Biking Southeast Asia with Mr Pumpy!

Updated 20 May 99


Photos: all under 25kb

Ride 1 Across mysterious Laos and Vietnam!

Leg 1: Vientiane to Savanakhet
Leg 2: Savanakhet to the Vietnam Border
Leg 3: LaoBao to HoiAn

The Ride: A moderately easy, 1,000 km, two week ride (not including rest days). Great country, friendly locals, cheap and a lot of fun.

The Road: Pretty good, all things considered.
Leg 1 through Laos is along a first class Japanese made sealed road.
Leg 2 across to the Vietnam border is about 50% good paved road and 50% dirt road of varying quality.
Leg 3 down through Vietnam is sealed the whole way and very good for riding.

Traffic: Laos is a cyclists dream! The traffic is almost nonexistent and the local bus drivers are polite. Vietnam is another story, and can be busy and insane.

The Bike: You need a touring bike, hybrid or mountain bike to ride Leg 2 through Laos, which gets rough the closer you get to the Vietnam border. A racer would suit fine on Legs 1 and 3.

General: Laos was closed to tourists from 1975 and is something of an alternative Mecca these days.

However, it remains one of the most polite, friendly and trustworthy places in Southeast Asia. It's also pretty cheap. You can get by on about 10 dollars a day.

Vietnam is a little more complex and a little more expensive. As regards Western tourists, the Viets are on the ball, sometimes annoyingly so. Most hotels will set you back US$10 and expect to spend about US$20/day (1USD =15,000 DONG).

Pumps Up!
Laos - it doesn't get much better than this. Mr Pumpy enjoyed himself enormously.

Other Cyclists: Lots of locals, especially in Vietnam, but surprisingly few Westerners or Japanese.

I ran into a group of three (two Swedes - Petter & Ida, and a Dutchman - Marcel) near Phalan in Laos who'd come through from Hanoi and China. I passed a cyclist in Hue, Vietnam, but he didn't stop. Apparently I missed a Belgian couple somewhere near KheSan; Mr Pumpy had a hard night and slept in that morning!

Language: Lao is the same as Eastern (Issan) Thai, a dialect of Central (Bangkok) Thai - the main difference being a bunch of ending changes.

The numbers are exactly the same as the Thai, but the Thai greeting: 'sa-wat dee!', for example, becomes 'sa-bai dee!' in Lao. Thai TV is beamed in everyday now so most Lao people speak Thai.

The Vietnamese language is completely distinct from Lao and demands a whole new mouth arrangement. As always, a few sentences go a long way. You can get by adequately enough in both countries with English and/or French.

Places to stay: Plenty of hotels and Guest Houses along the way.

Food, drink & transport: Heaps of food, drink and local transport throughout the whole trip. No need to take any supplies.

The Locals: Millions of friendly locals! Outside of the main towns, Laos is the sort of place one still draws a polite and inquisitive crowd. Within the towns, the locals will usually leave you alone out of respect for your personal space. Lao people are very cool.

The Vietnamese are more upfront, switched on and often out to make a buck. For my money, the Viets have "canned" the whole tourist experience, and this makes cycling in Vietnam even more imperative, rather than the usual backpacking experience.

You will notice the difference immediately you cross into Vietnam from Lao Bao. Woo! A whole new world!

On the plus side, the Vietnamese are not afraid of Westerners and will happily "relate"; as opposed to "not relate". In Vietnam you can always find someone to have a conversation with.

There's a saying in Southeast Asia that describes the different cultures: The Cambodians plant the rice, the Laotians harvest it, and the Vietnamese sell it.

I'm not sure what the Thais do, but they probably broadcast it on TV, and make more money than anyone.