• Why Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam?

Elsewhere in this blog Matt J
says that recent travels there were the ‘happiest and most enlightening
two months of (his) life’. Matt C had travelled in Thailand and
Malaysia a long time ago and felt the same way. So when we ended a
cycle trip in Provence at a Vietnamese restaurant near the Colosseum in
Nimes, the talk soon turned to where the next trip was going to be.
These countries are friendly, beautiful and affordable. Decision made.

  • Consideration to dogs, insects and other wildlife

Talk to your travel nurse about your plans (time of year, urban/rural, accommodation, risks
etc) and this list comes up: rabies, tetanus, Japanese encephalytis,
typhoid, Hepatitis A and B, malaria, dengue, zika and cholera. You
probably won’t need them all, but its not cheap and not quick. A
health/first aid kit should include anti-bacterial (antiseptic), anti-
fungal (athletes foot), anti-histamine (rashes/itches), diarrhoea, and pain killers.
Also a dressings pack (plus?) steristrips (small wound closure), burn
gel, non adherent dressings, saline sachets (graze cleaning), tooth
filling kit, and a suture pack (to give to the medic for bigger
wounds). Also take some supplements and water purifiers.

  • Choosing a bike and rack / panniers

After careful thought about the likely road
conditions, we went for hybrid hard-tails, with hydraulic disc brakes.
The larger wheels and brake technology might be hard to find over there
though. We are using mountain bike tyres but not too big. Pedals are
the ‘clip in’ on one side, flat on the other. Thick padding on the
lycra shorts is a must for Matt J, but Chris and Matt C have gone for
padded seat covers.Panniers need to be on a rack that is set far enough
back with ‘touring’ rails, so the rack is also free for a bag. Matt C
is just using dry sacks on the top, for the bulky light items. He’s put
the water behind the seat and has a small frame bag for valuables. Matt
J has matching bags front, back and sides. Very smart.

  • How do you get there? 

Bikes go in specialist bags, which will have to be sent back to
Bangkok from Chiang Rai, for reuniting on the way back. To save your
back the bags have wheels, but Matt C is also taking a rucksack to keep
his hands free and his back straight, as he’s paranoid about lifting
and twisting. That rucksack can go back with the bike bag.First night,
on the plane. Second and third nights, relaxing in Bangkok, at the Twin
Towers Hotel. Fourth night on the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai,
arriving early morning. Then, the same day, we will load our bikes onto
a minibus for the 3-4 hour journey to Chiang Rai. We will arrive in
Chiang Rai tired on New Year’s Eve. The next day will be the actual
start of the trip. For a flight or two at the end, we are hoping to box
or wrap our bikes at local shops in Ho Chi Minh and Danang.

  • Modes of transport in the region? 

Without a guide, we hope that Laos won’t have many
roads going our way. Some paper maps (from ‘mapometer’) and a compass
should do the trick. Sometimes we will have short days rather than get
isolated between the settlements, which are very small and spaced out
in the mountain sections. For Cambodia and Vietnam we hope to avoid the
busy main roads by a combination of instinct, asking the locals, and
getting a guide if necessary. No doubt some bridges will be washed away
and we will have to turn back for one reason or another, but we are
just visiting on bikes, not on a route march. Occasionally in the north
or the south we may get a truck (or boat, or even train if there are
any) to take us, and the middle 500 miles we expect to do this anyway.

  • What about accommodation? 

We will try and find hostels or guesthouses,
and hope never to arrive at a settlement much later than early
afternoon (early starts then!). Occasionally we may just get a veranda
to sleep on, but we are taking bivvy bags, mossie nets and bed covers.
If it’s cold in the mountains then we will wear everything, or pull up
a sandbag and sing sea shanties. There isn’t much reliable info on
accommodation on the net, but what there is suggests that most towns at
least will have guesthouses. In the Mekong delta there are home stays,
and in the cities we should get a really good clean up in hotels.

  • Any specialist kit needed? 

The Matts cycled into Oxford to visit ‘Broken
Spoke’ in Pembroke St, a cycle repair business run by real cycling
enthusiasts who know their stuff. There was a warm welcome by the
leading mechanic, Ella who greeted us with enthusiasm about our
forthcoming venture. Disc brakes, front suspension, gear adjustment
has, for us, been a trial and error experience. Other visits were made
after Chris broke his derailleur hanger. Not really ‘kit’ but you do
need insurance in all trips of this length and nature (60 days is the
normal limit).A balloon modelling kit. What for? Matt J has a beautiful
memory of a fellow traveler entertaining people this way. We will be
cycling through poor and isolated villages and towns, and we think it’s
important to be approachable. Matt C has tried some bottle cages on his
forks and seat post. They are rubber, so don’t damage the bike, and he
will use larger (Zefal) bottles for maps, sunglasses, sweets etc.
Anything light that it is useful to keep handy. He will ditch them if
weight is a problem.‘Schwalbe Marathon’ or ‘Marathon Plus’ tyres seem to
be worth the extra weight and cost, and Matt J is taking a spare
(folding tyre). Derailleur hangers, spokes, and chain links have been
recommended. We have managed to lose each other in the UK, so we are
considering whistles, and Matt C is trying a wrist mirror.

  • Kit list (and weights)?

Flights with Thai airways give us a hold baggage allowance of 30kgs. Travelling light on a bicycle is a must so careful consideration was given to what to take. Bike bag and bike took us close to 20kgs so 10 -12 kgs spare for clothes and essentials.

  • Copy passport details
  • Copy flight details
  • Copy vaccinations record
  • Send emergency contact details to email
  • Cash – US dollars and Thai Baht
  • Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Paracetamol, antiseptic cream
  • Magnesium tablets
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen, ‘Rash’ cream, Vaseline
  • soap, deodorant, razors, shaving oil, lightweight towel, ‘energy’ tablets
  • Sunglasses, cycling helmet, sun hat
  • Bike pump, pump for suspension forks, bike tool, puncture repair kit, spare tyre, whistle, bike lights
  • Silk sleeping bag liner, mosquito net, earplugs
  • Water bottles, small torch, water purification tablets
  • Cycling leggings (for Northern Laos)
  • long sleeve cycling top
  • lightweight waterproof jacket
  • Camera, mobile phone, tablet