In a world increasingly preoccupied with throwaway materialistic things; where people are constantly busy earning money to pay for those things, or so their children can have those things;
This is the story of my dreams of travelling the world by bicycle. Because it's there. And because I dont want to die without experiencing the truly important things in life .

A sense of wonder and a sense of adventure.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Home From Vietnam

Finally we are home again.

 And for me the trip from Saigon was not without some additional stress. I packed my bike and we checked out from the hotel without problem. The hotel arranged a taxi to the airport and Adi was able to carry my bags as she was of course without cycle. So that part was easier than usual. Poor old Adi it was difficult for her to leave town without her cycle and gear.

We had given ourselves plenty of time at the airport so for the first time ever, and for additional security, I decided to get my bike (enclosed in its bike bag), plastic wrapped. I then checked everything in and was advised by the airline staff to leave my bike over in the corner to be picked up by the oversize parcel staff.

That’s when I felt the need to advise them that there was no way I was going to leave my bike in a corner of the terminal since earlier in the year I had done just that in Rio, and British Airways had then conveniently forgotten to place it on the plane I was on to Morocco.

Chief ruling Air Malaysian check-in man said “That sort of thing doesn’t happen in Saigon and never on Malaysian Airlines”

I asked for that in writing and of course got the, no we ask you to sign, relieving us of certain obligations but I can’t imagine us signing anything. At this point two men in blue overalls with Malaysian Airlines logo turned up and threw my Mercian on a trolley stacked with other luggage so I assumed all was well. I did however ask the Chief Check-in man whether he recognised those men. You can’t be too careful when your bikes concerned. Something that we should have been more concerned about two days ago when Adi’s bike was nicked.
Airport Fun and Games.

It was a two hour flight to Kuala Lumpar and then because the airport hotel was full another ten hours trying to sleep on a bench in the transfer lounge. I watched three movies on the ten hour flight from KL to Auckland when I probably should have been sleeping. Due to an overkill of Jason Strathan movies and not a lot of shut eye, I arrived in Auckland at 11.30pm  in not the best of spirits.

“I’m sorry sir, all the oversized items have been unloaded are you sure you had a bike on this flight?”


If I didn’t know better I would have thought that they lost my bike on purpose. But I do know better, and realise that they would have to be organised to do that, so it just had to be chance.

Another sleepless night in Auckland wondering what the chances are of ever seeing my Mercian again. And no real sympathy from Adi as she was in the same boat already. I should have been celebrating our return to Aotearoa . Instead I was trying to get my head around how two cyclists can leave the country for a month’s holiday and then have to return with nothing except their hand luggage!

Breakfast was nice. Toast and marmalade. Adi got real muesli for the first time since we left home.

No-one needed to help us with our bags when we boarded the taxi to the Auckland domestic airport. Since by this stage we had been reduced to one bag each.

Thirty minutes prior to boarding our flight to Nelson the baggage service guys rang me to say they’d found the Mercian and he had cleared customs and would be on my flight to Nelson.


And just to finish the whole episode off, Adi and I almost missed the flight to Nelson! I don’t know how that happened. Forty passengers and my bike patiently waited ten minutes for us to realise that that was our plane with chocks away and pointing skywards at gate 1.

A quick word to the loaders as they closed the rear loading hatch to confirm that there was a bike on board and I could finally relax.

Air New Zealand coffee never tasted so good. And two boiled sweets offered, let’s make it four I could do with the sugar.
Adi's Step Dad Jim Painted Her a Great B'day Card.

Home again. With the Vietnam chapter at an end I can now concentrate on getting another part-time bike shop job and getting back into long distance cycling.

Paris –Brest –Paris  2014 beckons.

And of course I have to rebuild Adi another Zaskar Urban Machine (ZUM). I’ve got the frame I just need to rummage around in the workshop and find a few bits.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Back Home.

The trips over.

The Southeast Asian experience is over thanks to the theft of Adi’s bike and all her belongings. I know that some people are hard up and think of tourists as having ample money but I think anyone that steals the bike and gear from a visitor touring the country is pond slime basically. In fact I think locals committing crime against visitors are below pond slime. A visitor to your country is already at a huge disadvantage with language and cultural problems to overcome. To take advantage of that and put them in even more stress shows that you are a total disfunctioning retard.
Must Be a Bike Shop Around Somewhere.

We had successfully negotiated Saigon during the morning rush hour and were stopping for our first drink break 30kms out and on our way to the Cambodian border. The day before we’d arranged visas for Cambodia from the embassy here in Saigon.

