How to Prepare for Long-Distance Cycling in South-East Asia

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Recently we’ve been asked, in an email from Frederik, how we prepared for our cycling journey through Vietnam. It actually surprised me that I have not written about it before, even though I have spent with Agness two months on a bike, making it through approximately 2500 km of roads in various conditions. This journey was certainly worth the effort, I’d like to get back to long-distance cycling as soon as I can, while I’d strongly support anyone who’s up for this challenge.

Naning border two people are standing with bikes
This is the place where the whole cycling adventure started…

Frederik from Belgium is planning a year-long trip to South-East Asia (and maybe even longer!). He asked us several questions and I think some people may  benefit from the answers he received, so I compiled them in here.

Did you bring them from Poland?

We decided to cycle while already being on the road – in China. Therefore, we have bought bikes there.

A bike on the grass
Agness’s bike

Although most of us in Europe think that there will be nowhere to buy essentials in Asia – such as bikes, helmets, etc. – we are wrong. There’s pretty much everything you need readily-available stone-throw away from wherever you are, especially in SE Asia, which is often frequented by foreign travelers on bicycles.

My recommendation would be not to worry too much about the equipment. As much as it has to be easy to ride, it will never be 100% reliable and there’s no certainty that someone will not steal it, so make sure your bike is comfortable, but it’s not too expensive. I recommend having light helmet and cycling glasses (with interchangeable lenses for the day and the night). You can use a backpack you would normally have, all you do is simply strap it behind your seat. No need for specialized bicycle sacks. They are not too useful if you want to go trekking or exploring for few days without your bike.

A boy on a bike in Vietnam
On our way to Hanoi

How was it to ride your bike in South-East Asia?

Cycling will be very helpful to find cheaper accommodation, because you can easily and quickly find another place to stay. Most of the places will have hostels /guest houses scattered pretty much everywhere. Plus, people will often invite you to stay overnight with them and their families.

Three people are cooking on the road with bike in Vietnam
Cooking scrambled eggs with a little help of locals

Was it very tiring?

If you had to cycle all the way without stopping, it would be very tiring. However, you will set your pace and your breaks, plus every night you will restore your energy. Remember to eat and drink a lot (water!). You are your own boss and if you need a break for a week, take it. Also, as you go along you will build more strength and will be able to do more miles without extra effort.

Vietnamese scenery mountains
Passing by mountains and hills

Did you store them somewhere?

When it comes to storing the bike, you should take it with you everywhere and leave it in hostels / guest houses when you want to go walking without it. While you have to be careful, it’s not as bad as you may think. Most people in SE Asia are very good and honest, especially off the beaten tracks.

Tell me everything, the proc & cons, if you can :)

From my point of view, cycling is the best way to really experience a country. It has it’s pros as well as cons, of course, but I’m sure you will love the experience and will have plenty stories to tell. I think the biggest disadvantage of cycling is that when you start, you can’t stop. You will always want to go back to long-distance cycling. It’s very addictive!

Traffic jam in Hanoi a girl on a bike
Finally in Hanoi!

How much did you pay for your bike in China? New or second-hand?

We have bought two new (good quality and light) bikes for around $400 each, but as it turned out later, it was a mistake. We should have bought cheap (up to $50) ones. If you have a cheap second hand bikes, it will still get you where you want to go, while you don’t have to fret about locking it outside overnight. Whatever happens, you will probably be able to sell it for the price you bought it for and it wouldn’t be the end of your journey should someone steal it. In SE Asia bikes are a common way of transport, so buying one will not be a problem.

Hanoi road

When you started, were you an amateur? Is it feasible as an amateur? Of course I’m used to riding my bike in the city, but not for several hours a day.

We had no biking experience whatsoever. You’d thought it will be hard to get used to, but honestly it won’t be. It’s not like you’re running a marathon. You can stop whenever you feel tired and go as far as you, and only you, want. If you want to go over your limit, you will, if you don’t, you won’t. You need no experience, you’ll get it quickly.

 

How many kilometers did you a day, approximately?

We did between 40 and 160 km a day, depending on how many hours we rode, how did we feel and the most importantly, how much the sun allowed us to. In Vietnam, it’s not the lack of sun, but scorching sun, that stops you. On average we did around 80 km a day.

A boy is cycling and there is a beautiful sunrise behind him
Sometimes the weather surprised us in a nice way

Do you need to have a good understanding of bicycle repairing?

We have no clue about repairing bikes. Well, I can screw a screw, but that’s just about it. What you’ll find is that local bikes break very often, so there’s always someone around who can cheaply do it for you (cheaply means well under $1 for a puncture).

