Vietnam Mountain Bike Tours
The Bangkok to Saigon Cycle Challenge is an exceptional 18 day, 1,200km mountain bike journey through three of South East Asia's most exotic countries, Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam. The ride includes a 2-day stop at the majestic Angkor Wat -- the world's largest temple complex and a World Heritage site -- plus a day in the riverine capital, Phnom Penh, with its faded French colonial grandure.
As paticipant David Mantrop put it, the Bangkok to Saigon cycle challenge is "the toughest vacation you'll ever love!".
Over the 18 days cyclists travel through 3 contrasting countries -- Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam -- and visit 3 major cities (including 2 capitals). Stand in awe of Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious edifice; sail across Southeast Asia's largest lake, the Tonle Sap; and experience the wonderful watery world of the Mekong Delta.
In addition to experiencing the highlights of the Southeast Asia trail, you will also be raising funds for less privileged children.
This fully supported cycle ride introduces you to the life and lives far away from the tourist track, where your senses will be bombarded with the sights, sounds, and smells of the Orient -- with each border crossing you will discover a new and very different country.
**2010 was the 10th and final year of running the Bangkok to Saigon Cycle Challenge as an annual charity fundraiser event. However it remains an exceptional adventure and we would be pleased to arrange it on a tailor-made basis for you and your group (or use it as a basis for something similar). Costs will need to be reassessed at the time of enquiring.
Day 1: Bangkok ~ Ram Phueng Beach (cycling distance: 25km)
Terrain/Surface: mostly flat tarmac
Time: 1-2 hours
We have an early morning meet up at Bangkok International Airport (timed to coincide with various flight arrivals). Once everyone has arrived we set off by bus to Mae Ram Phueng beach. On arrival at the beautifully situated Tamarind Resort we check into our air-conditioned rooms and have some free time to relax, have lunch, and maybe even take a dip in the Gulf of Thailand or in the resort's pool. The afternoon will be spent preparing our bikes and going on a gentle warm up cycle ride through the surrounding countryside and nearby villages and plantations. This allows you to get to know your fellow "Challengers" as well as ensuring your bike is working fine. Back at the resort the guide will brief the group during a traditional Thai dinner. Overnight Tamarind Resort.
Day 2: Ram Phueng Beach ~ Chaolao Beach (112km)
Terrain/Surface: mostly tarmac with some gentle climbs towards the end of the day
Time: 6-9 hours
Another early start today as we have a lot of territory to cover! We hug the south east coast as we pass from beach to beach on small local roads that are very quiet to traffic. An interesting ride that lets you see the local Thai way of life, as we pass through local fishing villages, sea food markets and of course plenty of temples to stop at for a welcome rest and refreshments. The mangrove swamps and fruit plantations add a diversity to the scenery on this very picturesque of rides. The ride also features two short ferry rides that help us save some distance by taking us directly across the estuary. We finish the ride at the quiet beach of Chaolao at the wonderful Seashell Village. Overnight Seashell Village
Day 3: Chaolao Beach ~ Pong Nam Ron (110km)
Terrain/Surface: 95% undulating tarmac with some long steady climbs, 5% flatish dirt tracks
Time: 3-4 hours
Today we head inland and a change in scenery as we swap coastline for forests. Again this ride is on small paved roads that have little traffic and are a joy to ride on. We are now in Chantaburi province which is well known for its fruit and we will see plenty as we pass by plantations, forests and lots of small local villages. The last 12 km of the ride is on a busier road that has some small climbs. The hotel has a pool and is set next to a golf course and has great views, and is a great place to have a well earned beer. Overnight Soi Dao Highland resort
Day 4: Pong Nam Ron ~ Border Crossing ~ Pailin (100km)
Terrain/Surface: Tarmac to the Cambodia border and dirt road from there.
Time: 4 hours
We leave Thailand behind today as we head to the border and into Cambodia. We retrace our steps a little from yesterday approx 12 km before we turn off and head for Cambodia. The Cardamom mountains are now in view and make this a very scenic ride. At approx 42 km we will reach the quiet border crossing. After immigration formalities we ride the short way to the small town of Pailin, home to the semi-precious stone industry of Cambodia and formerly a Khmer Rouge stronghold. Overnight at the Bamboo Lodge Hotel.
Day 5: Pailin ~ Battambang (80km)
Terrain/Surface: 95% dirt road and latterite. Time: 6 hours.
