Sunday, July 22, 2018

Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018

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                                     AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures                                   
Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018
Around Cambodia & Vietnam : 10th - 20th July 2018
Small Group Cycling Tour of Cambodia (Phnom Penh) & Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh & the Mekong Delta (VietnameseĐồng bằng Sông Cửu Long, "Nine Dragon River Delta"):
Kuala Lumpur>by Malindo Air>Phnom Penh (ភ្នំពេញ)>by Giant Ibis Bus>Ho Chi Minh (Hồ Chí Minh)>My Tho (Mỹ Tho)>Tra Vinh (Trà Vinh)>Vinh Long (Vĩnh Long)>An Binh Islet>Cai Be (Cái Bè)>My Tho (Mỹ Tho)>Ho Chi Minh (Hồ Chí Minh)>by Malindo Air>Kuala Lumpur.
(for more detailed routes see the daily ride blogs).
It's been a few years since I last cycled in Cambodia, and about a couple of years back I did some cycling in Vietnam but these were short ones at Hội An. So here I am with a small group of our Happy Cycling friends to ride in Phnom Penh (ភ្នំពេញ) and then onward to and around Vietnam's scenic Mekong Delta (Đồng bằng Sông Cửu Long). Sin and Robert were the main route planners, Anne was good in searching of places to visit and hotels/homestays. Sooi Ying was our treasurer, while Fenn was her usual lively and colourful self. I did help a bit on the routes and did lead the rides at some routes.
It was a memorable ride, with good friends, to experience the bustling cities & towns, and the quieter, rustic life of both countries, and of meeting the warm locals with their happy laughter.
Below are the daily ride blogs. Much further below are related blogs and tips on cycling in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Below are the blogs of our cycling tour, click on the respective photos to read:

Next.... New Zealand!


Vietnam : Hokkien-Teochew Clan Temple @ My Tho
 (Phước kien-Thiếu cháu hội quán)

Vietnam : Long Thieng Temple @ Vinh Long
(Chùa Lòng Thiềng)

Vinh Trang Pagoda (Chùa Vĩnh Tràng) & Vinh Trang Park @ My Tho





Here's, some general tips on cycling in both Cambodia & Vietnam, more detailed tips will be included in the day to day blogs:

1. Traffic Directions!
    For both countries traffic is left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. Same thing applies when crossing the road, be careful and take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from! Also do watch our for motor-cyclists who ride contra-traffic

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
Generally the roads were fairly flat, climbs were mainly up and down bridges.
In Cambodia:
   Phnom Penh traffic is heavy along the main roads, try to ride along the quieter, parallel smaller roads or lanes, although one may encounter many junctions one will get to see more of the local life. At the rural areas traffic is very much lighter. There are no dedicated/shared cycling lanes; but at the Riverside, there are wide pavements to cycle on.
In Vietnam:
   At Ho Chi Minh and the major towns traffic is super-heavy with many motor-cycles. For the uninitiated, crossing junctions can be a nightmare with vehicles coming in from all sides. Rule of thumb is: JUST GO WITH THE FLOW! Move along with the traffic at an easy pace, giving way to other traffic when need be, AND avoid making any sudden swerving. At the rural areas traffic is very much lighter.
The Mekong Delta being a large delta has many bridges and ferries crossing the Mekong River and it's distributaries. Most are low bridges with one being a tall one; ferry fares are relatively cheap, ranging from 1,300 to 12,000 dongs (MYR 0-25 to 1-75) depending on distance of ride.

3. Navigation
    Unless he or she is very familiar with the locals routes, the tour leader should carry a GPS units. It will also be good if another member of the team carry another GPS unit should the leader's one go faulty. Sin together with Robert brought these along and had pre-loaded the Vietnam Maps together with GPS coordinates of our destinations, and tracks between our destinations.
    Alternatively, download the MAPS.ME app together with the relevant country maps. This app can be used offline.
    We also used Google Maps in Walking Mode for navigation but there is a lag when starting off, so one would have to cycle a bit to get the orientation right. We used this for cycling in and around Phnom Penh and also as a alternative to our GPS units in Vietnam, as Google Maps have more up-to-date roads. Do note that what are shown as roads on the map may turn out to be rough gravel roads or wet, muddy tracks.

4. Weather
     Although rain were forecasted for the period we were in Cambodia and Vietnam, these turn out to be mainly light drizzle. We were only caught in heavy rain a couple of times. We did face fairly strong winds for a few of the stretches. The drizzle and rain with overcast skies did make the weather cooler and our ride more pleasant; but do note that cooler does mean that one will not get sunburnt, so do cover up or apply sun-block lotions.
    Useful weather forecast sites for the Cambodia and Vietnam is AccuWeather. For more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.

5. Bringing Bikes Onto Planes
   We flew Malindo Air from Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Penh, and from Ho Chin Minh back to Kuala Lumpur. For the routes we flew, the fare included 25 kg checked-in luggage (inclusive of sports equipment) which was more than adequate for our bicycles. On the outgoing flight our Brompton bicycles were packed into Dimpa bags; while on the return leg we had a second Dimpa to pack our cycling gear (jerseys, zippable pants, etc) and also for shopping purchases. Seven kg. of allowable cabin luggage of two pieces (a normal cabin sized bag with another smaller bag); were also included in the fare. Malindo's fare also include free light meals, drinks and onboard video/music entertainment on demand on individual screens.
     A tip, simple but important. Ensure that you DO NOT carry your tool kits or any long/sharp metal objects in your hand luggage. Put your tool kit into your checked-in bike bags. I often seen friends forgetting about this, only to have their tools confiscated at the security checkpoints. Also note that power banks are not allowed to be checked-in.

