Elbows in the Road

So it was bound to happen at some point and yes, while on our way to the west coast of Phu Quoc, we came off the bike. 

We were on a sandy track working our way up to the main road and we started to skid. We were probably going slightly too fast. 

We are both fine – just a few bruises and we both left pieces of our elbows in the road… The medical kit came in handy!  

One of Altura back panniers also took a beating but held up well.

We took the next day to relax off the bike and Annie had a nice birthday on the beach.  

Having had a day of sun, sea and sand we’re both ready to move on so today we head to the main town Duong Dang to meet and stay with another cycle tourer Kateryna who is the only person on the island registered on warmshowers.com

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Tanh Hoa – 100km on

Well here we are! A hairy ride through HCMC, a few wrong turns, 5 road side wees, 2 huge bowls of Pho and many smiles and waves later we have completed our first day on our tandem.

We made it, even if the German chocolate biscuits that Gina (our warm showers host) gave us for the journey didn’t…

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We think we did a 100km in total and we’ve stopped overnight at a sleepy town called Tanh Hoa. Our position
10.658degN,106.181W

It seems we are the only foreigners here – one of the joys of arriving by bike – but we are acutely aware we need to improve our basic Vietnamese quickly.

My bum (Annie) is more than feeling the 7 hours in the saddle although Ben’s bikers balm is working it’s magic.

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Our hotel is basic but clean. We feel the bed spread pretty much sums it up…

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Paddy is physically in pretty good shape although mentally exhausted from navigating through the road traffic. Dad will be pleased to know that his suggestion to fit a handlebar mirror was a good one and we would encourage other cycle tourers to think about getting one too. The Mekong Delta is heavily populated resulting in quite a lot of traffic and it’s really useful to know if there are large vehicles coming up behind us. The Vietnamese are not aggressive drivers but they do like to overtake wherever possible, we can use the mirror to slow down/speed up so we’re never  near 2 trucks passing each other. We also wished we had bought pollution masks as the roads in HCMC and other towns can be truly nasty.

The bike performed well – we have a slightly warped disk break (a result from the flight) which we have fixed but need to keep an eye on.

Day of Prep

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We spent most of our first full day exploring HCMC. Neither of us are that enamoured with it as a place and we’re really keen to get going on the bike and explore the countryside of the Mekong Delta.

The War Museum was well worth the visit though and we had a good lunch on a roof top cafe (a recommendation from Gina) – the second beer at lunch was definitely a mistake however… We’re still acclimitising to the humidity, heat and new time zone and the second beer knocked us out for most of the early evening. We stayed up long enough to watch a film (‘The Snapper’) from our hard drive (thanks Johnny!).

We’ve been getting up at 6am as we plan to do the majority of our cycle miles before 12 noon each day. Today will be a day of planning and final prep before we head off tomorrow. Bike set up, navigation, provisions, loading our panniers etc

We will head west towards the coastal town Ha Tien, from where we can get a ferry across to Phu Quoc island.

The bike looks in good shape after the flight and we might take it for a test run later.

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Settling in Saigon

So, here we are then. We’ve just woken up from our first full nights sleep in the lovely house of Gina and Tony, our warm showers hosts, which includes AC, a pool, en-suite, Yorkshire tea and good company.

 We’ve started in a style that’s unlikely to continue but it is perfect to get over the jetlag and get set up.

 Gina works in the German embassy and has been all over the world – good stories from Addis Abbaba and Afganistan. Tony is a fitness trainer from Sheffield and is a big Conor McGregor fan – fair play. Along with the two kids and their dog Stampy they’ve been really welcoming.

 Our flight was fine except both UK and Vietnamese security cutting open the bike box! Luckily we had lots of spare gaffa tape and cling film. Thanks to Matt for dropping us off with lots of time to spare – it was needed in the end!

Today we’re heading into Ho-Chi-Minh which looks like a metropolis compared to Hanoi.

We might leave tomorrow, or we might stay one more day to plot our route to Cambodia. We’re going to go to an island somewhere along the way we think…,

Visas

Please note that this information was posted in 2016.

The only planning in terms of route we have done before setting off is to look into the visa and border situation for these countries:

Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey

We obtained visas for all these countries. 

