SE Asia if you have no time constraints?

Phan Thiet cycle tour training

I need to work a few full days each week, and on most other days I do a further two or three hours. So my plan is to cycle around ~80km per day for a few days, find somewhere to work for a few days, and then get on the bike again. If I find somewhere nice I might stay for a week or so, and have some cycle based sightseeing trips in the area.

I am presently in Mui Ne, with about eight weeks left on my Vietnamese visa. I will spend the next four weeks or so training in Mui Ne.

Then I plan to travel down the coast towards Long Hai over a week or so, catch up with friends in Saigon, then into the Mekong delta for two weeks of exploring before crossing into Cambodia.

Ho chi minh sunset

Probably won’t be much fun cycling in Saigon, but the sunsets and meeting up with my friends will make the trip more than worthwhile.

Then my plans go hazy, I will probably follow the coast, try to escape from Kampot, possibly going up to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat (I’ve been before, but it’s worth seeing again) or hug the coast and into Thailand, and down to Prachuap Khiri Khan.

Prachuap Khiri Khan

Will be great to see Prachuap Khiri Khan again.

I was thinking of going further down the coast and cross into Malaysia via Langkawi – a beautiful island I really want to cycle around – but most cycling blogs say it gets a bit samey the further south you go in Thailand. So I’ll probably see how I feel by the time about things when I get to the Hua Hin area. I’ll perhaps head towards Sukhathai, which I’d love to see again, and then into Issan; then depending on fitness levels reached at that point either take a mountaness route through Northern Laos back into ‘nam, or a more gentle one through southern Laos and Cambodia.

My SE Asia tour route will no doubt change many times over the trip.

On Gear Selection for overweight cycle touring

I have been doing a lot of reading on gearing and thought I’d mention the following information, as it may prove useful to beginner cyclists. My bike has 24 gears, but in reality it only has 12 or 13 .

Gear ratios

Having a good gear range is essential for touring in SE Asia

There are three cogs on the front chainring (48 (for downhill); 38 (for flat); and 28 (for uphill).

At the back the cogs are sized from 11 (fast speeds) to 32 (slow speeds).

Ideally you want to make the chain travel as straight as possible, so if you are on the biggest front cog, you should be on the smaller back cogs, and vice versa; the middle cog should be focused on the middle four or so cogs at the back.

If you look at the cycle gear ratios picture you will notice that when a large front cog is used with anything other than the smallest four back cogs then its ratios overlap with those of the middle cogs (and the opposite for small front cog/big back cog combinations). Thus, in reality you have only 12 or 13 different cycle gearing ratios in your range.

So when you ride, to limit stress on your chain, you should change as follows (fast/downhill speed to slow/climbing speed)

48 front: smallest cog to 4th smallest cog.

Double shift (front down; back up)

38 front: 3rd smallest to 3rd largest back cog)

Double shift (front down; back up)

28 front: 4th largest to largest cog.

The double shifting is easy once you get used to it, just ease off a little when pedalling, push both gear levers or do one slightly ahead of the other. Depending on what is ahead of you, you may want to stay on the chainring you are on, even if it is time to change e.g., you are about to go up a big hill but have a little dip before it.

On gears, ratios, and cadence (cycling for overweight people and those with luggage in the panniers)

Unless you are a normal weight person who does not plan to put anything other than a few sandwiches and a change of work clothes in your panniers then the odds are that nearly every reasonably priced bike that you look at will have the wrong gearing set up for you (unless you live in a flat area); this is especially a problem if you are overweight, carrying supplies on the back of your bike, and there is an hill in front of you.

Simply put, the best way of going up a hill is to use a low gear and peddle at an high cadence (90 to 100, say). If you are healthy you will slowly and steadily go up the hill without putting a dangerous stress on your body; though your heart rate may raise a tad you should hopefully not be heaving on all but themost difficult climbs.

If you are fit, of normal weight, and carrying no load you will probably be able to do this over a slight ascent angle in – for want of a better term – third or fourth gear, probably dropping down to 2nd gear above a 6% gradient or so, with a big granny gear in reserve; maybe your cadence will drop to 60 or 70 in the steeper areas, but it should not be an issue.

Now what happens when you are overweight/unfit cyclist, carrying a load, and go up the same little hill on a medium priced standard issue bike?

You will find that it is hard to maintain a high cadence at 4 or 5% and you will soon be dropping down to your granny gear, from there there is no way back, as the slope angle increases there is no higher gear to drop down to, so you pedal slower, decreasing in cadence.

This results in you going up the hill using the fast twitch muscles instead of the more aerobic, go all day, slow twitch muscles; these muscles are built for power and sprinting and you can only use them so much before they run out of steam, causing rapid fatigue and a struggle to carry on, even over the flat.

