Cycling Hanoi/HCMC vs. Luang Prabang/Phnom Penh
Replies: 7 - Last Post: Jul 7, 2012 2:59 AM Last Post By: SimonHill
Jul 5, 2012 9:33 AM
I am an experienced cyclist and don't mind a few hills but my friend's knees aren't so great and he would like as flat a route as possible. Our other requirement is that he is able to go swimming often...whether that is in the South China Sea, a swimming pool at a hotel, a gym...doesn't matter as long as it's relatively clean (so the Mekong is out?). Which route would be better? I have traveled extensively in Malaysia and Thailand but both of us are new to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
I have been reading lots of blogs and books but current tips and advice would be really helpful! Specific links to route maps would be awesome, too. Thank you.
Jul 5, 2012 9:37 AM
1I didn't think much of Highway 1 in Vietnam - too much traffic. There are alternatives sometimes, usually hilly, although the Mekong delta is flat of course.
I haven't ridden that bit of Laos, but by all accounts it's very hilly and beautiful. Further south, which I have ridden, it's flat and dull.
Jul 5, 2012 10:01 AM
2That was my guess about Highway 1...not so nice. Maybe there is an alternative, parallel route that is still relatively flat?
If anyone had any suggestions for a totally different touring route in SE Asia, India, or even the middle east hat fits my odd requirements then I'm curious to hear more. Where we go specifically doesn't matter so much - we just want to have a nice, carefree trip in a place that's beautiful and not too challenging to ride in (the weather in August will be hard enough to deal with already).
Jul 5, 2012 10:26 AM
Jul 6, 2012 2:59 AM
4The route out of Luang Prabang is very hilly with 2 major climbs going towards Vientianne. After Vientianne the Mekong road in Laos is very flat and pretty boring. It is better on the Thai side.
H1 in Vietnam is pretty manic. I rode it all 12 years ago, but wouldn't recommend it now.
There is a new hghway running down the centre of Vn, called the Ho Chi Minh Highway (NOT HCM Trail). Not as hilly as many think, but still a couple of serious climbs and lots of undulations so lots of overall climbing. don't know if this would be too much for your mate's knees. Remember though that it is about 2000kms, so that's a lot of strain on the knees. Also, not a lot of swimming as very rural, only the odd river, maybe.
As said, Delta area is good and flat and you can cross over into mainly flat southern Cambodia
Personally, I reckon that you might be better off thinking about East coast of Malaysia. You will be sheltered from worst of SW Monsoon. It is fairly flat and plenty of swimming. You can continue up into E coast of Thailand.
Jul 6, 2012 10:51 AM
5I can recommend the Vietnam route that I rode in 2009; see practical notes and travelogue at www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/AsiaAgain. In the north I took the Ho Chi Minh Hwy. that has relatively light traffic and adequate accommodations. (I rode south to north, but most people find it easier to ride southbound as you are planning.) Southern Vietnam and Cambodia tend to have flatter terrain and duller scenery.
Northern Laos is another good ride, and you can do a loop with Thailand, perhaps entering at Huay Xai and riding to Luang Prabang via Luang Namtha and on to Vientiane and back into Thailand. Or ride the other direction. I have a 10-year-old old travelogue the length of Laos at http://arizonahandbook.com/ThaiLao1.htm that might give you some ideas. South Laos is flatter, but has very few sights unless you detour off the main highway as I did.
Both of these routes have serious hills and corresponding great scenery. You'll likely get a lot of rain, but roads are paved. I don't know about swimming; maybe check guidebooks for upscale hotels or just hop in rivers with local kids.
East coast of Malaysia is worth considering, as Simon Hill notes.
Jul 6, 2012 10:59 AM
6Thank you, this is really helpful. We are still haven't really decided on anything definite. Just flying into Hanoi because it was the least expensive ticket we could get. From there we will take another flight or train somewhere else.
If we were to start cycling along the Mekong is it easy enough to hop on a boat and skip ahead if we're in a boring or especially strenuous spot?
I've already been up and down Malaysia and Thailand (I am originally from Malaysia) so would prefer to go somewhere new. It sounds like you have toured a fair bit around SE Asia...besides Thailand or Malaysia do you recommend any other rides? We have 1-2 months so plenty of time to meander.
Jul 7, 2012 2:59 AM
7After Luang Prabang you won't meet the Mekong until you get to Vientianne. (Yes, I know there is a really rough way via via Sayabouli, but am ruling this out for the OP). This means no chance of boat for the mountainous bit.
Also there are virtually no passenger boats left all the way from Vientianne to Phonm Penh - there are good roads that are faster and cheaper so bye bye boats unfortunately (I was lucky enough to have travelled most of it by boat before they disappeared). You can put bikes on buses or songthaews (pick ups) so there are pleny of bail out options.
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