Yes! That’s right, me a British citizen cycling got a visa for Iran!! If you want more info on this please read this here and then leave a comment and your email and we’ll contact you.  

It’s a good idea to ensure that you have at least 6 months validity on your passport when applying for all visas.

Take a stack of passport photos with you for your visa applications and always keep your departure forms safe. Women need some passport photos with their head (no hair showing) covered for Iran.

If you are quitting your job before leaving its also a really good idea to steal some company headed paper (preferably stamped at the bottom if your company has  an official stamp). Visa applications may need proof of employment so having some company paper to print onto is a good idea. 

If you’re not taking a laptop we would advise mocking up some simple documents such as a basic letter and cv formats which you can edit easily. 

Flying into Vietnam

Visa required before travel.

On 22 June 2015, the Embassy received the formal notification that the Government of Viet Nam decided to exempt visa for British, German, French, Spanish and Italian citizens travelling to Viet Nam (for all purposes) for a period of up to 15 days, and on the basis of meeting all conditions prescribed by Vietnamese laws.

Applying for a loose leaf visa which doesn’t require sending your passports in is possible.

Length of Visa: 30-90 days, single and multi-entry both possible

Extension Possible: 30 days or 90 days depending on the type of visa

Vietnam to Cambodia

Suggested Route Based on Macmillan Cycle Tour

Visa on arrival at border. No prior registration required. Payment must be made in USD (we paid $35). e-visa also possible: www.evisa.gov.kh / help@mfaic.gov.kh

Length of Visa: 30 days

Extension Possible: 30 days extra

Bavet, Kaam Samnor and Phnom Den crossings are open to foreign travellers and issue Cambodian visas.

The other border crossings at Trapeang Phlong, Prek Chak, O Yadaw and Trapeang Srer are reported to be open to foreign travellers and in some cases issue Cambodian visas.

We have also read about a $25 departure tax from Cambodia…

Cambodia to Thailand

You would think that Thailand would be the simplest visa situation but the rules regarding border crossings and visa exemptions make it more complicated for cycle tourers and we have the added complications of needing a multi-entry visa for Thailand.

Thai Tourist Visa Exemption

Passport holders from 41 countries and 1 special administrative region – Hong Kong SAR – are not required to obtain a visa when entering Thailand for tourism purposes and will be permitted to stay in Thailand for a period not exceeding 30 days on each visit.

If such foreigners enter Thailand at immigration checkpoints which border neighbouring countries (overland crossing), they will be allowed to stay for 15 days each time.

Since 20 December 2013, Nationals of (G7) the following countries who enter via a land crossing or enter via an airport will be entitled to a 30 day visa exemption, UK, U.S.A, Canada, Italy, Germany, Japan, France.

Foreigners who enter Thailand under the Tourist Visa Exemption category and would like to leave and re-enter may only stay for a cumulative duration which does not exceed 90 days and is within a 6-month period from the date of first entry.

Foreigners entering Thailand by any means under the Tourist Visa Exemption category are required at the port of entry to have proof of onward travel (confirmed air, train, bus or boat tickets) to leave Thailand within 30 days of the arrival date (otherwise a tourist visa must be obtained).

If we need to stay longer than 15 days we need to apply and pay for a Tourist Visa for Paddy – we won’t have proof of onward travel either – which probably means applying for a Tourist Visa before we reach the border.

Extension Possible: yes for both types but need to be applied for at the Immigration Bureau located in Bangkok. 

Applying for a Thai Tourist Visa

It is possible to apply for tourist visas for Thailand (circa $40 for a 60 day double-entry) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This takes 3 days.

Siem Reap looks like it is possible via an agent who has connections with the embassy in PP but would require us to send our passports to PP. Might be safer to do it when cycling through PP.

  • Single entry tourist visa will be valid for 3 months (you must enter Thailand within the validity of visa from the date of issue)
  • Double/triple entry will be valid for 6 months (you must enter Thailand on your final visit before expiry date)

Thailand to Myanmar

Arriving and departing across land is definitely possible.
When travelling over land to Myanmar, you must always obtain your visa beforehand; it is not currently possible to get Myanmar visas at the border and e-visas are not valid for border crossings.