Anyway we lent our bikes on top of each other against the café/stalls wall with my bike on the inside and then had sat down at a table not 2mtrs away. Unfortunately although Adi was facing the bikes I had my back to them. I should have known better and while sitting there I thought of shifting but didn’t. Ten minutes later in which time Adi reckons she saw nothing, we went over to the bikes and Adi’s was gone! It was obviously a huge shock to Adi but I immediately realised that the bike had been stolen virtually right before our eyes. I jumped on my bike and did a cycle around the area as did the café staff on their bikes and scooters but of course we found nothing. They then rang the local police and gave Adi a ride down there.
One Cambodian Visa Please. No Make That Two.

This is the point where I learn first-hand how useless the Vietnamese police are.

I’m not totally naive; I thought that reporting the bike stolen and filing a report would take some time. Especially with the language problem.  I won’t bore you with the details but after 7 hours (I kid you not) the officer finally had all the information and this was with the help of a police translator who had extremely marginal English. During this time we were witness to the officer and translator playing games and looking at pictures on their I phones, joking with other officers about my bike which I’d parked near the interview room and finally entertaining their friends some of which were drunk on rice wine. After all this time and after we had signed countless statements the officer then refused to give us any kind of a copy for our insurance company ( something I knew we would need).

In an act of anger I finally said enough was enough and slammed my fists down on the table, which made all the officers including Adi jump, and told them to arrange a taxi to take us back to the hotel. Useless officer no.1 then said that he would contact the Captain to see if we can get a receipt for reporting the loss. And we should come back tomorrow to discuss it.
U/Officer No.1 and Translator with Her i Phone.

The thought of another wasted 7 hours tomorrow at the police zoo left me with a restless night. I contemplated cycling there and back to save the taxi fare but in the end after ringing in the morning from the hotel with the help of the hotel staff I decided the whole thing would be a waste of time.

Adi persevered with the help of the hotel receptionist and in the end they both went back to the police station and got a statement from the Captain which consisted of a report written by Adi and stamped by the doubly useless “Captain”. I didn’t go because I knew that it would probably end in bloodshed and me being locked up.

Earlier in the year British Airways lost my bike and all my gear when I was flying to Casablanca so I know how poor Adi feels . (Bike later recovered). But we were really luck in that my bike this time was carrying 80% of the gear and being a hand built Mercian is worth considerably more than Adi’s off the Shelf GT Zaskar. So the idiot that stole from us chose the wrong bike and got just Adi’s clothes, her camera, and a bike that I can replicate when I get home.

While gently simmering in the police station I contemplated dropping Adi off at the airport and carrying on to finish the mission. But quite honestly earlier in the year cycling for two months across South America on my own was enough for me. It’s no fun I have found going through the daily motion just to say you have cycled yet another country. We contemplated buying Adi a cheap motorcycle for her to continue on but useless officer no.2 seemed to think that you could not take a Vietnamese scooter across the border to Cambodia.

So tomorrow Adi, Mercian and I head back home to good old New Zealand and we have to leave Adi’s bike here to rust in the tropics.

I think it is worth noting though that cycle touring these sorts of countries is all good while things are going well but once you need the authorities you can be pretty stuffed. I find as I get older I am losing patience with dirty and disorganised countries.  I think I would consider coming back when as much effort is being put into renewing the countryside as is currently being put into renewing the population.

It’s time for me to concentrate on our cottage in the countryside and to get that vegey garden growing. Time to batten down the hatches as the world economy tail spins.

Friday, 14 September 2012

New Helmets.

Well, we’ve just about cycled the length of Vietnam now. We’ve been in the country for three weeks and in that time we have cycled from Hanoi north to Halong Bay which is just South of the Chinese border. We then turned our bikes south and have cycled all the way down the coast and are just shy of Ho Chi Min  City. We have four days left in the country before we cross into Cambodia. Assuming of course that we can get a visa in Ho Chi Min.

In that time I have witnessed the friendliness of the people and their willingness to please. In fact the only sour face in the country remains that of the customs officer in Hanoi when we arrived. For anyone reading this blog and thinking of cycling un- assisted through the country I can make the following suggestions;

Firstly bring a pair of ear plugs.  If you insert these at the beginning of each days ride then the constant blasting of the bus and truck horns won’t disturb your mind wanderings so much while you’re on the bike. In addition to this you won’t feel obliged to answer every hello that is fired at you from the roadside homes and businesses. The first hundred or so of these each day are tolerable but after that I just simply can’t be bothered. After the hellos you often get “what your name”? I have on different occasions been Niel the Wheel, The Duke of Winsor, Humpty Dumpty, but my favourite is Rambo. Only because I have watched too many Rambo movies in the past.

