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Vietnam

Activity
Cycle
Duration
n/a days
Grade
Grade 1

About the challenge

Cycle through beautiful rural landscapes dotted with ruins of ancient civilisations and small towns where Buddhist temples nestle amongst graceful French colonial buildings and ramshackle houses. Our challenge takes us from Vietnamese Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, through the rice-paddies, jungles, plantations and karst mountains of central Vietnam. Along the way we visit battle-sites of the Vietnam War, including memorials, old air fields, tunnels and combat bases. The scenery is beautiful and the cycling challenging, but our emotional journey will be equally memorable as we pay our respects to the sites that saw heavy fighting and losses on both sides. We have a free day in the bustling city of Hanoi to relax and celebrate our achievements.

The itinerary

Day 1: Depart London

Day 2: Arrive Ho Chi Minh City

On arrival we transfer to our hotel and freshen up. We have an afternoon city tour where we can see, among other sights, the War Remnants Museum, which gives us an unmissable overview of the Vietnam War. We also visit Reunification Hall – formerly the Presidential Palace, this site symbolised the fall of Saigon and the end of the War when a tank from the North Vietnamese Army crashed through its gates. Returning to our hotel, we have dinner and a trip briefing before getting a good night’s sleep, ready for the start of our challenge! Night hotel.

Day 3: Ho Chi Minh City – Danang – Hoi An 
Cycle approx 25km

A short morning flight takes us north to the busy port of Danang. During the Vietnam War, the Air Base here was one of the busiest airports in the world. We transfer to our hotel, assemble our bikes and set off along the coast on a warm-up ride. We ride via the Marble Mountains, striking hills riding from the flat coastal region – these are home to caves and Buddhist shrines and are famous for their stone-sculpture industries. A little further south is the site of the Marble Mountain Air Facility, a US helicopter base during the war. Moving on, we reach My Khe Beach – thought to be the famous China Beach, which was used as ‘R&R’ by US troops. Continuing south, we ride on to Hoi An, a beautiful well-preserved ancient trading port which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its temples and architecture show the different cultural influences of its time, while the lovely Japanese covered bridge is unique. Luckily for Hoi An, its importance waned long before the Vietnam War and it was left isolated and untouched. It’s a lovely place to wander and explore, and we spend the night here. Night hotel.

Day 4: Hoi An – Hai Van Pass – Hué
Cycle approx 120km

Our first full day of cycling beckons! After a hearty breakfast, we cycle back towards Danang and head further north. We visit Red Beach, the site where American Marines first landed in 1965. We then ride over Nam O Bridge, a crucial bridge in the fight for Danang, and over the steep Hai Van Pass. This is our first major climb and if it’s a humid day will be hard work! Hai Van Pass has been a vital military strategic foothold for centuries, and was used by French and American armies in the Indochina War and Vietnam War; bunkers and fortifications dot the hillsides. Continuing north, roughly parallel to the coast, we reach the imperial city of Hué. We have a short drive for part of this route, to avoid a very busy stretch of road. Night hotel.

Day 5: Hué – A Luoi – Hamburger Hill – Khe Sanh
Cycle approx 80-100km; Drive approx 1.5 - 2 hours

Leaving the coast behind us, we head inland into rural countryside. Vietnam is a very long, thin country, and we traverse it today from the coast almost all the way to its border with Laos, and then ride north. It’s a long day, so we drive the first busy section out of Hué. This is an area of beautiful dense jungled hills, and it’s easy to imagine how supplies coming via the Ho Chi Minh trail travelled undetected. This area – around the A Shau Valley and A Luoi – saw some fierce fighting in the late 1960s. Probably the most famous is the Battle of Hamburger Hill (1969) which saw many casualties on both sides for an outpost which was controversially abandoned by the victorious US soon after. We visit the site and pay our respects. Now riding north, roughly parallel to the border, we cycle through stunningly beautiful countryside. This area was heavily napalmed during the War – an estimated 69 tons of napalm were dropped during the Battle of Hamburger Hill alone – and it’s astounding how well nature has recovered. The road we take was part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail; this was not one continuous road, but an extensive network of paths. We come to Dakrong Bridge, famous for being the ‘start’ of the Trail; it was destroyed many times but always re-built. Despite heavily bombing the area, the supply route was never cut off. We continue to Khe Sanh, where we spend the night. Night hotel.

