Phan Rang: quiet beaches and mini Angkor Wat

DSC_0083

A few weeks ago we explored the Southern stretch of the Ocean Road, from Vung Tau to Phan Tiet. If you keep going up, you will end up in Nha Trang, and along the way you will encounter beautiful sea sights, a lot of sand and very few big towns. The biggest one is Phan Rang 120 km south of Nha Trang, and still considered as no more than a fishermen village by many Vietnamese. However, if you look closely, you will discover all its beauty and its quiet roads, ideal for cycling, and its very rich cultural background. Here are three places you should absolutely visit if you are in the area.

1) Vin Hy Bay
It’s a lovely little bay where fishermen can protect their boats from the winds and the fury of the sea. The winding road gong there is ideal for cyclists and you can enjoy the beach, taste the local seafood and sea the real life of a fishermen village. The village is surrounded by lush nature.

2) Ca Na
If what you are looking for is an astoundingly beautiful beach in the area, go to Ca Na, south of Phan Rang. White sand beaches like this are difficult to find in Vietnam. However, it might seem boring to the most adventurous traveler, considering in this area the Cham princes used to hunt tigers, elephants and rhinoceros. Unfortunately, these animals are no longer there.

DSC_0031

3) Cham culture 

Yes, you are probably wondering who are those Cham princes who were hunting tigers in the 16th century. The kingdom of Champa occupied a big stretch of Southern Vietnam between the 7th and XVIIIth centuries. Originally a kingdom influenced by Indhuist culture, they started to convert to Islam in the 11th century. Today, there are still around 160,000 Cham people in Vietnam, mainly in Ninh Tuan province, An Giang, Phan Tiet and Saigon. Their splendorous times are over, but in Phan Rang, just near the train station, you can still admire one of the most impressive traces of their empire, the Poklong Garai. there, you will see the influence from India and you will feel like you are visiting a mini Angkor Wat.

Advertisements

Welcome the cycling ambassador

ted ossius
From mr Ted Osius Facebook

Do you imagine an ambassador shutting himself in his office, wearing a suit, going from one fancy cocktail to another or always having important meetings in luxurious hotels? This might be the stereotype, but US Ambassador in Vietnam Ted Osius doesn’t seem to fit this cliché. He looks more like an outdoors person, and a cyclist always willing to seat on his bike and discover the country where he lives from an unbeatable perspective. On January 24th (last Sunday), the coldest day of the winter in Hanoi, he started with a group an amazing cycling trip from Vietnam capital to Hue. The trip started at the O Quan Chuong city gate in the Old Quarter. According the Mr Osius Facebook page, this spot was chosen because “it is the embodiment of U.S. – Vietnam cooperation”, as the U.S. Government restored the ancient gate five years ago. Along their journey, they have been visiting places where the US and Vietnam cooperate.

Ted Osius routes
From mr Ted Osius Facebook

Having an office in Hue,. VietnamBikeTours can’t miss the chance of being part in such a cool event and we will welcome them in Phuoc Tich village on January 30 at 1:00 PM from where they will do the last few miles to Hue. All riders interested are welcome, they can either meet us at 9:00 AM at 8 Nguyen Hue Street or at 1:00 PM at Phuoc Tích village.

During this 840km trip, the Ambassador and his cycling mates have been learning about the pangolin in Cuc Phuong, Vietnam’s oldest national park, about king Le Loi at the Lam Kinh temple, where he planted bamboo to promote sustainable development and had a warm meeting with children at the SOS village in Ha Tinh. They were unlucky to start their journey with some of the coldest temperatures Northern Vietnam experienced in the last few years, but as they go South the weather is becoming warmer and the rains seems to go away. We can make it even warmer by giving them a nice welcome as they arrive to Hue. 