“We’ve had our Vietnam” and now I’ve just about had mine.

Your earplugs will also come in handy if you lunch at any of the village cafes. Most have a loudspeaker set up somewhere and for no extra you can be entertained by Vietnamese pop or Karaoke broadcast at jet engine volumes.

Obviously don’t bring camping gear or a cooker as there are Hotels and Guest Houses everywhere. You may want to bring an electric jug though so you can boil some hot water for a coffee or tea. Otherwise you are off down to reception to try to explain that you want a thermos of hot water.
Heading West along the South Coast of Vietnam.

Bring a good knowledge of your bicycle or bring a bicycle from the 1960’s because that’s the model, either 26” or 27”, possible 28” that the bike mechanics are familiar with. Having said that, I am sure that they would love to expand their knowledge by practising on your bike. And I have no doubt that they would give it back to you with a smile complete with 27” wheel shoehorned in where your 700C wheel used to be.

We are here in the wet season and every day threatens rain. And we have had really heavy rain. Don’t bother bringing a rain coat. Adi and I have both a heavy coat and a light jacket. Neither are used. When the temperature rarely drops below 30C rain is a welcome relief. It saves you the bother of using roadside hoses to cool yourself down. Do however fit mudguards to your bike and if it won’t take them then get a real bike. The guards will stop you wearing all the crap and shit washing around on the roads. Bike chains hate this sort of weather so bring oil or buy it along the way. Any kind of oil will do. It doesn’t have to be $20 special blah , blah , blah. Twenty dollars will buy you a four star hotel room for the night or 20litres of oil if you want to carry it.

Finally I am really pleased that I decided not to bring my cycle helmet as I have bought two different ones here. Not only are they incredibly trendy when worn and make me irresistible to the girls, but one boosts ISO 9000 safety standards. I don’t know if my friend Rob ( our local Policeman ) is reading this but I have one for use on my Vespa when I get home and one that will make me look like Bradley Wiggins as I time trial the Mercian to work and back.
Look like Bradley Wiggins in Your New Helmet.

Still have to organise a place to work when I get back. But where-ever that may be I will look the part in my English time trial helmet made in Vietnam. And at $8 NZ a helmet I thought I might do what the NZ cycle importers do and bring in a few thousand and sell them for $45 NZ each. (That’s the trip paid for).
Or for the Vespa.

Place Your Order Now. I Can Bring Back A Thousand Or So.




Thursday, 6 September 2012

Hotel Security.

Today started like any other as we cycled down the Vietnamese coast. We left Da Nang and the 5 star hotel that we had checked ourselves into, (because we couldn’t be bothered looking for a cheaper one the day before), at about 8am. The road south was un- interesting and reasonably busy with loud tooting buses and trucks. The wide shoulder proved effective at keeping us away from the worst of the traffic. However at regular intervals the locals had decided to use it for sun drying rice so we were forced to ride through their intended dinner or do battle with the heavy traffic. When there was no rice to avoid we were often further tested overtaking slow cyclists or scooters.

Like all other days so far we had regular drink stops along the way and just prior to reaching the day’s destination we stopped while the heavens opened up and it absolutely poured down for about 10 minutes. Delivering what looked like Nelson’s monthly total of rain. When temperatures are constantly at about 31C the rain is hardly an issue for us. But it plays havoc with the bikes, washing all the oil off and promoting accelerated rusting.

The day would have been a bit of a bore had it not been for the Dung Quat Hotel. At our arranged destination for the day, (a town of little scenic value and having nothing going for it that I could see) up rears a 4 star Hotel. Adi says” let’s go there”. I say “no we need a cheaper night”.

So we check it out and sure enough its 880 000 VDN . I’m telling Adi to get on her bike when the manager comes out and says they will do it for 700 000 VDN. The hotel is worth 880 000 but I have already told the manager that we can easily get a 400 000 one in the town and that would be good enough for us.

Since 700 000VDN is only what we would pay for a motor camp in New Zealand we agree to take the room on the proviso that the bikes are secure.

The staff are friendly and the room is great. I feel a little sorry for them as we are the only guests except for a Chinese business party and their wives.

Now I want to warn all my friends that buy Chinese made bikes like Treks, Specialised, GT, Avanti and all the others.


I know I’m not in China at the moment, but just across the border. But the Chinese are here on holiday. Flush with all your money the Chinese are holidaying in Vietnam, Thailand and other such places and driving all the quiet reserved nice tourists away. Until you’ve vacationed next to a bunch of Chinese business men and their wives you will never be able to comprehend the noise and mess and total disorder these karaoke playing fun lovers can generate. I tell you I thought Americans were loud but these guys are in a totally new league. Sure the American accent makes you wince and Aussies on the piss are pathetic but being around Chinese having a good time is not a place you want to be.