Day 6: Khe Sanh – DMZ – Dong Ha
Cycle approx 70km

Our day starts with a visit to Khe Sanh Combat Base, a US jungle outpost close to the Laos border and scene of a major siege and battle in 1968. There is a small museum here, and you can still see bomb craters in the ground. We have a talk by our guide and hold a small ceremony to pay our respects. We then visit the nearby sites of Ta Con airfield and Lang Vei, scene of another battle in 1968 in which the besieged and defeated US special forces survived against the odds and escaped thanks to a daring Marines rescue mission. We then ride east, leaving the Laos border behind us, cycling through forested hills, coffee and banana plantations. The De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) lay along the 17th Parallel, which marked the divide between North and South Vietnam. Situated along the DMZ were a string of combat bases, observation posts and air fields, remnants of which still remain. We visit sites including The Rockpile, Con Thien, Camp Carroll and Dau Mau Base as we ride towards the town of Dong Ha. Night hotel.

Day 7: Dong Ha – Vinh Moc Tunnels – Dong Ha
Cycle approx 90km

Today also focuses on the DMZ, but our route takes us north of Dong Ha, crossing the Ben Hai River and the 17th Parallel. We ride to the Vinh Moc Tunnels, an incredible complex of tunnels that were dug by local people to evade the constant US bombing of the area. The tunnels include kitchens, wells and a ‘hospital’, as well as living quarters for roughly 60 families. The tunnels, which are at a depth of 30m, are still in very good condition and saved the villagers’ lives. After visiting them, we visit the ride south again, returning over the Hien Luong bridge (also known as the Peace Bridge), where there is a striking memorial to the victims of the War. Back on the southern side, we proceed to the Truong Son National Cemetery, a vast burial-ground with over 10,000 Vietnamese graves – many of them nameless – for the soldiers and civilians who died protecting the Ho Chi Minh Trail. After paying our respects here, we visit other sites including the US bases at Con Thien and Base Fuller. We return to Dong Ha. Night hotel.

Day 8: Dong Ha – Quang Tri – Hué
Cycle approx 85km

Leaving Dong Ha, we ride south on flatter roads again, passing more towns and villages than we have seen over the past few days. We stop to visit Ai Tu airfield and Quang Tri; the 1972 ‘Battle of 81 Days and Nights’ for the Citadel here is famous for the huge amount of ordnance dropped by the US. We also visit Long Hung Church, a Catholic Church in which American troops sought refuge as part of the battle, to no avail. It has been left as it stood after the battle, with scars from grenades and bullet-holes, and is a poignant place to hold our ceremony. Continuing south, we head towards Hué on the section of road known as the ‘Highway of Horror.’ Thousands of local refugees – most of which were old people, women and children – were cut down by communist NVA troops when they were trying to flee south. We stop at Truong Phuoc Bridge, where the worst of the slaughter occurred, and pay our respects to mark the atrocity. Continuing south, we return to Hué. The Battle of Hué (1968) was one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the War, and we spend the remainder of the day visiting strategic sites around the city before hopping off our bikes one last time. Night hotel.

Day 9: Free day Hanoi

This morning we take a short flight up to the bustling northern city of Hanoi. You’ll have free time to wander the tangled streets that make up the Old Quarter, visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum or simply sit and watch the world go by from one of the city’s many cafés! We meet again in the evening for a huge celebration of our achievements. Night hotel. (Dinner included)

Day 10: Flight departs

We depart the hotel and transfer to the airport for our international flight home. (Lunch not included if not in-flight)

Day 11: Arrive UK

Discover Adventure reserves the right to change the route or itinerary for safety reasons should local conditions dictate.

The route

Detailed information

What's Included?

The cost includes international and internal flights, all accommodation, transport and food other than one-two meals as detailed in itinerary. It also includes full trip support of experienced Discover Adventure leaders and medic; local guides, bikes, drivers and cooks.

What's Excluded?

