I, very happily completed my ride through south Vietnam and Cambodia in October 2015. This was a huge task for me, as I had never contemplated anything of this magnitude before, nor had I visited Asia. I was very nervous during the weeks leading up to the trip but continued to train hard and tried to keep focused. On the day of departure, I was extremely anxious but packed my bags into the car and headed off to Heathrow on a very dark, foggy Saturday morning. When I arrived, hardly able to carry my bag, (next time I will get one with wheels!), I met up with the Group Leaders who made me feel much better and introduced me to other members of the group. We went through Security and headed for somewhere to have breakfast, and Mimosa’s, which made me feel much more at ease! Once we’d eaten, we headed off to the gate to board the amazing Singapore Airlines Airbus A380! As an aviation enthusiast, this was a huge point of my trip. It’s an incredible feat of engineering. So light, roomy and appears to fly effortlessly through the skies. I hardly noticed the 12hrs and 50 mins to our destination, Singapore. From there, we boarded another flight to Ho Chi Minh city. This is where the adventure really started!
We were taken to lunch and then on to our first hotel. The weather, at this stage, was pouring with rain and very worrying but it soon cleared and we went to set up our bikes. By this time, the group had become acquainted and we were all helping each other with our bikes, which were good quality mountain bikes and would become our close companion over the next week. The evening was spent at a very comfortable hotel and we prepared for the 5:15amstart to our adventure. We breakfasted at 6am, checked out of the hotel and due to the heavy traffic in Ho Chi Minh city, were bussed to our bikes. I had never seen so many scooters as I did in Ho Chi Minh city! They were everywhere, four or five wide on one carriageway, and several people mounted on them, sometimes a family of four or five or equipment such as animal cages, suitcases, boxes etc!
We reached our destination, had some food and drink, and were on our way. From here on in, we saw the most amazing sites. We cycled along main roads, side roads, paths, over rickety bridges and through water! The locals came out of their huts and shouted ‘Hello’. People were very friendly and welcoming and the children were adorable. These people have very little in the way of material goods, but are the most contented, happiest people I have had the good fortune to meet. Their huts are made of corrugated steel sheets or planks of wood and often built on stilts, because of flooding, and are very basic. Several generations live together and all help each other. The children ride their bikes to school and look after their younger siblings.
We cycled through towns and villages, in blistering heat and raging monsoons! Such extremes of weather. At one point, we were cycling where we could not see more than a metre in front of us and the water was so deep that we were pedalling under water! You could not see your own feet, let alone any potholes in the road!! We cycled through a city in these conditions until we got to our next hotel, which was a very welcome sight.
The next morning, we visited a floating market and then back on the bikes to continue our journey. Although our days started very early, we needed to start at this time, in order to travel the required distance before the hottest part of the day, which was after lunch. Temperatures reached 38 degrees and the weather was extremely humid. Sometimes, after lunch, it was very difficult to keep going but the support we received, got us through and we did it!
We would have breakfast at 6am and then start our day. Generally, we would cycle 20km and have a water break, along with soft drinks, fruit and snacks. Once everybody had caught up, off we would go again, for another 20km, then we would have lunch and another 20km, and so on.
We saw some incredible sights, including the Cu Chi Tunnels, where people lived during the Vietnam war, to avoid the soldiers in the 70’s, and the Killing Fields, both in Vietnam and Cambodia, which was an extremely sobering and humbling experience. It is incredible, to think that this barbaric massacre, happened in my own lifetime.
The last day in Vietnam was my birthday and the group made a huge fuss of me. It was our longest day cycling and by far the hottest! Some in the group struggled with the heat and had to spend some time in the support vehicle, due to sun stroke. This was unfortunate but not unexpected. Luckily, there was no long lasting damage and they were back on their bikes the next day. We cycled 85 of the 90 km we had to do that day, when we reach a long and slow but quite a high, hill! Here, I must admit I did drop back a little. It was strenuous and seemed to go on forever! I didn’t think I’d ever reach the top. I, along with others, was given encouragement by the crew and eventually reached the top and then continued down the other side. At the bottom, we were signalled in and we were given much needed refreshment.
Once we reached the border with Cambodia the next day, we walked across and picked up our new bikes. I was given a brand new carbon ‘Giant’ Mountain Bike, which fitted me perfectly. I have quite a short reach and this bike was very comfortable for me. I was in my element until the next day, when I really struggled to keep up! This, I put down to the fact that I must be getting tired, having cycled constantly for 5 days, although I couldn’t understand how I had a much better bike but couldn’t keep up. The group that I usually spent my time with was way ahead. This was a 75km day and it wasn’t until I had completed 73km that I realised my brake was stuck on! The last 2km was completed at breakneck speed and I was very pleased with myself.We spent the next few days cycling along the red clay tracks of Cambodia, viewing incredible sights along the way. On the penultimate night, we arrived at our last hotel and this was a huge reward for our efforts! This was the only hotel where we stayed for two nights and was well worth the wait.
On the final day, we cycled through Siem Reap to Angkar Wat temple, which is considered one of the 7 man made wonders of the world! You can see why! Words fail me, such an incredible sight. We wandered around the huge temple, through stone corridors and up and down towers. The extensive history was explained to us by our guide, which was very interesting. We then went on to two more temples via off road tracks. This was hard riding and one or two of our riders were unfortunately were injured. The rest of us cycled up and down ditches, avoiding branches and in and out of trees. A very exciting ride, not covering as much ground as we were used to but just a gruelling! The temples were outstanding and the surroundings astonishing. After the third temple, we cycled down a long road, with lots of traffic, until we reached the finish line! This was a welcome sight but, at the same time, slightly disappointing as it meant our adventure was over. There were cheers and screams of delight, as we cycled over the finish line. We were congratulating each other, as well as hugging and kissing. It had been an amazing 12 days and I had made some very good friends. The crew were extremely helpful and supportive, both the English crew and the local crews. The organisation by Discover Adventure was second to none and I am sure we will be participating in further trips in the future.
Thank you all for your support, which saw me through some very difficult times but I am very pleased with my achievements and happy that I could help Amy and her family too.