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Painted Roads Blog
April 8, 2016 by David Walker

Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh Trail – A splendid inaugural tour and the thoughts of those who came along.

 

Well, that was a wonderful way to send March. Phong and I explored the Ho Chi Minh Trail tour some years ago, and for reasons that left us permanently bamboozled it received little interest. Was it the connotations associated with The Ho Chi Minh Trail? Did people think of UXO, wild ex-warriors still roaming the jungle picking off tourists? Snakes and spiders? Has Hollywood left too many negative images in peoples minds? Or could it be the big numbers? 101kms per day average and hills? Could be. Phong and I always remained committed to this being a wonderful tour and a year ago Phong went so far as to sat “if no one comes on the HCM Trail tour, then we should ride it again for fun, just the two of us”, I concurred. And so it was with a blend of confidence and an inevitable dash of nervousness that Phong and I set out on the inaugural running of the tour with a small group of some of PaintedRoads finest regulars.

The weather had variety but was mostly kind, with overcast sky offering shade on all save a couple of days (which were, to be blunt, bloody hot). We had a spot of rain,  just enough to cool us and not enough to dampen our spirits. We had fine food, and it was commented on more than once that the quality of food seems to get better each time we visit Vietnam, and for the remoteness of some of the route our accommodations was often times far better than one may have expected. And the route? Beautiful. Hills, rural, jungle and forest, oft light of traffic and always with jovial locals. The kilometres may be a tad longer than on some tours, but still, covering 130kms on some days saw as relaxing with a cold beer at the hotel before four thirty each day. The hills are there for sure, but not as tough as on other hilly Asian rides – in the words of Dianne “I thought it would be more hilly, so was a bit worried about 100 + kms and big climbs, but should have realised you wouldn’t do that to us”. And on that note I will leave you with a few snapshots from the tour and some comments sent to me post tour by those who came along.

Cheerio for now

D

cyclists on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

“Having David as tour leader and the actual person who cycled the whole itinerary beforehand, makes the biggest difference to other touring companies”

cyclists taking a break on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

“I found the Central Vietnam Tour to be hugely enjoyable. It was a delightful journey following the Ho Chi Minh Trail as it winds its way through some incredibly varied scenery. For the most part the cycling is on very quiet back-roads which undulate gently with the occasional short climb – overall an altogether easier challenge than the more mountainous North Vietnam routes”

cyclists on Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh Trail

For the most part the cycling is on very quiet back-roads which undulate gently with the occasional short climb – overall an altogether easier challenge than the more mountainous North Vietnam routes. Even the longer 100k plus stages were managed with relative ease, by all of the group, with everyone finishing with a smile on their faces.

Cycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail

“A great trip with lots of variety in scenery, from bustling busy Hanoi to rice paddies and farmland, followed by mountain scenery and lush thick jungle, to finishing with a relaxing day in the quaint old town of Hoi An”.

Cyclists on the 17th Parallel

“Hearing about aspects of Vietnamese history and stories of the war from the Vietnamese guide Phong was fascinating and added interest and meaning whilst riding along the Ho Chi Minh trail.”

"Came with an open mind, but it was better than I had anticipated – more scenic, friendlier people, good food, and less demanding physically".

“Came with an open mind, but it was better than I had anticipated – more scenic, friendlier people, good food, and less demanding physically”.

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March 8, 2016 by David Walker

And another thought on Thailand

Jane has sent in some very kind words following our recent South Thailand tour. Many thanks Jane, the pleasure was all mine and I very much look forward to another trip together.

jane and her wonderful Mercian bicycle

Jane England: I was a little apprehensive about my cycling capabilities and my old bike before booking the South Thailand tour. Over several emails, David made certain I was happy and reassured me that I could travel in the support vehicle for a rest at any time. I thoroughly enjoyed the odd 20km travelling slowly in air-con comfort with time to absorb the scenery. I felt privileged and certainly not defeated!
David is a brilliant organiser. Always thoughtful and constantly on duty to help, David and the team made each of us feel special. He was clear with instructions and information and quietly aware of our safety at all times. Nat and the support drivers could not have been more helpful, generous and kind. Nat was invaluable for local information and answered my constant questions with a broad smile.
David’s knowledge of the country from a cyclists point of view is extraordinary. He must have researched every road, path and track to give variety to each day and ensure we visited memorable sites. We explored caves, temples, beaches, met monkeys and Buddha’s and were uplifted by stunning views.
We stayed in a wide range of accommodation and ate a fantastic and delectable diversity of local food. The cycling breaks, at perfect intervals, were mouth watering with heaps of local fruits, sticky rice parcels etc, and essential cold drinks (yes, it was very hot).
It was a fascinating insight into simple Thai life away from towns and tourists. I loved the natural environment and its gentle, smiling inhabitants. As a group, we had great fun with lots of banter and holiday spirit.
David is an expert leader; wonderfully good natured, humorous, an excellent communicator and ideal cycling companion. He is the perfect cycle guide. Go on a Painted Roads tour, you will be charmed.