Banner Ted Osius
Vietnam Bike Tours
IMG_5598
With Founder of Vietnam Bike Tours – Ngo Trong Huy


5 reasons we prefer bicycles over motorbikes

11062084_915181691866542_5579551241258364130_nIn a motorbike country like Vietnam, where locals use their vehicle for anything you can imagine (and even things you would never imagine) traveling by motorbike can be very tempting. Roads are decently paved, the traffic is not so dense out of big cities and the weather is perfect for it. Many tourists like to rent or buy an old motorbike, attach their backpacks and let it roll. It is, for sure, an attractive plan. But why not doing it by bicycle? Both have two wheels, both need momentum to keep balance, one has an engine and the other one has your legs. It might be slower, but who is in a hurry

1) You feel more free

Remember the first time you rode a bike as a child, the feeling it could take you anywhere without your parents being around, that first feeling of independence and absolute freedom? That’s what we are talking about. Some people might not agree, since an engine allows you to go faster and further, but everyone who rides a bike has experienced this unbeatable feeling of freedom, as if the only thing you needed in this world was a bicycle.

2) It’s healthier

Sitting down the whole day on a motorbike seat is not the healthiest thing to do. If you cycle you will also enjoy the sightseeing and your legs will be moving, your fitness will improve and you will go to bed with a very pleasant feeling.

3) It’s silent

This is not something you should overlook. Enjoying a country means sightseeing, but also listening. Imagine you are in the middle of the countryside, gently pedaling, listening to the subtle noise of the chain turning, of the wheels rubbing the road. You are in peace. Imagine the same thing with the roar of a motorbike… You get it, it’s not the same.

4) You know the country better

Here we prefer to listen to one of the best American writers ever, Ernest Hemingway:”It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle”. OBviously, we couldn’t say it better.

5) Don’t worry for the Police

If you are a foreigner and you have driven a motorbike in Vietnam (specially when the New Year is nearing), you know that the Police is bnd to pull you over and ask for as fine for whatever reason. If you don’t have a Vietnamese driving license or the registration papers of the bike, you might be in even more trouble. It can usually be solved with money, but it’s a hindrance that for sure makes a trip less pleasant. We have never seen the Police stop anyone on a bicycle. You just forget about that worry.

The Ocean road: Vung Tau-Ho Tram-Phan Tiet

Ho_Tram_Beach

Although Vietnam has plenty of nice roads for cyclists, it’s sometimes difficult to find one where you can feel like it’s only you, your bicycle and the scenery. The Ocean road from Vung Tau to Phan Tiet along the coast belongs to that special category, specially the stretch that goes from Long Hai to Ho Tram. Here are four reasons that make this road so special

Landscape

Vietnam has all sort of landscapes: mountainous ones that would remind you of the Alps,  lush green forrest, the intense green of the paddy fields, the waterways in the Mekong Delta… The one in the southern coast is yet one of the most singular ones. Not only for the quietness, the hills covered with sand and the sea a few meters away. There is a phantasmagorical atmosphere in that road, with all this deserted land where you suddenly bump into a luxurious resort, a huge casino (Ho Tram) and then pass by a hotel that was abandoned before its total construction, like a haunted house.

Silence

We mentioned it earlier, but it’s worth saying it again, it’s rare to find a place where you can feel so isolated from the world. Just a few cars and groups of motorbikes pass by this road.

Seafood

Well, we had to mention it. Seafood is excellent in many places in Vietnam, but few can say  they have such fresh seafood, fished that same day for a price that will make you forget about your long cycling. Maybe not the best food for cyclists, but we are not here to win the Tour de France.

Beaches

Sometimes in Vietnam we miss finding wild beaches in which you can set your foot without asking for permission in the nearby hotel. If you’re looking for wilderness, sea and sand, this is your place. You will pass through long stretches of deserted beaches where you can have a quick swim if you are very hot. However, be careful on hot days, better to do it early morning or late afternoon.

Tết ride: Vietnam-Laos-Thailand

2016 just started, but for Vietnamese the big New Year celebrations are coming in February, with the coming of the Lunar Year of the Monkey next February 8. And Vietnambiketours will celebrate it, you guessed it, with a bike ride. This time it will be a very special bike ride, as we will go through three countries (Vietnam-Laos-Thailand) in three days, with some vehicle support for the hardest or tedious parts of the road. If you want to celebrate the Vietnamese New Year in a different way, surrounded by nature, doing exercise, meeting people and having fun, this is for you. Here is the schedule of the trip, which will happen a few days after the traditional celebrations, in order to allow Vietnamese riders to spend time with their families.

