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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.


The Daily Grind and a New Direction

As with New Year, I use my Birthday – which is happily situated in the middle of the year – as a time to reflect on things past, and things future: What have I achieved? How is my health? Where have I been? Where will I go? Am I happy? Those and more besides, I’m sure you all know the drill.

Anyway, it’s bloody lousy all around at the moment.

A Typical Day

Upon reflecting, I feel that I spend a hell of a lot of time on my computer, and though I make a living online so a certain amount is expected, I find myself pretty much glued to the screen all day long.

Now that would not be that bad if I was productive, but this is not really the case.

I find that out of 12+ hours spent staring at the computer everyday, I probably only get three or four hours work in. So what of the other time?

Well a lot of it spent searching for something to do!

I’m sure you know the score, go to twitter open all the interesting posts that people of like-mind have written – being a member of the Dynamite Circle (DC) and following people such as Dan Andrews, Taylor Pearson, and the like, always gives me a good hour or so of reading (or procrastination) – especially when I start reading sources to the material written – and then on to Facebook, usually just for a few minutes; next to the Dynamite Circle, read every post –regardless of if it is of interest to anything I do – perhaps give a reply if I can be helpful. What next, shall I work?

Mmh, maybe see if there is a new tweet first, oh cool an article on how to live on the cheap in Chiang Mai – that is so relevant to me, I used to live there! Who knows I may live there again some day, though I feel that it past its prime a few years ago. Anyway I read the article, I know all that’s been written, but you know the author doesn’t seem to know half as much as I do, best add a comment or two. I mean, how the hell can they not know about that fantastic Basil chicken place on the corner? Why do they recommend a touristy place that costs twice as much and tastes half as good – this is gonna be a long comment; we are talking about Basil chicken here.

Strange, Basil chicken was something not anywhere near my mind before I started reading the post. Man, I’m hungry now; this Internet stuff is hungry work, staring at a screen all day, trying to earn a living.

I will just check up on the DC to see if anyone has replied to what I commented on, oh yes, great reply Travis, oh look, looks like David and Doug have just launched a podcast I will have to download that, give it a listen after I’ve had lunch. Oh, Corey has just got back from Japan and wrote a post about living there as a bootstrapper, always wanted to go to Japan. I will give that a read while I eat my lunch, damn time is flying today, best do some work.


Well, got about twenty minutes done on a growing guide to some obscure plant genus I’ve never heard of. MOZ gives it a keyword difficulty score of 35% and it gets a thousand visitors a month, so over a year it might make me a couple of quid. That’s the thing with making sites; you always need to be thinking long-term about anything you do, no instant payday in my line of work. I often think how nice it would be to offer SEO services, do some consulting. Mmh, maybe I’ll just put a spreadsheet together of how much money I might make if I was to take that route. I’ll do that now. Yeah, that looks feasible, wonder how to find clients…


Push the computer back a foot so I’ve room for my plate, read that Corey article while I feast. Mmh that Sushi looks good, why the hell am I eating a club sandwich again, I’ll have some BBQ fish later to make up for it health wise.

Browsing the net

Actively wasting time by browsing the internet.

Well that hit the spot, carbs made me a bit tired, I’ll have a coffee while I listen to the podcast, do a bit of multitasking here browsing through Twitter and Facebook in case I missed anything important.


Podcast got me really motivated did a couple of hours straight installing this new plugin and customizing the site, still not added any new content to the WWW today. Oh well, Rome in a day was not built, three year plan and all that – 1000 days to the successful business they say – I wonder if that is full on everyday? Or is it three years like this.

Damn, I’m bored now, will repeat the twitter, facebook, DC cycle. I’m sure the web is bigger than this, yeah, I remember…

Techcrunch, ah start ups; I wonder why they don’t just call them small businesses anymore, not as cool I suppose.

I have an health related App, I wonder if that makes me a Start up, according to Bizspark it does, well they let me join and gave me loads of goodies. Spent about 200 hours on that project, the MVP made me about $20, I’ve not touched my ‘Start-up’ for a while.

I will return to it one day as an interest project, because it is useful to people, maybe I should just give it away. I tend to do that a lot, spend hundreds of hours on MVPs that seem good ideas but slump, still at least I’ve not spent thousands of hours on them – mmh lets check on Google Play, no, no more sold. Damn I really liked that idea. Maybe, I will use it as a learning project; – I’m learning to code for iOS now that I’ve got a Mac, piece of shit that it is, where’s my backspace button FFS.

