This is our online journal with news, photos, tours and all sorts of interesting stuff... We like to post from the roads we cycle throughout Asia to help give you a little insight into our cycling holidays so you may read words from the road in Vietnam, the mountains in China, the beaches in Thailand, a village in Laos, a bar in Taiwan, or the stunning hills of Sri Lanka.
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It’s rest day here in Northeast Vietnam, so time to sit back with a coffee and post a few images from the tour so far.
As always seems to be the case we are once again blessed with a great group of people all possessing a fine sense of humour, good nature and enjoyable conversation. That they are a group of competent cyclists is the cherry on the top of the cake. Three Kiwis, an Italian, a Canadian and a Brit, along with Vietnamese Phong, and I makes for the sort of cosmopolitan group I love to share an adventure with. Rather than be categorised by our nationality I feel the world be to be a better place if we were categorised by our persona, and if this were the case we in this group would all hold the same passport.
As for the tour, well it’s been mentioned before, and will undoubtedly be stated again, that exploring this route reignited my passion for adventure cycling a few years ago, and since then I have not looked back. The route is stunning, with otherworldly scenery, quiet roads, satisfying climbs, descents that make the climbs more than worthwhile, ever friendly welcoming locals, interesting hill tribe people, and …… Well, I could wax lyrical at length regarding all that makes this tour great, but suffice to say that it is a firm favourite of mine.
We chose to run the tour during December this year in a bid to escape some of the hot days we have at other times of the year, and a tremendous success it has been. A couple of evenings it has dipped to a nippy 13º, but daytime we have pretty much perfect cycling weather with the mercury hovering around the mid to high 20s - never too hot on the climbs and never too cold on the descents, one could say ideal.
As is always the case with PaintedRoads tours (and this is one of our rather unique characteristics) the tour has evolved and improved over the years that we have been running in. Phong and I had a quick tot up over dinner last evening and concurred that this is the fifth incarnation of the tour. We have had three different start points, three route variations, two rest day venues, and of course the addition of the stunning and tantamount to secret loop ride near the small town of Tam Son.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow's ride already.
Phong makes a fuss about nothing - no change there then
It was the mid rain season 2011 that Phong and I set out on our bicycles to explore what, unbeknown to me at the time, was to become PaintedRoads’ very first tour. Before we explored the route I was glum, neigh, melancholy. Quite why I was melancholy I could not say - such is the nature of melancholy, but my passion for bicycle adventures was frayed, and I was feeling lost. But those two weeks in Northeast Vietnam changed all. I recovered, I perked up, I became non-melancholy, and I have never looked back. So beautiful did I find the region, so enamoured was I by the adventure and the sheer pleasure and privilege of exploring such a region, by bicycle, and with a close friend, that my zeal was reignited and has burned most brightly since.
Phong and I have since run the tour countless times and never do I tire of it. We have changed it, we have improved it, we have added sections and moved the rest day, you might like to say we obsess over it. And so it is with much excitement that I fly to Hanoi early next month to ride the wonderful tour with a group of like-minded cyclists from as far afield as the Antipodes, Europe, and the seemingly more sensible section of North America.
So with this tour on my mind, I have just been flicking through some images from last years wonderful Northeast Vietnam tour, some images I find inspirational, and hopefully, you will too.
Cheerio for now
It's always lovely when those who came along take a little time to write afterwards and let me know what they thought of our journey together. And judging by the comments from those who have recently been in touch following the inaugural Tr-Nations tour through Vietnam, Lao and Thailand, we have just had a splendid time.
So here are some thoughts from some of those who recently rode from Vietnam's Hanoi to Thailand's Chiang Rai with me.
Thanks for coming along folks, and I look forward to seeing you all again, hopefully soon.
"The Tri-nations tour exceeded my expectations in all areas. The scenery was spectacular, like something out of a movie. As we moved from country to country through some very remote villages the locals and children all gave us a wave with a smile on their faces. I feel I have seen the country, not just the tourist hotspots".
"What I find his most important asset is that all participants get the impression that David is personally looking out for them and that his bottom line is not foremost in his thoughts, giving the result that accommodation, meals, snacks and hire bikes are probably the best you will find on any Asian tour. I encourage anybody who is thinking about going on a cycling tour where PaintedRoads has a presence to first make contact with David - you will not be disappointed."
"This trip was my first experience cycling mountains and I was apprehensive at first and fully prepared to use the support vehicle. I gave it my best shot and with the encouragement of David and his team I have come away with a sense of achievement, tackling far more mountain passes than I ever expected to on the trip".
"David is an excellent tour leader and uses excellent local guides and drivers who make you feel welcome in their country and help to give an insight to the local culture and cuisine".
"Excellent food, splendid company and awesome riding."
"In the past few years I have taken part in Painted Roads’ tours in Northeast Vietnam, South Vietnam and North Thailand, and with another cycling tour operator, I cycled through Laos. Having enjoyed all of the lands on separate tours the opportunity of combining all three countries into one long tour could not be missed.
To say that I found the Painted Roads Tri-Nations tour the most challenging, but at the same, the most enjoyable and satisfying of all my twelve cycling tours to date is an understatement. I could continue in this testimonial by comparing the routes, scenery, atmosphere and cycling through all three countries, but that would not emphasise what makes a PaintedRoads tour superior to all other tours. That superiority is simply the presence on all tours of David, who by living permanently in Asia is alert to all possible route and accommodation changes and can make alternative arrangements seamlessly".
"The inaugural Tri-Nations tour appealed to me as it traverses three distant lands, combining adventure and mystique. And so for me, it became my third Painted Roads tour. I find David Walker's tours so different in that his personal attention covers all the things you expect whilst also helping you take care of all the little things you forgot to bring".