Bangkok visa address:

132, Sathorn Nua Road, BANGKOK 10500

(662) 234-4698, 233-7250, 234-0320,  637-9406

Nearest Train Station – Surasak

  • The Visa Section is now open for applications only from 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon.
  • Afternoons 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM are only for pickup.
  • Bring your passport, a photocopy of your passport, 2 passport photos and an address of where you will be staying in Myanmar.

Apparently 4 official crossings are now open:

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Myanmar to China

Blog on getting to china on bicycles.

Reply on forum re Chinese Visa

Our experience of applying for a Chinese visa in Bangkok.

Our experience of crossing the border between Myanmar and China (Muse) – check out the comments from other cyclists at the bottom too.

Will require bank statement and other proof documents. You apply in in Bangkok via the Embassy and the Bank of China. Takes at least 4 days. Need proof of $100 for each day of your visa.

Central Asia (check out Carvanistan forum pages for latest info)

Kyrgyzstan – free 60 day visa on arrival! 

Tajikistan including GBAO permit – one day $55 in Bishkek – easy!

Uzbekistan – see our blog here re applying in Bishkek 

Turkmenistansee our blog here re applying in Bishkek and experience with the e-code.

Two Man MSR NX Hubba Hubba Tent


Being on the tandem means that we have to be very careful about the weight and size of our gear. We needed a lightweight, compact tent which would be suitable in hot desert conditions as well as freezing temperatures. 

We opted (like many other cycle tourers) for an MSR make and decided that the 2 Man NX Hubba Hubba would be a good choice.

After 11 months on the road and 119 nights sleeping in it the verdict is out. We have been very happy with how the tent has performed. 

It has all the features we need – it’s very light and it’s free standing which is great for when you need to camp on concrete. Only the vestibule sides need to be pegged down but if that’s not possible we tie ropes around the hook and weight these down with heavy boulders. If you need to erect the tent in the rain it’s possible to put up the waterproof fly sheet first and then clip the red inside section in after so it stays dry. In hot weather you can sleep without the fly sheet and the majority of the inside section is mesh which helps to keep you mercifully cool. You get to go to sleep staring at the nights sky too… 


We also sometimes used the tent like this in hotel rooms when we needed to protect ourselves from mozzies. It’s the best net system we have – we threw away our other mosquito net in the end! 

You can comfortably both sit in the tent without stooping. There are two useful side pockets and two places to hang camping lights inside. Once erected the tent feels very stable and solid and it’s performed well in strong winds. 

We’ve only had a few minor problems with condensation. The two windows help to keep it minimal. 

The tent is just big enough for us both to lie down with our handlebar bag sitting in the middle at our feet. Paddy is over 6ft and he just about fits. There is not much room for anything else although it’s roomier than some other two man tents we’ve slept in. Our cycling friends Andy and Clare have the 3 Man mother Hubba version of this tent and they like having the extra room especially as they have 2 bikes so more bags than us. 

Because Paddy is tall and we need the handlebar bag in the tent with us it means that the insert does touch the fly sheet at the corners and at the bottom. This is obviously an issue if it rains and we did have a bit of a problem with some minimal leaking in heavy rain. The bottom of the insert is pretty waterproof. However, we came up with a handy way of solving this problem – simply stick your 1.5L water bottles in each corner between the two layers! This pushes the fly sheet out and ensures the rain drips off onto the ground rather than seeping onto the insert.

It’s great that the tent has two vestibules. We don’t like leaving our bags on the bike overnight and we can just fit our four panniers (2 X 27L and 2 X 20L) inside one of the vestibules leaving the other side free for us to use as an entrance and to store our shoes and empty rack bag. This also means you have a vestibule free to cook in if you wake up to rain.

The zip seams are designed well so the water runs downs easily from them. 

It’s quick and easy for one person to erect. 

In our experience MSR customer service is brilliant. Naturally after 1 year there is some minimal wear and tear to the tent (e.g. A few small tears in the fly sheet and a small crack in a pole). They got back to us within 3 days and offered to send us a replacement pole section, patches to fix the tears and four new pegs to a destination of our choice all free of charge.