Actually, there is a lot I like about the Mac, even though I spend far much time looking for ways of doing things such as finding out how to find my hidden .htaccess files, oh I need to alter something via command prompt, I thought people liked macs because everything was easier, let my right click have some useful options FFS, I’m a big boy now I promise I won’t format the hard drive or delete iTunes…


Finish up, check emails again, didn’t mention that before, tend to delete them straight off my phone nowadays. Star the important ones, expect a reply within a week, can’t you see how busy I am.


Check the Internet, as above



At last, do what I want to do now, just check the DC, two hours later, watch GOT/Fargo or similar. I only watch quality TV shows, cause watching TV is such a waste of time and I seem to have so little of it…

Wow, been on the computer 14 hours now, three hours work done. Oh, got a freelance editing job coming in, there’s the next three days gone, won’t be able to get work done on my own stuff for a while :-(

Still at least it brings some pennies in, my stuff doesn’t seem to anymore, don’t know why? – I spend all day working at my computer…

The Future: Making Changes

It never used to be like this. I’ve always been an hard worker, when I was doing my PhD I thought nothing of doing 14 hour plus days; when I was working in a factory saving up to go travelling for the first time, 12 hour shifts seven days a week were not a problem; when I first started doing my own websites and making Apps, 12 hours plus days of solid work were routine. But nowadays, I find a lot of the things I need to do are so repetitive and dull that it is easy to slip into the procrastination cycle waffle that I described above.

Anyway, if you managed to get through that waffle, which is similar to quite a lot of my days nowadays, then you will realise that something needed to change. To get myself back on track. Here is my new schedule.


Wake up, snooze, get up, bathroom duties, 10 min exercise.

Go to the café, order a coffee. I have until exactly until 8 o’clock to browse the Internet.

8 – 12 WORK

This is mainly writing at the moment, there are key articles that need to be done, that should bring money in.

I start by writing an article for one of my sites, usually about 1200 words, takes about three hours including research. Feels good to add some quality content to the web each day.

I then do some code-editing, site-enhancing, SEO etc. for an hour or so.

(Ok, it’s 12 of the clock, and I have done as much work as what I previously did all day long; that is it, I’m not going to do anymore work, I want to do four super-productive hours, if I do (much) more then I am pretty sure I will slip into days of procrastination, because the things that need to be done to make money are not the most interesting things on Earth TBH).

12 – 1 LUNCH

I relocate to the place by the beach, a 10 min walk, it’s 38 degrees outside, any further would bring on a sweat. Order food, listen to music/podcast/browse the web on the iPad (not the computer).

1 – 5 LEARN

I love learning new things. At the moment my main focus is on objective-C and iOS development (yeah I know about Swift). Now I’ve got a Mac I want to put out some IOS apps, hopefully they will make money, but to be honest this is more about the intellectual challenge.

So great to have a block of time dedicated to learning new things.

So great to have a block of time dedicated to learning new things.

Other things can go into this ‘learn’ time-period, maybe its time to learn Japanese, improve the guitar skills, go take some photographs. Anyway, the main thing is that I’ve set aside a chunk of my day specifically for this.

5 – 6.30 WALK

The temperature has normally dropped to about 30 by now, great time to walk down the beach and reflect on life.

6.30 – 7.30


Do that pointless computer browsing that I used to spend all day doing, shoot off an email or two.

7.30 onwards, DINNER/Out with Friends

Usually take the iPad with me, read a book as I eat. Depending where I am, meet up with friends, go to the cinema, or just eat, read, then return home.

From this point on the computer is not allowed on other than for watching TV/Movies, SKYPE calls home, or listening to football.


Of course this is my schedule at the moment. I am currently at a quiet spot in Vietnam by the beach.

When I’m in the cities, I will often meet up with friends for co-working or just for a chat. The first one usually stimulates work so is ok, the second one doesn’t involve me staring at a computer screen so although not productive is also ok.

Days Off

I was thinking when the last time I had more than three days off work. Two years ago. I quite often work or work/procrastinate (as described above) for days on end, then do intense freelance editing, then get burnt out.

This has got to change, I will probably introduce ‘no computer days’ once a week; I’ve done that in the past, works better if it is not a zillion degrees outside and you can go outside and do a hobby, go walking, cycling etc.

Will have to see how that fits into my new schedule. Anyway it’s time to turn the computer off….


Fighting Pandas – Trying to get a site out of the grasp of Google’s Panda

There is nothing cutting edge about this post, but it may be useful to others who have been penalised by the Google Panda updates and feel like they are banging their heads against a brick wall. I have not gone into linking methods, mainly just on improving the sites themselves.