Cycling South Thailand Tour on an orange Mercian (c1980)

Cyclists in a Buddha cave Thailand

Visiting a buddhist cave

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March 6, 2016 by David Walker

Some Thought On Thailand From Those Who Came Along

February was month full of Thailand tours. Great weather, great company, and some of Asia’s finest cycling ensured that for me, and I suspect for the two groups of adventure cyclist who joined PaintedRoads for some winter bicycle frolics, was a fine beginning to 2016.

cyclist passing a wat in Thailand

Leaving a lunch break in Southern Thailand

gravel cycling Thailand

Riding rural unsealed roads in Northern Thailand – far from the madding crowds.

The time has come though to move onto Vietnam where our inaugural tour of the central region’s Trung Son Mountains is about to begin. So as a fairwell to Thailand a few pics, and some comments about the tours from some folks kind enough to let me what they thought of our journey together – many many thanks to you all.

a cyclist in northern thailand

Wally from Canada: I really enjoyed the Northern Thailand tour. David is a natural tour leader both for his personnel skills and secondly is always thinking many steps ahead to make the journey seamless and enjoyable for all the participants. His enthusiasm and passion for the love of doing this business radiates to everyone around him so it would be very hard not to enjoy yourself on such a trip.

cycling southern Thailand

Caroline from Southampton: I very much enjoyed my first cycling holiday with Painted Roads and I am sure there will be others. David was a fantastic tour leader and looked after everyone splendidly. The scenery was amazing and there was a good balance of relaxing time and cycling.

cyclists on gravel road in south Thailand

David Bruce from Brisbane: This was my second tour with Painted Roads and I was certainly not disappointed. Having come to expect a real focus on delighting the customer, Walks and his crew went out of their way to ensure our every desire was catered for. From the pre-tour communications to the on-tour briefings and support by David and the local guide Nat, nothing was left to chance, and we could just immerse ourselves in the local culture and scenery while riding. While this tour is long and hot, there were plenty of stops for refreshments and the cold beer at the end of the day made the whole ride worth it.
I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone who enjoys good company, good food and accommodation and of course some great cycling. Well done David Walker. See you on another tour soon.

cyclist outside a dramatic Thai temple

Michael from England: Ten out of ten – fun, enjoyable, stunning and varied scenery, lovely people, great food and good value.
It requires a lot of detailed planning and preparation for a tour to run like clockwork. The logistics with transportation, accommodation, food stops, navigation and timing were faultless. We were a diverse group of cyclists of mixed ability. Health issues and bike problems were sympathetically handled with flexibility and support. Brilliant organisation. Thanks and well done David and team.

Relaxing by the sea after a long days bicycle touring in Thailand

Mary – Oxfordshire: We thoroughly enjoyed our second Southern Thailand tour . David and Natt our leaders managed our mixed group of age and ability to ensure that everyone had a good experience and could enjoy the holiday to the full.
The back up crew of Gor and Ton were invaluable in their support, without the food and drink van we would have expired in the heat!

 

 

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February 25, 2016 by David Walker

A pictorial look back at a great North Thailand tour from Feb 2016.

Feb 206 has been a busy month on the road with PaintedRoads with 18 people joining us for two great tours through Thailand.

We began the month in the far north where 8 cyclists from Belgium, Canada, the UK and Lichtenstein came together with their bikes to explore the part of Asia I like so much it’s where I choose to spend my time when not leading tours and exploring routes. North Thailand is a cyclists paradise, with it’s lovely rural roads, warm but mild climate, beautiful scenery and a seemingly endless network of unsealed trails, that one day I hope to link together into a gravel road tour – but that’s a story for another time. For a big thank you to Anne, Peter, Julien, Madeleine, Tony, Wally, Geoff and Stephan. Here’s a few pics that I hope will bring back some happy memories. South Thailand pics soon.