Set off along latterite and dirt roads that may disintegrate to sand in a few places. As we leave Pailin you will not be able to fail to notice the dramatic contrast between poor Cambodia and its richer neighbour Thailand, the streets turn to dirt and the houses to huts. Another big difference is the overt friendliness of the Cambodians - children appear from everywhere waving and shouting Hello!, sometimes you cannot even see them, just hear their greetings from afar. We cross a few rather temporary looking bridges and pass through various small, shady villages which make for very pleasant stops where you really get to interact with the local villagers.
Battambang is Cambodia's second largest city although it feels like a village with its fading French colonial architecture. Check into the Golden Palace Hotel and enjoy the remainder of the day exploring the quaint relic of a foregone era. Overnight at Golden Palace Hotel. [B/D]
Day 6: Battambang ~ Siem Reap (20km)
Terrain/Surface: 100% flat tarmac. Time: 7 hours
After and early breakfast, make a quick cycle tour of Battambang before proceeding to the boat jetty ready to board the public boat to Siem reap, home to Angkor Wat. The boat trip takes around 6 hours, starting very scenically down river past villages and floating settlements and then emerging onto the vast Tonle Sap Lake, South East Asiaï¿½s largest lake. On arrival at the jetty on the other side, we offload the bikes and cycle the 12 km into Siem Reap town, riding along the Siem Reap River and to the charming Hanumanalaya Boutique guest house on the north side of town. Overnight at Hanumanalaya Boutique Hotel. [B/D]
Day 7: Siem Reap: Angkor Wat Temple Complex (40km*)
Terrain/Surface: flat tarmac
Time: full day
[Today and tomorrow can be swapped depending on the wishes of the group] Today you can choose whether you wish to cycle around the temple complex with the group (approx. 40km) or travel between temples by bus, whichever you choose a guide will accompany both the cyclists and those on the bus and we will meet up at each temple stop. Alternatively, after receiving your entrance pass you may wish to head off and explore by yourself. After breakfast our guide will accompany us to the entrance of the Angkor Wat Conservation Area and help arrange our entrance passes (included in the Challenge price, one passport photo required), and supply each of us with a map of the complex. Today focuses on the main Angkor temple complex and we will visit Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, the Bayon, and Ta Prohm amongst others, as well as being mesmerising whilst watching the sunset behind the West Baray (ancient reservoir) from the slopes of Phnom Bakheng. Dinner is in a local Khmer restaurant. Overnight at Hanumanalya Boutique Hotel. [B]
Day 8: Siem Reap: Angkor Wat Temple Complex (75km*)
Terrain/Surface: 30% flat tarmac, 70% flat dirt tracks, in places very sandy and narrow
Time: full day
[Today and yesterday can be swapped depending on the wishes of the group] Today we get up early and drive to Angkor Wat to experience the inspiring sight of the sun rising from behind its 5 towers. We return to the hotel for breakfast and then head off to visit Banteay Srei, a beautiful pink sandstone temple covered in exquisite carvings, and Banteay Samre, a Hindu temple with Buddhist influences (as well as some smaller lesser known temples). Both of these temples are away from the main complex (Banteay Srei being 29km from Siem Reap), so again you have a choice, you can either travel with a guide in the bus, or you can cycle with a guide (it must be noted that this ride may not have a support vehicle). Added highlights of cycling are: i) going to the rarely visited Phnom Bo and climbing the 629 steps to the top of the mountain where you will find monastic buildings, the remains of a temple, two old rusting Khmer Rouge gun emplacements, and fantastic views across the Cambodian countryside, ii) cycling along narrow country paths (that can be quite sandy in places), iii) visiting tiny villages that despite being so close to such a major tourism attraction are very rarely visited by foreigners - a real insight into rural Cambodia, and iv) the opportunity to visit a Krousar Thmey school, one of the Challenge's supported charities, where we can gain first hand experience of the great work that is being achieved. Back in Siem Reap dinner is in a local Khmer restaurant. Overnight at Hanumanalya Boutique Hotel. [B]
Day 9: Siem Reap ~ Tonle Sap ~ Kompong Chhnang (15 or ??*km)
Terrain/Surface:90% flat tarmac, 10% dirt tracks
Time: 30 minutes cycling and 4 hours on speed boat
A very early start as we need to cycle the 15km from Siem Reap to the Tonle Sap lake to catch the boat which departs at 7am. During the short ride we will witness Siem Reap waking up, see Phnom Krom appear from out of the twilight, and ride along a raised causeway lined with wooden houses on stilts, with flooded farmlands stretching away in each direction. Once on the boat we can eat our packed breakfast and enjoy the, at times, breathtaking 3-4 hour journey across Asia's largest inland lake to Kampong Chhnang. We arrive in the charming town of Kampong Chhnang mid to late morning and check into the Samrong Sen Hotel, a couple of hundred metres from the riverfront.