Google Panda

Pesky Panda, looking so cute but causing so many headaches

I’ve been hit by Panda three times Panda 2.0 (April 11th), Pandas 2.2 (June 16th) and 2.5.2 (October 14th); all of my content is unique, though some is short (thin).

I feel that the 2.5.2 update is the hardest for me to understand as it has sent a lot of very bad sites (not being envious here, I do mean bad sites; broken links, scraped) and content farms (Hubpages especially) to the top of the sites. I am sort of hoping that they have made a mess of the 2.5.2 and it will be altered back some way and are therefore continuing with the steps that I was taking after 2.2, which seemed to have recovered a lot of my traffic until recently; I’m probably clutching at straws, but it is really hard to know what google wants anymore.

Maybe their aim is to have it that SMEs need to advertise to get seen in the SERPS? It sure as hell ain’t to get rid of content farms as eHow, Livestrong, Hubpages etc. seem to be back with a vengeance.

Perhaps the saddest side-effect of the Panda updates will be to force the smaller players into trying out spammier methods in order to maintain a living; this is not a good thing for the web, but I know that many people are now considering different methods in order to stop from going under.

Anyway on with a few things I was doing to get out of Panda, and which showed improvement until the last update; some of these are specific to my sites which are quite old.

1.  Move site to a new server; give it an independent IP address. I was previously with bluehost, this had the disadvantage of most of my sites being on the same IP address, but worst still with a popular firm such as Bluehost, it was also shared with a 1000 other sites that I had no control over and could have been on any subject imaginable.

2. Go over the site (+1500 pages) and identify problems, ideally start with your thinner pages, but in my case realize that there were a lot of problems (site started in 2005, the search game has changed a lot since then) so I needed to go through things systematically.

3. Add Images to every page.

4. Add video too. Google loves youtube (wonder why).

5. Do a spell check (makes things more professional/trustworthy both in Google’s and your visitor’s eyes).

6. Fire up dragon naturally speaking or Word, add a few hundred words of fresh content, keep on topic and fairly high quality, try to make all of those articles 600 words +

7. As above but write even higher quality, longer, linkable articles. I try to do this for most pages, but for a site of over 1000 pages , it is a bit of a waste of time on some of the articles that are unlikely to get many visitors anyway (step 6 will suffice).

8. On page SEO, tidy this up, (remove any KW stuffing or similar SEO from years ago), look to improve the Title, Headings etc

9. Remove Links. I had lots of links to my other sites, now gone.

10. Add Links. Do a search using,, on terms related to the page, add a references and further reading with a few good sites as references.

11. Remove/add links: Internal, concentrate links towards the money pages, use better anchor text, link to related topics only.

12.  Go through your Google analytics or use Hitail , for each page identify any long-tail KW opportunities, write these into your page text, but only if you can do it in a none spammy way that is useful to the end-user.

13. Reduce number of advertisements.

14. Now your pages should be looking sleeker, longer, and hopefully read better, fire up the website analyzer  and take a look at the readability scores, these will be high if scientific, technological based, but can you make the page just a little bit more readable?

15. Now that you are happy with the page, let Google and indeed BING know that it has changed/improved by using Ping-o-matic.

16. Take a look at your site and see how related the content is to other internal pages; in my case I am considering splitting the site up into two.  By keeping the sites more focused I am hoping that my main site will not be seen as a content farm (it isn’t, but can an algorithm see that is the case).

17. My site is fairly old, uses a lot of tables, the htm code seems to have become ugly over the years: time to update to HTML 5 (as with point 16 this is a time consuming job, but it is in process).

Well those are the main things that I am doing to improve my sites, as you can imagine these are very time consuming, and I thought that I was going in the right direction until Panda 2.5.2 minor update (I think they used the term minor as it mainly hit the sites that were not major).

So a few things on my mind post Panda 2.5.2.

1. Analytics/Websitetools. Google makes great tools but it knows everything about you. I have installed GetClicky for a trial run.

2. Removal of affiliate advertisements. Google openly claim they are after affiliates, and on the recently leaked Google reviews paper they use a CJ link as an example of someone who is using a sneaky redirect! How they can signal one of the major players in the internet advertising business as being a sign of spam is beyond me, but they do. I have therefore decided to remove all the CJ and similar redirect links (clickbank) from my main site to see if it has an effect.

I hope that you find my approach to improving my sites to fight off the Panda updates useful, I thought that I was taking the right steps until 2.5.2, but I guess that only time will tell.