Laos tour

Day 1 (February 13) Hue-Savannakhet (Laos)-Mukdahan (Thailand)

Have you ever been in three countries on the same day. It’s not so often that we can have the chance to cross to borders in such a short time, but that’s what we plan for the first day of this adventure. Central Vietnam is one of the nicest regions for bike riding in the whole Vietnam. The slow pace of the country side fits perfectly with Vietnambiketours philosophy of riding without pushing our bodies too hard, enjoying the nature and the kindness of villagers. We will feel mostly the same as we cross to Laos through the Lao Bao border and have lunch in Dansavan (Laos), where we will meet local riders. We’ll finish our day in Mukdahan (Thailand) after going over the Mekong River through the Friendship bridge. We will be able to visit the night market and the border between Thailand and Laos during the night,
Departure from Hue: 5:00, at 18 Dương Văn An street. Lunch in Dansavan, Laos and continue to Mukdahan (Thailand) for dinner and spend the night. 

Day 2 (February 14) Mukdahan (Thailand)-Savannakhet (Laos)

For Valentine’s Day we’ll have a more relaxed schedule after a fulfilling first day. We’ll cycle around Mukdahan on the Thai side of the border before crossing the Friendship bridge again (sorry, no love bridge available for Valentine) to Laotian side, in Savannakhet. We will spend the nigh there, resting, having dinner together and maybe trying our chance in the Casino. On a Valentine’s day you can check if the saying “Unlucky in gambling, lucky in love” is true.

Day 3 (February 15) Savannakhet (Laos)-Hue (Vietnam)

This will be the end of our trip, before going back home and to work for many of the riders. We’ll have breakfast at the hotel, do a last ride around Savannakhet, eat lunch in Dansavan, then use the support vehicle for a transfer to Hue. The tour will be over then.

As usual you can use your own bike (road or MTB are fine) or rent with us, with 50% discount. All cyclists can join.

How much?

The price will depend on the number of riders. With a group of 20 to 24 persons the price will be 2,735,000 VND per person and if we get 25 to 30 riders the cost will be 2,470,000 VND per person. This is the rate with shared room. If you want a single room it will be an extra 370,000 VND. If you want more information or already decided to register you can contact us here: uy.nh@hghue.com [054 3 932 789; 0914 019 177 ]; or huy@vietnambiketours.com [0974131032].

Remember you need to register before January 15! 

 

 

Robert, our man in America

3241.1The US, where biking has been steadily growing in popularity is an important market and  Robert Moore is now our representative there. In his new position Moore will try his best to find trips that suit the needs of the clients. “A trip needs to suit their riding style and let them see the part of Vietnam that interests them”, he says.

For Vietnambiketours it’s an honor to work with Robert, as he was one of the first travelers who cycled with us back in 2010. Ngo Trong Huy, our chairman, was his tourguide then and this is how their friendship started. He has travelled from Saigon to Hanoi and has also explored the Mekong Delta. After selling the Marketing and Publishing house he owned in the US for more than 30 years, he has “changed directions and never looked back”. 

Moore is  aware that Vietnam still evokes nasty memories for many Americans and he wants to assure everyone about traveling here. “The people are friendly, the food is amazing and the country is absolutely beautiful.” However, the perception of Vietnam is already changing, specially among young people, and the war is no longer the first thing that comes to their minds when they hear the world Vietnam. “I believe the people who came of age in the 60’s and 70’s still think of the war first.  They grew up seeing the war on the news every night and those memories are still with them.  For younger people, they are certainly aware of the history, but its just that history.  They see Vietnam as a new and exciting place to explore, not a history lesson.”

3211.1

These words are said by a true American, a Texan from birth who still lives in Dallas, the place he calls home. Having traveled himself through Vietnam he strongly urges anyone interested in knowing the country to consider getting on a bike “even if it is just a day tour.” “On a bike -he says- you will get much more of a sense of place, a sense of what it is like for the people who live there.” 