It does not include your personal travel insurance, entry visa, tips for local support crew, any extra meals and entry to any optional tourist sites you may wish to visit. Remember to allow extra for drinks, souvenirs and other personal expenses. Please note that costs may fluctuate and we have no control over any changes. We strongly recommend you carry a credit card in case of personal emergency.

Flight Information

Group flights leave from London Heathrow or Gatwick, (we regret that we are unable to book connecting flights), and are booked through Discover Adventure Ltd under ATOL licence 5636. By travelling with Discover Adventure you are protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). We are most likely to fly with Singapore or Malaysian Airlines, however, we don’t always fly with the same airline so this is a guideline only. You will usually receive confirmed flight details several months before departure.
Our itineraries are always based on current flight schedules and are therefore subject to change by the airline. If you prefer to book your own flights please ask us for a land-only cost.

Accommodation

When cycling we stay in friendly hotels or guest-houses. Some are more basic than others! Bear in mind that some of the places we overnight in are not on the standard tourist trail. In larger cities our hotels are generally more Western-style and 2-3* standard. Please do not expect the same standards as you would in the UK!

Food

All meals are included other than one-two meals as detailed in the itinerary. The food is good and there is plenty of it; most meals are local-style not western.

Dietary Requirements

Being vegetarian or having other dietary requirements is not usually a problem provided you let us know well in advance. Please do not expect as much variety as you would have access to at home – we will be in rural areas and among people of a different culture who may not understand your requirements, however willing they are to help. If you know there are plenty of foods you cannot eat you may wish to bring extra snacks from home so you can top up your energy supply. Please feel free to ask us for advice. Any meals not included are listed in the itinerary and are generally when we are in towns or cities and you are free to explore and try other culinary experiences! There is always something to suit every budget.

Trip Support

Discover Adventure Crew

Your trip will be led by experienced Discover Adventure leaders. Our leaders are selected for their experience in harsh wilderness environments, knowledge of travel in remote areas, friendliness and approachability, sense of humour and ability to safely and effectively deal with any situation that arises. You are in very safe hands with a Discover Adventure leader.

All our leaders are from the UK or other English-speaking countries. Most work for us on an ad-hoc basis and have ‘real’ jobs in-between trips! We never send our leaders to the same destination for months on end – we want them to be as enthusiastic about your trip as you are. Although our leaders are trained in expedition first-aid, they are accompanied by an expedition doctor or medic, who is there to look after the well-being of the whole group and deal with any incidents. They help the leaders to ensure the trip runs smoothly and encourage you when things get tough. The number of crew looking after you will depend on the final size of your group, but at Discover Adventure we pride ourselves on our high leader: cyclist ratio and believe it leads to greater trip enjoyment as well as excellent trip safety.

Local Support Crew

Our local support crew is made up of local guides, drivers and cooks. Your local guide knows the local area well, and is a great source of knowledge about local customs and lifestyles. Drivers and cooks do not always speak English but are very friendly and approachable. The Discover Adventure crew work closely with the local crew to ensure your trip runs smoothly and safely.

Your leader will arrange a collection of tips for the local support crew at the end of your ride. Tipping is not obligatory, but once you see how hard they work on your behalf you will be happy to donate something! Your leader will give you an idea of appropriate guidelines. All our local crew are paid wages, but bear in mind that the average wage in this country is less than what you would spend on a normal night out.

Luggage

Support vehicles will be with the group at all times. All luggage and spares will be carried in the vehicles.  Space is limited and hard-sided luggage is not suitable, so it is essential that your kit is packed in a soft sailing bag, rucksack or expedition kitbag. Ask us about our specially-designed low-cost kitbags if you don’t have one already.

Bikes can be transported on flights in bike bags or – a much cheaper option – cardboard bike boxes: ask your local bike shop if they have any. You should also bring a small daypack or large waist-pack to carry for items needed during the day as you will not have access to your main luggage until the evening.

Trip Safety

Your safety, and that of the rest of the group, is our highest priority. Our trips are designed and planned with safety in mind. Your crew will be equipped with radios and emergency satellite phones, extensive medical kit and other safety apparatus where necessary. They always have access to our 24-hour emergency back-up in the UK. Our leaders are responsible for safety on the trip, and will make any changes to the itinerary they deem necessary should local conditions dictate. Pre-trip administration – such as compulsory medical questionnaires and travel insurance – is all done with your safety in mind.