In the afternoon you have the choice of relaxing in Kampong Chhnang, browsing the market and many causeway stalls, and enjoying a leisurely drink on the riverside taking in the delightful views of the Tonle Sap river with its numerous small fishing boats bobbing about, and the tree clad mountains beyond, or going for a short cycle ride. The name Kampong Chhnang comes from the local claypots (chhnang) made in the surrounding villages, and for which the area is renowned, and Kompong means 'port', due to its riverside location. The ride will take us through a few of the villages where they make the clay pots, visit Wat Sahn-dtoot, a hill top temple from where you get great views of the river and surrounding mountains, and pass the 'secret' runway constructed during the Pol Pot era to fly in supplies from China, it is believed that many of those who built the runway where murdered so as to keep the secret. Dinner is in a local Khmer restaurant. Overnight at Samrong Sen Hotel. [B/D]
Day 10: Kompong Chhnang ~ Oudong ~ Phnom Penh (110km)
Terrain/Surface: 75% flat tarmac, 25% flatish dirt tracks
Time: 6-9 hours
Today's route follows Highway 5 for the first 55km, passing through numerous small villages and the occasional small town. As we reach the small town of Oudong we leave Highway 5 and cycle the 3km to Phnom Prah Reach Trap (commonly referred to as Oudong Mountain), once the capital of Cambodia. Here we leave our bikes and climb the 400+ steps, passing large stupas that house the remains of various kings, on route to the top where we can rest and take in the expansive, panoramic views. We will stop for lunch at one of the many outdoor restaurants at the base of the mountain. After lunch we take delightful back roads to Phnom Penh - this is quintessential Cambodia, small villages with wooden houses on stilts, red dirt track roads, flat vivid green paddy fields punctuated with isolated and small groups of tall sugar palm trees, young boys herding cows, ox and horse drawn carts, chickens and ducks running about, occasional causeways crossing the floodwaters, and of course the extremely friendly locals of all ages. All too soon this merges into semi-urban and urban Cambodia as we enter the second capital city of the Challenge Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is a city which succeeds in being lively in spite of its fading, crumbling character. It is true to say that Phnom Penh's fortunes have been extremely varied over the past century but once again it is a lively city on the up. Our 2 night stay in this charismatic city will be at the Star Royal Hotel overlooking the dynamic river front. Overnight at Star Royal Hotel. [B/D]
Day 11: Exploring Phnom Penh (0km!)
Time: full day
A day off from cycling and a chance to let the buttocks recover! Phnom Penh used to be considered the most romantic and beautiful of the French Indochinese capitals, however that was before the Khmer Rouge emptied it as part of their Year Zero agrarian society policy and it lay deserted for almost 5 years. Yet it is still a charming city with some fabulous French colonial buildings and a bustling atmosphere. However, like most South East Asian capitals, the roads are jammed with traffic all jostling for supremacy, so it's worth just wandering on foot. Today we will be taken on a tour of the city seeing the main attractions such as; the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, and the infamous Toul Sleng Museum, a former secondary school used by the Khmer Rouge to torture and kill thousands of their victims. We will also be given the opportunity to have lunch at Friends, a restaurant owned and managed by another of the Challenges' supported charities Mith Samlanh, all of the staff are ex-street kids or orphans that are being trained so that they may find full time, meaningful jobs. We will also be able to visit the school, workshops, and shop next door to experience the great work that is being achieved. Dinner at a local Khmer restaurant. Overnight at Star Royal Hotel. [B/D]
Day 12: Phnom Penh ~ Border Crossing ~ Chau Doc (145km)
Terrain/Surface: 67% flat tarmac, 33% flatish dirt tracks
Time: 8 - 12 hours
A very long, tiring day so an early start needed. The first 60km is along Highway 1, the main road to Vietnam, which by modern standards, is no better than a rather pot-holed secondary road 'although some stretches are presently under reconstruction. On reaching the Mekong River ferry crossing at Neak Leung (the town was accidentally bombed by the US Army in 1975) we turn down the western bank of the Mighty Mekong, one of world's longest and most important rivers and follow dirt roads through farmland and riverbank villages. In many places the bridges are broken or are not wide/strong enough to carry a 4 wheeled vehicle, so our luggage and support will be transferred to motorcycles. After a further 46km we finally reach a small village where the Cambodian immigration office is located and where we 'check out' of Cambodia. 1km further on we pass though the border point to the Vietnamese side at Vinh Xuong. The remaining 34km is on surfaced roads through scenic villages and countryside, including two ferry crossings. If we should arrive late and the ferries have stopped operating we will load ourselves and our bikes onto the support vehicles and be driven to Chau Doc where we will check into the comfortable Nui Sam Hotel for a well earned night's rest.