For himself as a traveler, Vietnam is “both a history lesson and an exciting place to explore.”  After doing bike tours in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Spain, Cuba, Lebanon, and Canada, he considers Asia his favorite part of the world and he specially loves Vietnam. Although the interest for Vietnam is growing in the US, he is aware that the kind of tours Vietnambiketours offers are more focused on biking enthusiasts who had some experience in cycling tours even if they are not avid cyclists. In short, people who like exploring the world from their seatpost. “Most of my clients are cyclists who have done cycle tours in other countries and loved it.  They understand how traveling a country on a bike gets you a perspective that you simply cannot get if you are whizzing through in a car or bus.  For any one who enjoys travel outside of the tourist bubble, biking offers a great option”, explains Moore.

The numbers say many Americans could be interested in soing cycling tours in Vietnam. As Moore highlights, in 2014 about 47 million Americans went cycling in the last 12 months.  In 2014 there were 18 million new bikes sold in the US.  “It’s easy to see that cycling is popular in the US.  The states with warmer weather, in the South and the East and West coasts report higher cycling participation, but biking is popular in every state”, he tells us.

RobertMooreRobert is himself a biking enthusiast, an activity he has learned to love in the last ten years and that he enjoys couple of times a week. His love affair with biking started just for convenience reasons, but it grew into a passion. “Ten years ago I moved into a new house.  The best biking trails in the city ran right behind that house.  Several of my neighbors were cyclists and encouraged me to get a bike and join them out on the trails.  That developed into joining in on bike rallies and doing longer multi-day rides.  I love it a lot”, he recalls. Aside from biking, Robert also enjoys photography, a hobby he tries to bring to the next level by practicing and attending workshops.

If he had to choose a place in Vietnam, he wouldn’t have doubts: the Mekong Delta. Not because it’s flat but because of its human interest: “Life in the delta is different than the rest of Vietnam. Riding through the jungle and crossing the rivers on little ferries, seeing the people who live and work on their boats, its all so interesting to me”.

Christmas ride: Nha Trang-Dalat

It’s becoming a tradition for Vietnambiketours to organise a long Christmas ride and enjoy these special days where we have more fun: on the bike. As we did last year, we’ll enjoy a little chilly weather and enjoy some time in Dalat (although Saigon’s mornings are already quite cool in the last few days). The difference is unlike last year, this time we will be going up from the beach in Nha Trang to the mountain in Dalat. From hot to cold (but you won’t feel the cold as you push the pedals).

Where?
Nha Trang to Dalat. Nhas Trang is one of the main coantal cities in Vietnam, known for its beautiful beaches, pristine waters and busy nightlife. Vietnambiketours has been there for over a year, organiseing weekly Sunday Bike Rides to show it’s also a great place for cyclists. Dalat is known for its nature, its cool weather, its fresh and delicious vegetables and its quietness. It’s one of the highest cities in Vietnam, at 1,500 meters, which explains the weather. Great place to relax and to feel that it’s actually Christmas and you have to wear a jacket sometimes.

When?
December 25th to 27th. We will leave on Christmas day, December 25th, at 7:00 pm from Ho Chi Minh City. The meeting point where the van will pick us up is our partner’s bike shop, Xe Dap Vietnam, at number 126 Dinh Bo Linh street, in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. We will arrive in Nha Trang the next day at 6:00 AM.
On December 26 we will have breakfast in Nha Trang and start pedaling, mostly uphill, as we go from the coast to the mountains. The biggest challenge will be the Khanh Le Pass, 30 km climb before we reach Dalat. Those who are not as fit or feel a bit under the weather can be assisted by the van that will be following us the whole time. Anyway, you know our philosophy: it’s not about going fast, it’s about getting there, make friends and have fun. Exercise, yes, but not only that.

After such a ride we will probably be tired the next day, but probably we will still have enough energy to do a city tour by bike (yes, there are small climbs, Dalat is anything but flat) before riding the van back to Ho Chi Minh City.

Who?
Whoever wants to join. You can bring your own bike or we can provide one for a cheap price (100,000VND).

How much?
This will depend on how many people join. The van and truck that we need to hire is 12,1 million VND if it’s 16 seats and 14,7 million if it’s 29 seats. We’ll divide that by the number of participants. As for the stay, we will go to Hotel Dalat (but you’re free to go somewhere else).