Preparing for the challenge

Cycling Information

Terrain

Distances on full cycling days average around 80-100km. Our route is mainly on tarmac roads of varying quality with some that are more like hard-packed dirt; terrain is generally flat or undulating, with a few more notable climbs. Traffic is usually light and we will cycle at our own pace, but when we pass through a large town we go through as a group. We will always take safety into consideration and reserve the right to change the itinerary on that basis. We will be using 21-speed mountain bikes fitted with semi slick tyres. Remember that much of the countryside was heavily bombed, and there is still a large amount of UXO (unexploded ordnance). When you get off your bike in overgrown areas, stay on the paths.

Bike Repairs

There will be a range of spares in the vehicle along with a full tool kit; however, it is impossible for us to carry spares for every eventuality. It is vital that if you do bring your own bike it is in excellent working order before departure.

Clothing & Equipment

We are travelling through remote areas where we could be exposed to bad weather at any time. Weather conditions can change quickly. We provide you with a detailed packing kit-list on registration, as well as details on useful discounts you are entitled to as a Discover Adventure customer. We are always available if you need advice. It is imperative that you supply your own helmet and wear it at all times while cycling, with straps done up.

Weather

It can be very hot and humid, and only cools slightly at night. There may be cooler breezes in the hills or by water. However, cooler weather can come in without warning so be prepared. It rains quite frequently in this region of Vietnam.

Fitness Levels

Our challenges attract people of all levels of experience and fitness, all ages and backgrounds. We expect all participants to train hard in advance to achieve this challenge, but we respect everyone’s limits. We design our challenges so that everyone can go at their own pace: this is not a race. For logistical and safety reasons we sometimes need to re-group, so the front-runners will find themselves waiting for the slower ones. Please relax, and remember that this is a team effort that enables people to achieve their personal goals and earn sponsorship.

Passport & Visa

A valid ten-year passport is essential for travel in Vietnam and must be valid for at least 6 months after entry. A Vietnamese visa is essential for British passport-holders, costing approx £44 in person (at time of writing). Most other nationalities require an entry visa and are responsible for checking their requirements with the respective embassies.

Vaccinations

We insist that you have had a Tetanus injection in the last ten years, and highly recommend protection against Polio, Hepatitis A and Typhoid. We strongly recommend taking malarial prophylaxis. A yellow fever certificate is required only if coming from an infected area. You should always check with a GP or travel clinic for up-to-date travel health advice as it does change.

Cultural Differences

For most people, the main attraction of travelling to a different country is to see new sights and enjoy new experiences. Sometimes those new experiences can make life harder or more inconvenient than you may like, such as toilet hygiene or different food, or simply a different attitude to solving problems. This is all part of the challenge you are signing up for! We are very privileged to live in a country with a high standard of living, and travelling exposes us to different challenges – all of which help broaden our horizons. We can guarantee that coming face-to-face with experiences outside your normal ‘comfort zone’ will help you bond with your fellow cyclists and provide you with plenty of things to laugh about! A sense of humour and sense of adventure are two of the most important things to bring with you!

Worldwide Sustainable Toursim

Long before ‘Responsible Tourism’ became a recognised phrase, we designed and ran our trips to ensure they made minimum impact on the environment and a positive impact on the local communities we pass through.  AITO, our Trade Association, has recognised the work we do in this area and has awarded us 5 stars as a Responsible Tour Operator.

Discover Adventure Projects

We are supporting a tree-planting project in Peru and a children’s home in Tanzania on a long-term basis. If you would like to ‘give something back’ please consider donating £5 to our projects when you sign up.

Carbon Offsetting

We encourage all our customers to offset emissions connected with their trip. You can offset at any time in the lead-up to departure by visiting Climate Care via our website and making a donation to a worthwhile project supported by them. Alternatively, if you wish to take more practical action in the UK you can volunteer for a day with TCV and work on an environmental project local to you. Work may include construction footpaths, dry stone walling, creating wildlife habitats or planting trees in your community. Volunteer today at www.tcv.org or call 01302 388883.

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