The ground sheet (and the poles) make a good awning for siestas! 


Other Downsides: 

  1. you have to buy the groundsheet separately. 
  2. Two of our pegs sheared at the top and you don’t get spares with the tent so make sure you take some with you. MSR did replace these free of charge though.

Fully Loaded

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Packing light and buying the right gear for the particular conditions we will be facing has been an important and really exciting part of our planning. We have spent MANY hours researching and buying our gear and we’ve enjoyed doing this together.

It seems not all cycle tourers invest in brand new, lightweight gear. In their blogs, many claim to have invested in a good set of panniers and not much else. You don’t need to spend a huge amount of money but packing light has been important and a huge advantage for us.

Deciding to travel by tandem means you are seriously limited for space especially if you decide that taking a trailer isn’t for you. We are really excited at the prospect of getting rid of all our possessions for a year but I’m sure there would be many ultra-light tourers who would look at our list and scoff! I guess it’s about finding what’s right for you. For example, having a good tent set up and being comfortable while camping is important to us. Some may say our travel Helinox chairs were a ridiculous luxury but we know that we will value relaxing in them after a long day of pedalling (read our review here).

We have planned our trip over a series of months and we couldn’t have done it without the range of blogs, reviews and online articles that have already been written by other cycle tourers online. The list below is another small contribution to this ever growing online resource – we hope it’s helpful to future tourers. We have also tried to talk in person to other cyclists who have done similar trips already – being members of warmshowers.org has been a great way to do this!

You might also want to check out: Travelling Two, Adventures by Tandem,  The Touring Tandem, Tandem Revolutions, Crazy Guy on a Bike, Family on Bikes, Pedalling About, Bicycle Touring Facebook

Front Left Pannier  (Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic 40L)

Annie’s Clothes:

Annie’s Toiletries: moisturiser, tweezers, razor, mascara, toothbrush, mooncup, nail file, monthly contact lenses and bottle of solution, 2 weeks of daily lenses, glasses, earrings

1 x quick dry towel, 1 x money pouch, 1 x roll up backpack (Quechua)

2 x cycle shorts (b-twin), 1 x padded underwear (VeloVixen) – don’t buy these!, shoe covers (Shimano), 2 x cycling gloves (long and fingerless), snood, warm hat, 1 x waterproof jacket (worth investing in a proper Gortex one), 1 x waterproof trousers

1 x leather sandals, 1 x North Face Goretex walking trainers, 1 x belt, 1 x down jacket (Quechua)

1 x convertible trousers (Craghopper Nosilife Stretch), 1 x shorts (Howies), 1 x cotton knee-length dress (Sea Salt), 1 x yellow cycle jersey (I threw this out early on), 3 vest tops (Howies),  1 x cotton shirt, 1 x long sleeve cotton top (Joules), 1 x merino leggings, 1 x merino long sleeve top (Howies), 1 x bra, 2 x mesh sports bra (Patagonia), 1 x bikini (threw after Thailand), 4 x underwear, 4 x merino socks

Would have made a 100% cotton Longhy to use as a towel instead which also would have doubled up as a long skirt for visiting temples. I need more warm base layers for China and the stans – Helly Hanson is the best.


Front Right Pannier (Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic 40L)

Paddy’s Clothes:

Paddy’s Toiletries: shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, nail clippers, wet wipes, ear plugs

1 x quick dry towel, 1 x money pouch, 1 x roll up backpack

1 x warm hat, 1 x snoodshoe covers, 2 x cycling gloves, 2 x cycling padded short inserts, 1 x Gortex jacket

1 x sandals, 1 x cycling shoes, 1 x down jacket (Quechua)

1 x cycle jersey, 1 x merino t-shirt (Alpkit), 1 x long sleeve merino top (Alpkit), 1 x cotton shirt, 1 cotton t-shirt, 1 x shorts, 1 x convertible trousers (Craghopper Nosilife), long johns and matching top (Helly Hanson), swimming trunks, 3 x pair of socks, 3 x boxers


Handlebar bag (Arkel: Large)

A great bag (solid, completely waterproof) and would recommend over ortlieb especially if you are on a tandem – we got the biggest size and hold a lot of stuff in it. What’s very useful is it has zips instead of clips which means you can padlock any unneeded valuables (e.g kindles) while you go off without the bike to do a two day hike etc.