Could you easily take your bike on buses, trains, etc? For example when there was a part that you couldn’t/didn’t want to ride?

Yes, in China we didn’t have to pay more, but in SE Asia it’s a good reason for them to double the price. The annoyance is that you pay more. Nevertheless, there are routes where you will struggle to get on with your bike. I’d recommend hitch-hiking with your bike then. You’ll be amused how many things can fit into a small pick-up/car/motorbike.

Vietnamese road
Stunning scenery

Was it ever dangerous on the road?

In terms of traffic, well, all the road users will leave a 3cm safety gap between you and their vehicles… scary at times. I think it’s rather safe, because they are used to many other people on the road, however there was an incident some time ago when 2 bloggers were killed cycling in Thailand. We never had any accident, but I’m very careful, while Agness does exactly the same thing as I’m doing when we ride (she has no clue about road traffic, whatsoever).
I had two situations were people wanted to rob me, but I also had a pepper gas, therefore I never lost anything.

 

Good luck !

To Frederik and everyone else who is up for a challenge.  Cycling through any country will enrich you with many experiences others only dream of, and at the same time, it’s really healthy :)

Do you have any questions or would like to add to the topic? Please comment.

 
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Cez Krol
Cez Krol
I’m always positive and never bored – there’s just so much more to see and experience! I began my journey around the world in 2011 with just $400 and one-way ticket to Asia. Still going and blogging today. You can typically spot me working on a laptop or rock climbing.
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42 thoughts on “How to Prepare for Long-Distance Cycling in South-East Asia”

  1. Thanks for the article as it’s straight to the point and easy enough to understand. Particularly noting the points about not making expensive purchases since repairs are readily available all over etc. Good advice for the rest of us!

  2. Hi everyone. Great website!! Amazing what you did and thanks for the brilliant photos, and candid anecdotes from your memoirs.

    I did a month on a bike from Copenhagen to Berlin in Sept October. Was grueling, but rewarding and never mind I looked like a Greek God after; lol, so toned and in such great shape. Was wonderful not performing in the sin of all sins, gluttony on a daily basis a few times a day and rationing what I had. I did this trek on 1-2.5 Euro a day. Shopped at places like Nette 2000 throughout Denmark (like a Job Lot in the US, just with quality food)…bought half priced day old breads and jams, and left coins on roadside stands along the really rural routes along the Baltic and the farm areas into Faxe and down into Gedser and eventually the ferry to Germany (Rostock). I was not prepared, not prepared physically, not geared properly. I eventually got to Berlin. Then biked from Munich to Salzburg, then Salzburg almost to Vienna, but it was getting cold and I was running out of money, and the very last thing I wanted to do was stay in a hostel or a big city. Nothing like a city to ruin the trip. Love Copenhagen and Salzburg and Munich, but it rips away at your soul, after a day or two in the cities, and you eagerly want to depart ASAP, as I am sure many would agree.

    I am prepping mentally and physically for a trek of all treks. It was up in the air, but now I am doing it, but with a good deal of cash, but only spending it on teas and coffee’s and some pubs to meet the locals. I bought a very expensive tent, one person, green to blend in, and I am leaving June 1 for London, seeing some football matches, and then flying to Ibiza, and on June 14th, Biking, ferrying and hiking from there to Madrid, Barcelona, to Amsterdam for a dance festival, and then throughout all of Italy and Greece, eventually, if I make it unscathed, to Rio for the Olympics in middle August. I would love to share my experiences with you, and should have my own little site up within the week. You’ve been an inspiration to make it a longer journey this year, and I am going to stock up on pepper spray once in Brazil… :) just in case, Rio isn’t Southern Denmark, pepper spray and then some I was highly advised upon :) Thanks for doing what you do!

  3. hey! This is really helpful! I’m hoping to ride in SE asia but still trying to gather info on everything. The last bike trip i was on we would sometimes ride for hours into the night because we couldn’t find a place to stay or even a camp ground. did that ever happen here? Also it would be really helpful if you posted a map of your start/stop and the route you went. Thanks again!

  4. So you didn’t camp out at all? Would you say that because camping is not possible (e.g. because of lack of suitable sites) or because it’s not necessary (e.g. other inexpensive accommodations)? What about hammock camping?

    1. Hey John, it’s actually both. Cheap accommodation is everywhere, and finding a spot to put up a tent not that easy. Hammock would be possible to set up, but mosquitoes would eat you alive (and malaria would take care of your remains).

  5. I would like to knowabout the visas in each country and how did u arrange it. I’m planning to go from Australia to Europe with the bike. And the other thing is how much budget was required for it.

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