Biking Southeast Asia with Mr Pumpy!
Home This is a delightful 4 day, 300 km ride taking in a bit of 'everything' that Vietnam has to offer. You come down from the mountains, ride along the coast and pass through some of southern Vietnam's most interesting towns.

Updated: Dec 2002



Ride 1 Across mysterious Laos & Vietnam!

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

The Ride: This is a delightful 4 day, 300 km ride taking in a bit of 'everything' that Vietnam has to offer. You come down from the mountains, ride along the coast and pass through some of southern Vietnam's most interesting towns.

Crossing into Vietnam from the Lao border, it's a few kilometres up a steep hill to KheSan, then a swift 80km downhill plunge to the coast at DongHa. From DongHa it's a 200km run south down Highway 1 to HoiAn going over the HaiVan Pass just before Danang (see below).

The Road: Paved and generaly in good condition. A few potholes.

Flat all the way except for two notable hills: a steep few kilometres up from LaoBao to KheSan (and then a 40km plunge down the other side!) and a 10 km climb up the HaiVan Pass (see below) north of Danang.

Riding Highway 1 : The dreaded Highway 1 isn't all that bad, at least up around Hue.

Its sealed all the way, and runs pretty much straight down the coast of Vietnam from Hanoi to Saigon, a length of about 1,700 km. The most surprising thing is its width; usually less than 8 metres, no bigger than a Western suburban street.

For the biker, the saving grace is the generous bike shoulders on each side of the road. Vietnam is a bike culture, and these shoulders are used extensively by the locals.

The local buses are well aware of bikes, and will do their best not to wear you on the front of their radiators.


Above: Hai Van Pass, 10 Dec. 2001.
Dutch cyclist Richard de Boer today sliced nearly 25 minutes off Mr Pumpy's long standing Hai Van Pass world record of 58 minutes 32 seconds.

De Boer completed the gruelling 9.3 km uphill stage in 35 minutes 40 seconds, cycling from the railway tracks to the top, fully loaded.

"I'm coming back next year to crack the 30 minute barrier!" said a pumped up De Boer, just before he was carried into the oxygen tent.

Go Rich!


Hai Van Pass animationHai Van (Sea Cloud) Pass: Situated 35 km north of Danang on Hwy 1, the Hai Van Pass rises to a height of 500 m straight out of the South China Sea.

For the rider, the Pass is nowhere near as awesome as the Viets make out. It's only about 10 km to the top, and Mr Pumpy took a leisurely one hour (58:32), most of that just walking the bike, stopping for a rest and taking in the view.

The scenery is beautiful and the Viets driving past will honk their horns, lean out of the cabins and shout: 'You strong!'. There's a couple of drink stops, but make sure you carry an extra bottle of water in case you suddenly overheat.

There's also a couple of waterfalls spilling water out over the cliffs on to the side of the road, and Mr Pumpy stopped, stripped off and had a shower at one point. "This'll add a couple of minutes to my time, Feely!" said Mr Pumpy, "But I don't think anybody's gonna come close to one hour!"

See Hai Van Pass World Record, at left.

At the top there's an old fort (see the animation at right) and a bevy of enterprising Vietnamese ready to pounce, offering everything from drinks to food to sex.

Mr Pumpy was approached by a very attractive lady indeed, but settled for a Coke and bowl of noodles. Wise Mr Pumpy!

You can see the port of Danang off in the distance, some 35 km away.

The freewheeling ride down from the Pass is orgasmic, and will take you about 20 minutes to get to sea level.

Note: The World Record for the Hai Van Pass downhill stage is also held by R. de Boer of the Netherlands in a time of 7 minutes and 3 seconds.from the top down to sea level.

Traffic: Constant, but not too bad.

Highway 1 this far from Saigon is pretty good. Local buses, motorbikes and bicycles.

Other Cyclists: Every morning at 7 and mid-afternoon at 3 the roads fill up with Vietnamese kids on their way to and from school. The kids are friendly and enthusiastic: convoying, zigzagging and cracking jokes! After a long day in the saddle it's fun to have them as company.

As far as Western and Japanese bikers go, they're a lot thinner on the ground than I expected, considering the publicity Vietnam gets these days, and the big bike rallies that have gone through recently.

I saw only one other cyclist going the other way outside of Hue, and he didn't stop - just kept right on riding away!

Most cyclists that are riding Vietnam come down from China and/or Hanoi heading south to Saigon (see 'Wind' below).

Pumps Up!
Plunging out of KheSan: The road east out of KheSan plunges down the hill for 40km onto the plains past jungle, waterfalls and those bumpy 'Chinese' mountains - this is close to bicycle nirvana!

The Wind: Apparently there is a prevailing northerly wind blowing from Hanoi to Saigon, so the most popular riding direction is southwards (with the wind).

However, I've ridden in Vietnam twice now (once in February and once in April - May) and not found the wind to be any factor at all, so it must depend on the time of year, or maybe it's just another myth.

General: After leaving ambient Laos, Vietnam is a bit of a culture shock. The people are very switched on, very sharp and very different.

It is, however, a fascinating country and you just need to keep your wits about you, avoid the rip-offs, stay on the bike and everything will go smoothly.

(Q: 'Hey mista, how long you been in Vietnam?'
A: 'Many months!' = I'm hip to all the rip-offs, so back off!).

The best part of Vietnam is the small towns. Stopping for lunch in these places, where no other tourists go, is where you'll find a Vietnamese hospitality and sense of fun that is the equal of anywhere I've traveled in Southeast Asia.

Also, despite their tourist Mecca status, both Hue and HoiAn are pleasant places to spend a few days.

Places to stay: A plethora of hotels in all the major towns. Easy cycling from one main centre to the next.

Food & transport: Vietnamese food is terrific and is available every few kilometres along the road. Lots of local buses if you need to hop one.