After suffering dinner in the restaurant with the Chinese party, Adi and I made our way back to our room. Only for me to be called to reception by the manager, who was very concerned for our bikes, which had been locked in the security manager’s office.

He needed me to sign a statement that our bikes where all ok as the security manager had noted that my bike had no saddle (I remove it with the saddle bag that is attached to it) and that Adi’s bike had one less drink bottle than my bike and also had no bell!

I couldn’t quite understand this concern at the time and didn’t want to sign anything without first seeing the bikes again. So we all went down to security to inspect the bikes as Adi went back to the room for a coffee. Sure enough when we got there the said bikes were exactly as I had left them with a very disturbed security man scared that something was amiss as Adi’s bike also had no temperature gauge or compass, items that my Mercian comes standard with.

I signed and dated in triplicate that I was still happy with the bikes and thanked the security manager for his devotion to duty.

On the way back to the room I thanked the hotel manager also for his care and he advised me that the security manager had rung him three times that evening to voice his concern regarding Adi’s bikes missing equipment, so he had to sort the issue.

The whole incident left me wondering why I had bothered to put a cable lock around those bikes.


Sunday, 2 September 2012

One Week In.

I’ve been cycling with Adi in Vietnam now for about a week. The cycling physically has been easy. In fact after 7 days we only encounted our first hill yesterday and had we wanted to we could have gone through the tunnel at the base. The road over the top looked quiet and more scenic however, so we cycled over there.

The bikes have decided that resistance is futile and for the last few days I have not needed to fix anything. In fact now the most trying thing is the constant hellos from every third person. I’ve never been a particularly sociable person so replying to constant hellos tends to tire me more than the cycling. There’s always some hello coming from the houses or yards that border the road or a child screaming it in the distance. I probably manage to acknowledge only one out of four hellos and my limit is strictly one hello per person. One hello is often not enough for some people. Whereas in South America I could ignore all the locals who whistled at me or used some other rude means to get my attention, it’s hard for me to ignore a genuine hello.

I have noticed while riding along among the hordes a few things that could be improved upon. I think firstly that if people are carrying 3 or 4 ducks or geese on their scooter they should be restrained in some way. Otherwise they can fall off and then their necks drag on the ground.

When carrying huge pigs on the side of your scooter you need to have animals of similar size on each side otherwise it’s hard to keep the scooter going in a straight line.

Don’t bother offering cycle tourists chickens from your cages. They probably aren’t in the market for a chicken or any other living animal. A prepared chicken mixed with a bit of rice probably would hit the spot though.

Don’t bother offering two New Zealand cycle tourists straight from winter and having cycled all day in 36C heat a free sauna as part of the hotel package. Hotel showers are fine cold but mini bars should be turned on!

Yesterday Adi convinced me to take the track off the main road and down to the beach. I have to say I was hesitant because the area we had been cycling through was a bit trashy and I felt the beach wouldn’t be much better. But since it was the first time we had got close to the coast I agreed. We bumped our way down the scooter trail to the surf and the water was not only reasonably clean it was as warm as a bath.

We just dived straight in with all our cycle clothes still on.  Twenty minutes later we were back on the bikes and heading down the main road south looking for a hose down. Hose downs have become a survival mechanism in the heat. There seems to be an abundance of water in Vietnam and people are often seen hosing down their scooters or trucks along the road. I got such a positive response from the first person I asked to hose me down that it has now become a habit. After a good drenching received from a local woman hosing her car we were ready to run the scooter gauntlet to the next Hotel.

Adi’s got a bit of the travellers diarrhoea at the moment. A bit of the cycle, squat and squirt. I feel sympathetic although it’s a great way to lose weight. Having had it for two months in Peru and Bolivia earlier in the year I not only lost a lot of weight but also got damn good at finding toilet stops in an  instant and virtually hauling myself off the bike and into a squat in one motion. The dinner menu, once translated slowly by Lei, didn’t help Adi’s stomach. She turned down the hedgehog and weasel but I was surprised when she opted out of jellyfish because I thought that might settle her tum.

Joking aside I was greedily finishing my Vietnamese soup when I had this horrible thought that I might have my own weasel head submerged at the bottom of the bowl ready to greet me as I drained the last of the broth.

Our new friend Lei who works in room service and speaks a small amount of English confirmed my thoughts.  They get very few tourists in this part of Vietnam. When word gets out that you can get fresh weasel and dog for just a few dollars and as much rice as you desire I think the tourists will flock here.