Chau Doc is a fascinating border town on the banks of the Hau River (the southern-most tributary of the Mekong Delta) and a centre of fish production as well as being a busy smuggling centre. Many of the people live in floating houses on the river and cultivate fish in nets suspended beneath their homes. It is also a centre for Cham ethnic minority people. Dinner at a local Vietnamese restaurant. Overnight at Victoria Chau Doc. [B/D]
Day 13: Chau Doc ~ Cao Lanh (85km)
Terrain/Surface: 20% flat tarmac, 80% flatish stone and dirt tracks
Time: 5 - 7 hours
Immediately on departing Chau Doc we take a ferry back across the Hau River and then cycle along dirt roads and paths from island to island between the main branches of the Mekong Delta. There are several small boat crossings to make which really give us a feel for the watery world of the Mekong, and much of the trail is on paths only wide enough for 2-wheeled vehicles. We will pass through varied farmland and orchards, pass numerous fish ponds and encounter many small rural villages. The people in this area are extremely friendly with children calling out to you from everywhere as you pass. For a short stretch we will join the main Route 1 highway before returning to the fun narrow trails for the ride into Cao Lanh. An excellent day! Dinner at a local Vietnamese restaurant. Overnight at Song Tra Hotel. [B/D]
Day 14: Cao Lanh ~ My Tho (120km)
Terrain/Surface: 30% flat tarmac, 70% flatish stone/concrete and dirt tracks
Time: 7 - 9 hours
Another challenging day so an early start needed. Again we cycle along a mix of country trails and paths, and minor tarmac surfaced roads through farms and villages. Some paths are actually concrete surfaced but only a metre wide so the riding is easy and very scenic. We have several ferry crossings again today, we cross numerous small bridges over canals, and have plenty of interaction with the local people. As the route we take is often narrow the main support vehicle is not always able to follow us, however motorcycles will be used to carry the refreshments, essential spares and first aid kit. After Cai Be we cycle along the river on a wider stone road into My Tho, the first significant sized town of the Mekong Delta one comes to after leaving Saigon. Dinner at a local Vietnamese restaurant. Overnight at Chuong Duong Hotel. [B/D]
Day 15: My Tho ~ Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City) (80km)
Terrain/Surface: 75% flat tarmac, 25% flatish dirt tracks>
Time: 4 - 6 hours
We start our final day's cycling departing My Tho on dusty hard packed mud roads but soon join a minor tarmac surfaced road cycling through lush green rice paddies stretching away in each direction. At Tan Vu we hit the dirt again for around 18km with one large river crossing by small ferry boat. 10km before our finish point we rejoin tarmac for the run in to Can Giuoc, our final stop. CONGRATULATIONS! you have successfully completed the 2006 Bangkok to Saigon Cycle Challenge and cycled over 1,000km in aid of some of south east Asia's most needy children. After a celebratory drink (perhaps sampling the local bia tuoi 'fresh' beer), a local lunch, and a well deserved pat on the back, we board the vehicles for the extremely busy 20km run into the third and final capital city of the Challenge - Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City as it is officially known. We check into our city centre hotel after which the remainder of the afternoon is free to revel in your achievement and explore this vibrant metropolis, Vietnam's largest city. We will meet up in the evening to enjoy our farewell/celebratory dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight at the Vien Dong Hotel, next to the bustling Pham Ngu Lao area of District 1. [B/D]
Day 16: Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City)
Today is free until you have to travel to the airport for your homeward flight or onward journey. Sights to see include the former Presidential Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Old Saigon Post Office, the War Remnants Museum, the History Museum, the Jade Pagoda, Ben Thanh Market, Chinatown, Thien Hau Pagoda and Binh Tay Market.
For those that have extra time to spend in Vietnam at the end, Symbiosis would be pleased to arrange additional nights of accommodation in Saigon, or perhaps a visit to one of the nearest and nicest beach areas for a few days of R&R reward.
