The Not So Beginners Guide to Bike Travel in Faraway Places


Photos and words by brand ambassador, Leslie Kehmeier


When I started traveling by bicycle about a decade ago, I didn't dip my toe into the pool, I did a cannonball into the deep end. My husband Chris and I sold everything and set off with a plan to pedal for 2.5 years around the world.


14 months, 12 countries and 3 ocean crossings later, we had achieved our goal. It didn't exactly go as planned, which was totally fine. We learned a lot about ourselves, the world and what it means to travel at just the right speed...by bike.

In the years since, we've continued to travel and done it most of the time with our two-wheeled steads. To start off 2017 we decided revisit DIY bike travel by returning to Southeast Asia. First on the agenda was bikepacking through northwestern Vietnam. To prepare, we updated our bikes and gear, made a loose plan for a 10 day tour, and most importantly, revisited some traveling "rules" that we had compiled from our previous travels.

Here are the top three "rules" that have helped us the most.

#1 Plan Some Things but Not Everything

In our first experience bike touring, we found it nice to have a general plan of where we wanted to go and how many days it might take. We also booked a few things and left the rest to chance. For Vietnam we took a similar approach: book a night or two at a hotel upon arrival, schedule an airport shuttle, spend at least a day getting acclimated, assembling bikes and going on at least one "test" ride.


Our arrival in Hanoi went smoothly. The bikes and shuttle driver were waiting for us at baggage claim to take us to our quaint little hotel in the Old Quarter.



For the bikepacking part of the adventure, we kept it simple and flexible: we had a route, knowledge of towns with hotels, distances and a timeframe. The lack of very detailed planning turned out to be our saving grace. One variable we couldn't control was the weather. It turned out that our biking window would be extremely hot, and with the topography in the mountains, we might have pushed ourselves into meltdown mode (literally with triple digits forecasted).


Since we had no pre-arranged hotels or tours we were able to change our plans and spend more time in the higher mountains around Sa Pa.



#2 If You Really Want To Do Something, Just Do It (aka The Clive and Louise Rule)

Because it's likely you'll never come this way again, you should do the things you want to do. This was advice friends gave us during our 'round the world trip. In the moment, the details can take over when it comes to decision making..it costs too much...what if it turns out bad...on and on. When all is said and done and you look back on those moments, you won't remember the cost, just the experience.


I employed this rule when we fast-forwarded to Sa Pa. After one night in this heavily-touristed town, we were craving the more culturally immersive experience. Through the magic of the internet, I was able find and book two different places that matched what we imagined. One took us faraway to a riverside lodge into a remote valley. The other had us perched on a slope of terraced rice fields, in a bungalow made out of bamboo, timber and mud.

While neither one of these fell into the "budget" category, we haven't once talked about the cost since our stay.



#3 Act Like a Local
It's amazing how traveling by bike can gain access to people and places you wouldn't expect. In many locations throughout the world the bicycle is a very integrated form of transportation. Bicycles are everywhere in Vietnam: they take people to work and school. They even double as food carts and cargo transport.  For us, being on bikes allowed us to experience life from a local's perspective. In Hanoi we jumped right into the flow of the chaotic, yet very organized, downtown traffic. In the mountains we blended right in with the hill tribe people commuting to their villages on mopeds and bikes. Although we still stuck out like sore thumbs, we were always met with a smile or a wave as we pedaled by.

 

 


Vietnam was an amazing place to pedal a bike. But our adventures didn't end there. In Hanoi, we packed our rigs up for the next part of our trip to Cambodia and the Temples of Angkor. Stay tuned for our next blog post.