6. Bringing Bikes Onto Ferries
    All the ferries we took in both countries allow unfolded or full size bicycles on board, there is no necessity to fold or bag them. Many of the ferry ports in both Cambodia & Vietnam are indicated on Google Maps, but for the Mekong Delta there are many unlisted small ferry ports; do ask the locals for locations of these unlisted ferry ports as it could cut a journey by a substantial distance. Most ferries do charge a separate, nominal fare for the bikes. For the respective ferry fares, refer to the respective daily blogs.

7. Bringing Bikes Onto Buses
    For the Giant Ibis Bus Express Bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chin Minh, we were charged USD5/= for each of our bikes on top of the USD18/= passenger fare; no receipts were given. This was suppose to be for "handling charges" at the border customs. Although there was no necessity, we did bag our bikes. We bought our tickets at their Phnom Penh Station and had to sit separately away from each other as the bus was full; to avoid this, it would be better to purchase tickets on line from their website. An alternative express bus service is the Mekong Express.

8. Communicating with Each Other
   When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost from the rest.
In Cambodia:
    SMART 4G Pre-paid Traveller's sim cards can be bought for USD5/= at Phnom Penh International Airport. This has a validity of seven days comes with 
2GB data, and unlimited data for Facebook, LINE, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp; and international calls from 3 cents/min. Get the vendor to set up the sim card for your phone to ensure proper connections.
In Vietnam:
    We were offered 4G prepaid sim cards for USD5/= each at the Cambodia-Vietnam immigration crossing at Bavet/Moc Bai; but we declined as we were uncertain of the reliability of the walk-by vendor. At Ho Chi Minh, they are many shops selling 3G & 4G sim cards; but to ensure reliability we got our hotel operator to buy 3G Vietnamobile sim cards for us, there was no need to set up the phone to operate this sim card, it was automatic. The sim card cost 60k dongs (about USD2-60, MYR 10-70) for a validity of two weeks with 2 Gigs of data per day.

9. Communicating with Locals
    The official language in Cambodia is Khmer (ភាសាខ្មែរ, phiəsaa khmae); whilst in Vietnam it is Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt). The Khmer and Vietnamese languages are not pronounced the way they are written, click on the words within these blogs for their correct vocal pronunciations.
        Most locals do not speak English. Hotels receptionist do speak some rudimentary English. The staff at Tourists information counters do speak pretty good English. Google Translate is a good app to use for basic conversation with the locals, it also have an audio feature to play the respective words/phrases. In this blog, click on the respective Khmer or Vietnamese words for their pronunciations.
10. Curency
      The official currency used in Cambodia is the Riels (KHR), but most locals do use the US Dollar for daily transactions. At tourist spots like the Central Market (Khmerផ្សារធំថ្មី, "Psar Thom Thmey", "New Grand Market") and the Russian Market (Psar Toul Tompoung) do bargain down prices by at least fifty percent.
      In Vietnam, the currency used is the Dong (VND, Vietnamese: đồng)). At tourist spots in the larger cities, there is a notoriety of tourists being fleeced, so do be careful. We were fortunate that our tour took us to the smaller towns where the locals were warm, helpful and honest. We were fleeced only once while in Ho Chin Minh (read about that later).

11. Food
     Cambodia is not renown for its food, but do try out the barbecued squids & prawns and the iced desserts at the Central Market in Phnom Penh. For the more adventurous, there are the dried grub worms, bugs, tarantula spiders, and the Pong Tia Koun (ពងទាកូន) - duck embryo,  the country's version of the Philippines Balut.
     Vietnam has some world renown food. To get the local feel, we often ate at the smaller shops or markets stalls patronized by the locals. Not to be missed are:
     - PhởVietnamese soup consisting of brothrice noodles called bánh phở, a few herbs, and meat, primarily made with either beef (phở bò) or chicken (phở gà). A renown variation is the bún bò Huế, which is a spicy beef noodle soup, is associated with Huế in central Vietnam.
     - Vietnamese Spring Roll (Gỏi cuốn): a dish traditionally consisting of porkprawnvegetablesbún (rice vermicelli), and other ingredients wrapped in Vietnamese bánh tráng (rice paper).
     - Bánh mì: a kind of sandwich that consists of a Vietnamese single-serving crispy, baguette which is split lengthwise and filled with various savory ingredients. 
     - Sinh tốA fruit smoothie made with just a few teaspoons of sweetened condensed milk, crushed ice and fresh, local fruits. The smoothies' many varieties include custard apple, sugar apple, avocado, jackfruit, soursop, durian, strawberry, passionfruit, dragonfruit, lychee, mango, and banana.
     - Vietnamese Iced Coffee (Cà phê sữa đá): this is made using medium to coarse ground dark roast Vietnamese-grown coffee with a small metal Vietnamese drip filter (phin cà phê). After the hot water is added, the drip filter releases drops of hot coffee slowly into a cup. This finished cup of hot coffee is then quickly poured into a glass full of ice making the finished Vietnamese iced coffee.
12. Accommodations
    If one is not to fussy, cheap accommodations can be found at both countries. In Phnom Penh our pre-booked hotel stay for a 3-person room cost MYR33 per pax per night for two nights.
    Reasonably priced accommodations can be found at budget hotels/homestays in Vietnam; with pricing ranging from 350K-380K dongs for a twin-sharing room per night. We only pre-booked our accommodations for Ho Chi Minh; for other towns we did on-line searches and only booked after we arrived at the towns and had a look at the rooms.
    Most of the accommodations we stayed in had lifts and allowed us to bring our foldies into the room. Others let us use the store rooms at the ground floor, as a precaution we lock our bikes when put into these store rooms.

13. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools. As many of the roads were muddy or dusty tracks, lubricant oil will come in handy; we also brought along a couple of spare tires.

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