"This tour gives a taste of it all..from cycling in the high country and magical scenery with buddies from far afield who soon become friends..to super downhills, and snacks by a cool shady stream. The tour has hills, and more hills, but it also has long stretches of flat passing through remote villages where people's lives can be seen and experienced, cooking, working, and even rice whiskey distillation in the back shed".
"The tour is relaxed, but the attention to detail behind the scenes on this tour makes it all work like clockwork, just turn up, cycle, and have a fabulous time - and of course a cold beer always greets a weary traveller come day’s end...the David Walker way, you’ll just love it...I did."
The idea of a tour through Vietnam, Lao, and Thailand has been on my mind for years, and so I am delighted that the inaugural Tri-Nations tour was such a great success - so good in fact that Arthur, a veteran of no fewer than twelve Asian cycling tours, declared it his best tour to date, quite an accolade.
Make no mistake, the tour was no walk in the park. With an average daily distance of nigh on one hundred kilometres, days with over 2000 metres of climbing, and, in Thailand, gradients of up to 18% this was far from downhill all the way. But then again Paul is in his 60s, Arthur is in his 70s, and Caroline, although still youthful, is a relative newcomer to cycling and has never tackled anything quite like this before, and they all found it a most rewarding and enjoyable ride.
The group was boosted tremendously by the late (very) joining of Roman. We had transferred from Hanoi to the old French hill station of Sapa on a beautiful sunny day. As we prepared our bicycles for the journey ahead Roman wandered past by chance, and, after observing our antics for a wee while enquired as to what we were up to. We explained we were beginning our journey in the morning and riding from here to Chiang Rai in Thailand, via Lao. Roman could hardly believe his luck as it was just the tour he had been looking for. He joined us for dinner, we had a bike sent up from Hanoi overnight, and Roman became a valuable contributor to the fun of our Indo China adventure.
My long-held desire to run this tour comes not just from the beautiful cycling, but from the desire to show people the amazing contrast of these three neighbouring lands. All Buddhist, two allegedly communist, one allegedly democratic - but what a contrast, what a difference as we crossed borders. Vietnam with a population of nearly one hundred million people is dynamic and full of energy, it is a country developing so quickly one can see its evolution with the naked eye. Lao, with a mere six million inhabitants, is quiet, relaxed, laid back. And Thailand, the most developed of the three nations, is relaxed and charming with a population complexed, quiet and well mannered.
Which land did people like the most? There was no clear favourite, which I feel sums the tour up, a tour of contrasting lands, all beautiful and fascinating, and all populated by friendly welcoming people. As for me, I can’t wait to do it all again
The following is an article I wrote three and a half years ago, meaning that I have now been regularly been using a Tardis bag for well over 6 years, and (at the risk of tempting fate) so far no damage has come to my bicycle.
I do take a little more care these days with packing though (well, most of the time I do), placing some of the pipe lagging as used by domestic plumbers around the front forks (carbon fibre on the bike I use now) and around the frame where the wheels make contact with it. I am also planning to add a corrugated plastic layer between the bike and the bag but have yet to make this. I will hopefully get an update done soon.
Three years ago I made a purchase to settle a curious itch. I had already learnt that flying with a bike was no problem - getting to and from the airport though could be a different kettle of fish. With the bike in a box it was always touch and go whether it would fit across the back seat of a taxi, and with both hands full of bicycle box carrying any extra bags could be a pain. And then I discovered the Tardis.
Named of course after Doctor Who’s famed police box time machine the Tardis is remarkable in its ability to swallow a whole bike plus hordes of other luggage in a sturdy bag that one can sling over one's shoulder and amble effortlessly down the street in search of a taxi. Once said taxi is located there is no doubt this diminutive bag will sit happily across the back seat, even allowing room for a passenger to squeeze next to it.
The only downside to The Tardis is that the bike takes a tad more stripping a rebuilding that with other bags. But with both wheels having to be removed and placed across the frame’s main triangle I feel that the wheels are less vulnerable than when the rear is left on the bike.
Bike and Tardis ready and waiting…
All necessary tools for stripping.
Salsa Vaya ready for disassembly
The instructions that come with the Tardis suggest leaving the crankset in situ which is quite likely fine, but for the sake of loosening two Allen keys and removing the screw from the end of the shaft, I always take mine off.
Note: These days I don't always remove the crank. If I leave the crankset in place I secure a piece of pipe lagging to it and to date have had no problem.
Note where the crankset is positioned and tied in place along with the rack, the theory being it is less likely to become damaged. Wheels are strapped into place with straps I carry in case I need to secure a bag to the rack. Note discs facing inwards out of harm's way.
I loosen the steering stem and turn the front forks flat, thus protecting them from potential damage. I always feel the STI leavers are a little vulnerable but so far no damage. The saddle and seat post are tucked in a safe and convenient spot and loose items are all placed in the bag that houses the Tardis when it is not in use.
Once the bike is in the Tardis you will note that there is lots of spare space, which is ideal for tucking away clothing, panniers etc. If carrying panniers keep one out for hand luggage on the plane. For most light trips in the tropics, I can generally get everything in the Tardis and the one pannier that will be my carry-on bag.
Ambling the streets with your bike and belongings is a relative breeze with The Tardis. Here I have just arrived in Rangoon and have everything necessary for a few weeks exploring Burma slung over my shoulders, including the bike.
If flying into one airport and out of another fear not, the Tardis packs down into an A4 size bag just a few inches thick.
Met this chap whilst exploring the PaintedRoads Sri Lanka tour a couple of years since.