The Mui Ne Peninsular is located about 3 hours drive to the east of Ho Chi Minh City where there are many nice beach resorts (such as the Coco Beach resort), excellent white sand beaches and evocative sand dunes.
Alternatively the island of Phu Quoc, located offshore from Cambodia's Kampot Province, is a short flight away. Very unspoiled with some stunning beaches and a choice of a few very charming resorts - the Mango Bay is one of our favourites.
In both cases, early booking is strongly recommended as the resorts do get filled up quickly.
If diving into some rainforest for a bit of wildlife spotting is more your thing, the Nam Cat Tien National Park is a couple of hours north into the hills towards the cool hill station of Dalat. Only recently opened, the Forest Floor Lodge gets you as close to nature as you can get - comfortably! And you could combine it with a visit to Dalat.
NotesAdditional costs: Single room supplement if you wish to have a room by yourself; Bike hire if you are not bringing your own.
About the charities we support
is a multi faceted grassroots project based in the Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand. The Charity was established in 1998. RUDP's goal is to provide a desperately needed medical and social support system to the population of very poor, sick and underprivileged people living in Chiang Mai's villages, and urban slum communities, focussing primarily on the diverse array of medical and social needs demonstrated by the people infected with or effected by HIV/AIDS. RUDP is presently caring for around 500 individuals who are suffering with AIDS related conditions. RUDP also cares for 500 children orphaned as a result of AIDS.
Donating to Rejoice
Rejoice is a UK registered charity.
To make your donations to Rejoice, please visit this page: http://www.rejoicecharity.com/donateinfo
Krousar Thmey(New Family) was the first Cambodian Foundation assisting deprived children, and helps provide deprived Cambodian children with material, educational and social support. Krousar Thmey's purpose is to help children develop and blossom into responsible adults. Since 1991, Krousar Thmey has been committed to three areas of activity all over Cambodia: i) education and schooling support; ii) child welfare; iii) cultural and artistic development. All projects are run by Cambodians for Cambodians: 220 locals take charge of around 1,000 children and support some 3,000 others. European volunteers provide communication assistance and financial oversight.
Mith Samlanh(Friends) was established in 1994 as a support system for some of the estimated 10,000 street children in Phnom Penh. It currently has a staff 123 (of which 120 are Cambodian) including social workers, teachers, skill trainers and doctors. Programmes run by Mith Samlanh include workshops and health care services, including an IV/AIDS Awareness Programme which aims to support children affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as educating people n protecting themselves from it. Mith Samlanh's objectives are: i) meeting the street children's immediate essential eeds; ii) reintegrating the children into their families, into society, into the public school system, into their culture; iii) building the capacity of the staff so that the Cambodian nationals are able to run the program independent of foreign intervention in the near future.
Mith Samlanh is a Registered Charity in the USD and in Australia, but not yet in the UK.
Donating to Mith Samlanh
Participants in the Bangkok to Saigon Cycle Challenge can support Mith Samlanh via the cahrity's online donations system using the website’s paypal system, or can send a bank transfer.
Friends-International is recognised as a 501(c)3 tax-deductible organisation.
If you would like to make a donation to Friends-International, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and they will provide you with all necessary details.
Alternatively donations may be made by cheque payable to Friends-International and sent to:
c/o Joel Turgesen
107 East main
Medford, OR 97501
Tax deductible donations can be made through Global Development Group www.globaldevelopment.org.au
Global Development Group supports approved aid and development project J250 Friends International and provides tax deductibility for project donations from Australia and the USA.
Please see the Mith Samlanh website for further details on how you can support them from Germany, Switzerland and France.
The Saigon Children's Charity was founded in 1992 and is a small NGO staffed by professionally qualified volunteers, based in Saigon. Its aim (and its achievement) has been to build small community schools in poor urban districts and remote rural areas. SCC strongly believes education is the best way out of poverty, and has set up libraries, vocational training programmes, and language courses. A scholarship programme is in place for those thought to be in the greatest need, and sponsors of these children are encouraged to commit to supporting a whole school career. 80% of its expenditure goes directly to the projects.
Donating to the Saigon Children's Charity
To donate to The Saigon Children's Charity you can log on to their website donation page here. Alternatively you can find them on www.JustGiving.com. You can set up an event page for the Bangkok to Saigon Children's Charity where your sponsors can visit and pledge donations.
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