So what do you do if you are overweight and want to cycle over hills? The answer lies in your chainrings. A typical road bike will have front chain rings of 50 and 34 teeth (if compact); this is great for an unladen fit cyclist looking for speed on a light bike. A more recreational bike may come with a triple front cog of 50/48-38-30/28, again ideal for most people; at the back you may perhaps have a 11-28 cog.

However, if you are unfit with a load and going up the hill you will soon find that these gear ratios are not that great.

First off, you are hardly ever going to be hitting high speeds on a bike tour, even going downhill you will probably want to control your speed so you won’t be peddling like a mad person possessed (and the extra weight will help give you momentum anyway).

Pedalling on the flat should be done on the middle ring at high cadence, or perhaps on the biggest chainring with an intermittent sized cog depending on conditions and fitness. But what about going up a hill? Even with a 28 front cogwheel and 28 at the back, you are going to struggle to keep a high cadence and get up the hills with a load if you are overweight, taking away all the fun of the cycle trip and just adding pain and a sense of failure.

So what gears should you be packing if you are an obese or somewhat overweight cyclist, or/and planning a long distance cycle tour?

Well, the easiest change is to drop the size of the cog at the front from 30 to 26, and increase the size of the largest cog at the back to 32–36. This may require a change of derailleurs too, as a ‘standard shop bought bike’ may not have derailleurs with a large enough range to do the job.

To prove this point, if you take a look at a good quality (not cheap) specialised touring bike such as a Surly disc trucker you will see that its front chainrings are 26/38/42, and at the back the cog ranges from 11–36, giving a bottom gear ratio 26/36 of 0.72 (about 19.5 gear inches) compared to my bikes (not too bad for an off the peg cheap bike) bottom gear ration of 28/32, 0.875 (about 23.6 gear inches), and a more standard size racing bike of 34/28, 1.21, (about 32.8 gear inches; try getting that up a hill fatty).

TL;DR To get up hills, overweight and laden touring cyclists should change the smallest cog on the front chain set to 26, and increase the size of the back cog to 32. This will give them more lower gears to work with, and help them maintain the high cadence necessary to get up a hill without fatiguing the fast twitch muscles in the legs.

Cycle Gear that I’d like

Although I bought a reasonably cheap priced bike for my tour, and have bought most of the basic extras required, there are a few pieces of more upmarket equipment that I would really like to have on it (other than gear ratio related) if they were easy to get hold of.

First off, if you are cycling long distance you are going to spend a lot of time sat on your bottom. So a good saddle is a must, to me this can mean only one thing, the Brooks 17. A thing of beauty and comfort.

And second, I’m a numbers geek. I have a standard cycle computer at the moment ($10, does the job), should have spent a little more and got one that counted cadence. I also track my rides using runkeeper on my phone. Ideally I’d use Strava and/or map my ride, but for some reason I can’t get either of these apps to work on my phone in Vietnam as they won’t log in, so I add this information after my ride manually.

Now what I really want is this beauty.

Garmin Edge 520 Review

I’d love a Garmin Edge 520 to make tracking my tour easier.

I have read through all the Garmin Edge 520 reviews over at DCRainmaker, and well the thing is pretty amazing, uploading all your route data seamlessly, giving important cadence, power, and heart rate readings, and won’t drain my phone’s battery on a long trip.

Yeah, so the two things that I’d really like probably cost as much as the bike did. TBH I think I’d only ever buy these if (1) I’ve got a few thousand miles in on the bike, (2) I was then planning on riding a few thousand more, (3) I had the money, (4) and in the case of the Brooks I struggled to get comfy after a long distance ride. Regarding the Garmin Edge 520, I’d probably be as happy with an Edge 500 for a hundred bucks less and the new Polar M450, and TBH it would probably be more useful now, while I am training to work on my pre SE Asia cycle tour fitness and the cadence/HR readings would be most useful than on the tour itself.

Afterthought: I could also do with some bar-ends and a pump with a pressure gauge.

Final thoughts

Cycling burns about 40 calories a mile (25 a km), and much more if you are overweight and/or carrying loaded panniers in the heat of SE Asia. Not only do I see many new sights and experiences in my future, I also see guilt free Pizza. More seriously, it takes 3500 calories to burn a pound of fat (7,700 for a kilo), so at 40 calories that’s about 4,600 miles (7,500 km) of cycling that I need to do to be thin, that’s quite a long way, but over 5 or 6 months more than achievable, and if I fail, well at least I’d have tried :-)

I will most likely post again after the first couple of legs of my journey.

Deano