1 x Canon 650D DSLR Camera + 3 batteries and 2 lenses

1 x ipad in waterproof case (armour-x)

1 x iphone in waterproof case (armour-x) – – normally mounted to handlebar while riding

1 x Samson Galaxy phone – normally mounted to handlebar while riding

2 x wallet, passports, notepad

2 X sunglasses

2 x kindles, 1 x ipod

Front pocket: snacks, pen, bike keys, small padlock (useful for locking bag when handed into ‘left luggage’ at a hotel/hostel.


Back Left Pannier (Altura Orkney 56L)

1 x large mosquito net (never used as our tent was the best net)

1 x rechargeable LED tent/camp light – also charges your phone (great buy!) – (Lampray from Alpkit)

Gravity water purifier (LifeStraw) and UV SteriPEN ultra –read our gear review here

Dice/cards/embroidery, sowing kit, clothes line and 9 pegs

1 x toilet roll and baby wipes in dry bag

2 x emergency dry meals (Expedition Foods 800cal)

Cooking Gear

1 x multi-fuel stove and wind shield (Optimus)

1 scrubber/scraper, 1 lighter, 1 matches, 1 tea towel, 1 pen knife, 1 kettle, 1 pots, 1 frying pan, 2 plates, 2 x cups (Summit), chopping boa, serrated knife, peeler, grater, scissors, tin opener, wooden spoon, spatula, knives, forks and spoons. Salt and pepper, spices, hand sanitizer, washing up liquid, plastic bags, tuppawear box, elastic bands, bag clips.


Back Right Pannier (Altura Orkney 56L)

Box of bike tools

Spare bike parts: spare tyre, spare spokes, chain link, spare brake pads etc

Two man lightweight tent and footprint (MSR NX Hubba Hubba)

Gaffa tape (lots)

Medical Kit in dry bag:

3 x needles and syringes, antibiotics, diazepan, Naproxen pain killers, malaria tablets, thrush tablet, dressings, bandages, burn treatment, antibac wipes, cling film roll, ear plugs, plastic gloves, paracetamol and ibuprofen, rennies, constipation tablets, thermometer, cystitis sachets, dyorolite, eye wash and ointment, e45, savlon, barocca, caneston cream, allergy tablets, bite cream, plasters, cyprofloxin antibiotics

Electronics in dry bag:

camera charge cable, ipod/ipad/iphone charge cable, kindle charge cable, 2 x universal adapter, battery pack (A5 Zendure), SD card reader and SD cards, headphone splitter, sat phone

Papers etc:

Many passport photos (including head covered ones for Annie’s visas in Iran and Central Asia) papers, note book, pens, injection books, maps, insurance, passport copies, visa copies, spare bike/padlock keys


Back Rack Bag (Ortlieb 31L)

2 x bungey cords

3 X carrabena clips

1 x down double sleeping bag (Big Agnus: King Solomon)

2 x single air mattress (Quechua) (slip into Big Agnus sleeping bag to create bed)

1 x double duvet cover

2 x inflatable pillows (Quechua)

tent poles and pegs


Small Frame Bag  (Alpkit)

2 x head torches (Petzel elight)

1x leather man/Swiss army knife, Biker’s Balm – For All Your Moving Parts, Vaseline, Whistle, Pencil, elastic bands, emergency pain killers, rennies


Medium Frame Bag (Alpkit)

Insect repellent and bands, head phones, tissues, Compass, hand sanitiser


Saddle Bag

Sun screen, 1 x Spare inner tube, puncture repair kit, set of Allen keys, bike lights, Annie’s gloves


Bike Frame

2 x foldable lightweight chairs (Helinox)

3 x water cages

0.6L Optimus Fuel Bottle

1 x fog horn

1 x tablet bike mount (Multifunction Armour X mount)

Bike pump 

Mirror

Cable ties

Bike lock

Spare Spokes