Cycling tour of Northern Thailand

Plenty of car free gravel roads along the route.

Cycling tour of Northern Thailand

Rural riding at it’s best.

Cycling tour of Northern Thailand

Skirting the Burmese border in the far northwest.

Cycling tour of Northern Thailand

Lunch time.

Cycling tour of Northern Thailand

A new start to the descent from Mae Salong proved very popular with the group – it will be used on future tours.

Riding through the rubber plantations near Chiang Rai.

Riding through the rubber plantations near Chiang Rai.

Bicycle tour North Thailand

The group.

Cycling tour of Northern Thailand

Riding past the straw ricks

Cycling tour of Northern Thailand

Gravel riding

Cycling tour of Northern Thailand

Visiting an Akha village high in the mountains. Natt explains a little about Akha life.

portrait of a hill tribe lady North Thailand

A hill tribe lady.

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January 16, 2016 by David Walker

A Cycling Tour Is Born – Tri-Nations. Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

Vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour on

Lao is a land of stunning and deserted mountain scenery.

Having led a Vietnam-Laos cycling tour on numerous occasions for my erstwhile employer, I often waxed lyrical to newly arrived guests about how fascinating I found the contrast between two neighbouring countries. Both buddhist, communist (in name at any rate) nations one could be forgiven for expecting them to be very much the same, but they are, as the briefest of visits will vividly display, remarkably different. The contrast between the culture, the people and the language, the written script, and even the importance of the buddhist philosophy of these two countries is remarkably different, as the tour we were to embark upon was to reveal.

Geographically next in line if the cyclist continues to pedal west is of course Thailand. Respectively modern, developed, and in many ways Western compared to its easterly neighbours, Thailand, I always though, should have been the final destination to this tour of contrasts that I so enjoyed. And so I long harboured the desire to create and run a tour from Vietnam, through Laos, and on into Thailand. But planning, exploring, promoting and running all of my tours personally means that time for exploring can be at a premium, and so it took some time to get around to putting this tour together.

Vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour on a Kinesis Tripster ATR

Stunning mountain scenery abounds on this tour – hence it being a tad undulating at times.

September was my second visit to Lao last year. A Laotian friend and I decided to go over some ideas we had for new and interesting sections for a Lao tour. In the interest of time we took his van, and we saw much that we liked. We drove a loop through the northeast of the country (more of which soon), but after a week of driving I was itching to get back on my bike, and so, judging the amount of food I had with me and the distance to the next town along the remote jungle road, I was dropped off at the foot of a long climb to resume cycling after a two week layoff. I confess to struggling a tad to begin with, my legs were weak and weary, and my rear end was soft and soon felt as though a surgeon would be needed to remove me from my saddle. As I plodded up that hill enjoying the solitude and silence, save for the chorus of cicadas and hooting of birds from the forest, I reflected on a discussion we had had before I was dropped off. I had learned during that conversation of a border into Thailand’s Nan Province that opened, without my knowledge, a couple of years earlier. Not only does this border open a new route between two nations, it opens a wealth of possibilities for my imagination. As I rode on, huffing and puffing and grunting in a most ungainly manner I reflected on what we had seen over the past week, I thought of tours and rides I have done over the past 10 years both in Lao and in Vietnam, and I thought about my explorations of Northern Thailand over the past few years. And with much excitement a plan hit me, not for the two week Lao tour I was here to investigate, but for the tour I have desired for many years – Vietnam, Laos, Thailand. I was excited and keen as can be to find a guest house, to spread out a map to see if the route in my mind was feasible, and to quench the thirst that I was rapidly developing. The guesthouse I found had a balcony overlooking the muddy waters of the Nam Ou river, it was quite beautiful and a most apt spot to ponder my route over an ice cold Beer Lao – and as I pondered I excitedly realised that my route would work, I was elated, the tri-Nationed tour was born.

vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour

We found some lovely roads through the tea plantations of northwest Vietnam

Vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour on a Kinesis Tripster ATR

Exploring the Lao section of the tour, possibly the last time I will use panniers on the Kinesis ATR bike. Oh what a lovely ride that was.

Vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour on a Kinesis Tripster ATR

Back in Thailand I had a wonderful time exploring the small roads and trails that have given me a huge amount of options for the final few days of the tour. Which route to use? I may well decide that one on the hoof depending on each individual group.

Vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour on a Kinesis Tripster ATR

The road less travelled for sure.

Kinesis Tripster ATR bike packing in the jungles of Asia

Exploring jungle trails.

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