If you want to know more, contact Mr Bao (01214514250).

 

 

 

Vietnambiketours is now in Singapore

20150910_164433-1_resizedAs VietnamBikeTours grows, we also get more and more friends all over the world. It’s always rewarding to see how people from all over the world enjoy our cycling tours in Vietnam and go back home with good memories from our work. In some cases, cyclists who join our tours and our Sunday Bike Ride, become good friends. This is what happened with Saad Ahmad, our new man in Singapore. Saad lived for 10 years in Vietnam, five in Hanoi and five in Ho Chi Minh City, he joined several of our rides during weekends in 2013 and 2014 and became a good friend of our chairman, Ngo Trong Huy. Now retired from his work in the garment industry, this cycling enthusiast moved to Singapore and happily accepted his new position as Vietnambiketours representative in that market. As he tells us, “cycling in Singapore is becoming popular with the new PCN (park connector) built near housing estate”.

Although Singapore is becoming more and more friendly for cyclists, there is not much space left to explore, and that’s why cyclists there, who usually ride in groups several times a week, will for sure be happy to explore wild Vietnam, as they also cross sometimes the border to enjoy nature in neighbouring Malaysia. Singapore isless than four hours away from Saigon by airplane and you don’t even need to bring your bike with you, you can rent it from us.

Mr Ahmad thinks Singaporeans will be interested in any kind of cycling, enjoying the real Vietnam. If any tourist is interested, he can tell his own experience, as he joined a cycling tour last November from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue. When he is not cycling, he also likes playing tennis or enjoying a motorcycle ride (legs need some rest sometimes). If you are in Singapore and are thinking of doing a cycling tour in Vietnam, you can contact him by email: singapore@vietnambiketours.com. You won’t regret it.

Saad Ahmad - vietnamBikeTours Singapore.JPG

One hundred Sundays riding together

ho tri an

A few weeks ago we celebrated the second year anniversary of the Sunday Bike Ride in Saigon and now we are proud to say this Sunday we are reaching our 100th ride. For such an event we chose to connect with one of our trademarks: merging with nature. That’s why we will be cycling to Ho Tri An-Dong truong eco tourism facility in Dong Nai province, where we will be able to wander by the Tri An lake, enjoy the nature that surrounds the water flows and, for the most adventurous, explore the surrounding areas. The nearby Ma Da forrest is also worth exploring and those who are interested can learn a lot about what you can eat when you are in the forrest, you never know, it might be useful in the future. Riders will soon understand this is one among many overlooked natural tourist attractions near Ho Chi Minh City .

It will be a long ride, 120 kilometers overall from the start in front of Ben Thanh market at 6:30 AM,  but as usual, we’ll be having stops for coffee and snacks. We plan to arrive there before lunch. The food will also be very special, as we will get the fish from the lake and get it cooked in the traditional way in a claypot. You won’t have to worry about chemicals or how the fish has been processed, since you will see how they catch it (or you catch it) and prepare it. After cycling, having a little adventure and eating this delicious fish, nothing better than resting your tired body in a hammock under the shade, listening to the sounds of nature. You will probably wish you can stay there forever… but after a few hours you will have to go back, smoothly, to Saigon. Be sure you keep some energy for the ride back! We also want you to reach our ride number 200.

 

Simon and Ngan almost in Paris after 9 months cycling from Saigon

Simon and Ngan when they reached Europe. Credit: Bike4afuture
Ngan and Simon when they reached Europe. Credit: Bike4afuture

Last February, some regular Sunday Bike Ride cyclists and other bike enthusiasts in Saigon sent off Simon Barry and his Vietnamese girlfriend Nguyen Kim Ngan before their long trip through Asia and Europe to rise awareness about climate change and reach Paris before the United Nations Conference on Climate Change starts on November 30. It looked like a long shot when we crossed the Cat Lai ferry with them but anyone who could spend five minutes with them could see how determined they were and how hard they would try. Nine months later, after an extenuating adventure, with Ngan having some health problems, Simon simply says “it’s not that hard to do” and he highlights something anyone having travelled by bike knows: “the vast majority of humanity are kind and generous”. However, they are disappointed to see the very small awareness of the problems climate change is bringing.

The couple are now reaching French city of Lyon and are just a few days away from making it to Paris, a city many may want to avoid after the recent events but not Simon and Ngan. Although the demonstration before the summit starts and day of civil disobedience at the end these have both been cancelled after the terrorist attacks, they still plan to be very active. “In the light of that it makes it even more important that people in other countries attend the demonstrations in their country. However other events are still going ahead and we’ll be participating in those and sharing the story of our journey at the counter summit and speaking everyday”. Here are a few questions Simon and Ngan had the kindness to answer us by email.

– How do you feel after all these months traveling by bike?

Really good. It had been a wonderful trip. We have seen so many beautiful places and met so many wonderful people. Every day something new happens so it doesn’t feel boring. And i’m the fittest I’ve been in my life so physically I feel good too.

– Are there days when it’s hard to get on the bike and keep going?

Not really for all the reasons I’ve outlined above. We have been taking  rest days every week so sometimes by the end of the week the legs are getting tired and you appreciate a day off. But the world is a beautiful place so seeing lots of it doesn’t seem hard. We have also been lucky with the weather. It has only rained 7 times when we were riding in the whole of the 9 months we have been travelling. Although that will very likely change in the last week in the north of France.

– What has been the most difficult time of your trip?

Ngân got quite sick because of the food in cental Asia. Going from a Vietnamese diet with lots of vegetables and rice to a diet of lamb and bread was a bit of a shock to the system. It was challenging trying to find doctors and it affected her ability to ride. It lasted for months too which was worrying but thankfully she is ok now.

– What are your best memories so far?

Being woken up by the sound of a fox stealing my shoe while we were camping in Iran. The landscape in Kyrgyzstan. The snowcapped mountains and bright blue lakes. It is probably the most beautiful country I’ve been to. The wonderful people that we’ve met. Unfortunately too many to mention. We have been using hospitality sites like Couchsurfing and warmshowers a lot and it’s been fantastic meeting so many interesting people and experiencing their hospitality.

– You want to call attention about climate change. After seeing all these countries what are your views about pollution in Asia? Is it worse or better than you expected?

Actually we have passed through mainly rural areas so haven’t seen too much pollution. Even in China it was only in Xian and Lanzhou that the pollution was noticeable. However we have been seeing and hearing about the affects that climate change is already having. In Vietnam we spoke to farmers who told us about the salt water contaminating their fields as sea levels rise. In China we saw the spreading deserts. In all the mountainous areas we visited people explained that there was a lot less snow in winter and the snows were melting earlier causing water shortages. In many areas it was drier and hotter again causing water shortages. Iran was probably the most threatened country we visited. Within 30 or 40 years up to 50 million people could be forced from their homes due to lack of water. Even in Europe we saw problems. Flash flooding had ripped through the town of Benevento in Italy a few days before we passed through killing 5 people. And people told us the weather was becoming much more variable, some summers are cool and wet others much hotter. Even warming of only 2°C would see 50% of summers at least as warm the heatwave of 2003 which killed 70,000 people.

– How do people react when they meet you and find out about your trip? Are they receptive when you talk about climate change?

Yes people were receptive but we were speaking to mostly educated people who could understand English or were involved in environmental groups already. But what really surprised me was the lack of awareness of just how serious the problem is and how much it could affect them. Even in places like Iran were the population is highly educated there is almost no awareness that within 40 years much of the country could be uninhabitable desert. We only met one person who understood that and he was a geographer. But then again even in Europe people don’t understand that deserts could also start spreading through southern Europe this century unless we take serious action to cut emissions.

– What did you learn in all these months?

Apart from a hate appreciation of the impact of warming of less than 1°C was having I learned that the vast majority of humanity are kind and generous. We have met so many people who helped us, gave us things, invited us into their homes. That’s what gives me hope for the future. That we can actually create a better society which cares for the earth and for each other. We just need to get rid of the arseholes who are running the show at the minute.

If you want to find out more about their story and their commitment, you can read their website and blog: http://bike4afuture.com/