This journey takes us through three countries with divergent histories and subtly different cultures. From the bustling streets of Bangkok, to the serenetranquillity of the shimmering paddy fields, to the magnificence of Angkors temples, we see a little piece of everything these amazing countries have to offer. In Vietnam we enter the Mekong Delta, a spectacular patchwork of rice paddies and waterways. Our journey ends in Saigon where the frenetic pace and vibrant street life contrasts starkly with the rural areas we have cycled through, and will leave a lasting impression.
There will be a group meeting and briefing with your leader in the evening followed by an optional group dinner for those that would like to join. Your main luggage will be transported ahead of you to the start point early in the morning so please bring this with you to the meeting; just hang on to what you need for the night/morning - you will be with your luggage again mid-morning tomorrow.
An early start this morning as we venture out of Bangkok to the ancient town of Ayutthaya. Our two hour transfer takes us into the heart of this fascinating site and we start cycling by the huge reclining Buddha. Much of the old town was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th Century and we will cycle through the remaining shrine towers and enormous temples to appreciate the past magnificence.
Today we follow minor roads through rural Thai landscapes including rubber and eucalyptus plantations as well as tapioca and rice fields. There are a few easy rolling hills but the route is mostly flat. The ride ends when we join a busier road before driving the final short distance to the town of Kabin Buri by bus.
Leaving our hotel early in the morning we ride towards Tha Krabak where we can stop by a reservoir for a swim and a view of the untouched jungle on the other side. We will break for lunch before carrying on cycling on quiet but well-maintained scenic roads on the way to Aranyaprathet, 10km from the Cambodian border.
After breakfast we drive to the busy border and complete customs formalities as we cross into Cambodia at Poipet. We then drive to Siem Reap. Due to years of civil war the country is poorer and less developed than its neighbours. Apart from growth in the capital and around Siem Reap, the way of life in the countryside is still very much the same as it has been for centuries. This afternoon's ride from Siem Reap takes us past Wat Athvea, a modern temple in the grounds of the ruins of an Angkorian temple, and ends at a market and picnic area outside of Siem Reap.
Today we may choose to have an early start to avoid the inevitable crowds drawn to the wonders of Angkor. The various temples are spread over a wide area and are linked by shady avenues; meandering our way between them by bike gives us a unique perspective. Our cycle tour will include the jungle-covered Ta Prohm, with the amazing roots of the Fromagier trees clinging to the ancient stones, Angkor Thom with the famous Bayon temple of 37 towers (originally there were 49) topped with the four faces of the king, and of course the incredible Angkor Wat, with its huge moat, long causeway and massive towers - it is the largest temple complex in Asia.
Today we cycle outside the main Angkor complex to the outlying temple of Banteay Srei, 35km from Siem Reap town. Our route takes us past paddy fields, and through pretty villages. Banteay Srei was built in the 10th Century and contains some of the finest examples of Khmer sculpture. Although much smaller than the later temples, here all of the buildings are covered in exquisite carvings. In the afternoon as we cycle back to Siem Reap we can stop and visit a few of the less visited Angkor temples. Siem Reap town is pleasant to wander around; the market has plenty of interest and excellent shopping and there is a vibrant nightlife scene. This afternoon there should also be time to visit the Tonle Sap Lake, which is a branch of the Mekong River. This optional trip includes a boat ride to see the floating fishing villages. Anyone wanting to do this visit may need to miss part or all of the ride back to Siem Reap, depending on timings. Cycle approx. 70 km. if riding the full distance to and from Banteay Srei.
Today we take a bus journey of approximately 7 hours along National Road 6 to Phnom Penh, with a couple of stops along the way. We visit Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia's most impressive group of pre-Angkorian monuments with some of the oldest structures in the country. We'll also pause for a traditional Khmer lunch at a community restaurant before stopping in the town Skuon, which is known for its local delicacy of fried spiders. The road is currently undergoing some resurfacing so some sections will be a bit of a bumpy ride! We should arrive in Phnom Penh for late afternoon, the perfect time for a sundowner on the Mekong.
The fortunes of Phnom Penh have shifted dramatically during its history and the terrible years of the Khmer Rouge and subsequent civil war through the 1970s and 1980s have scarred the country. During our stay we visit two sites which give us a vivid impression of some of the horrors. There is the Genocide Museum, which is the former Khmer Rouge prison known as S-21 or Tuol Sleng, in the centre of the city. And 15kms of out of town is the area known as the 'Killing Fields,' a mass grave and execution site for the former inmates of S-21. While visiting Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields may not appeal to everyone, we feel they give us an important understanding of what the country and its people had to endure just a few decades ago.On a more positive note, the city is very much on the rise again and is a fascinating place with fine examples of French colonial architecture. We tour the Royal Palace with its Silver Pagoda. There is also excellent shopping at the 'Russian' market, and the lively Mekong waterfront area.
This morning we transfer south out of Phnom Penh to the town of Takeo. Here the road becomes quieter and we mount our bikes for the 50km ride to the Phnom Den / Tinh Bien border. Once border formalities have been completed, we cycle approximately 30km to Chau Doc.
This morning we ride from our hotel along a lovely quiet backroad, lined with small villages and dwellings before stopping for lunch and transferring the rest of the way to Vinh Long by bus. Leaving the bikes on the mainland, we take another boat (20 minutes) to reach our homestay guesthouse on an island in the Mekong Delta, known as the 'rice bowl' of Vietnam. After settling in we can explore the area on foot. The rivers and canals of the Mekong Delta form an amazing network of waterways. The area is famous for its abundant rice production but in many areas farmers are now moving to more profitable fish-farming and fruit and vegetable growing. The evening is tranquil as we have dinner at the homestay and enjoy some 'Delta' hospitality. We spend the night sleeping at a simple guesthouse built in the style of a local house. Bedding, a mosquito net and a small towel are provided.
We leave by boat, stopping en route for a look at the Cai Be floating market. Here large boats moor up in the Mekong River, weighed down with fruit and vegetable produce. Local traders and shop owners buy in bulk in this strictly 'wholesale' market.Recently, Cai Be floating market is becoming less crowded and smaller as fruit trading is mostly now done by trucks due to the bridge being built. However, this is still a great opportunity to see a local market and trade being conducted traditionally on a smaller scale.A little further on we make a short stop to see cottage industries producing such items as popped rice, pancakes, wine and other homemade products. We start our ride towards Cai Lay where we take a scenic route through fruit orchards and along the Mekong riverbank. Back on the bus in My Tho, we drive on to the heat, hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, still usually known as Saigon. This is an exciting and absorbing city where scooters pack the streets and temples stand defiantly alongside modern developments. Devastated by the Vietnam War, it is now a free market city where anything goes.
The whole day is free to explore Saigon, do some shopping and to relax. There are a number of interesting things to see - the Saigon River, Ben Thanh Market, Reunification Palace and Notre Dame Cathedral are all within easy walking distance. Alternatively a short cyclo (cycle taxi) ride will take you to the War Remnants Museum with an interesting (if a little gruesome) photographic record of the Vietnam/American War.For those that are interested your leader can arrange an optional visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels, located 2 hours outside the city. Used by the Viet Cong during the war, the network covers 3 levels and approximately 240km of tunnels. Originally these were very narrow but some areas have been widened to allow tourists to explore the system. Claustrophobes may prefer to stay outside in the sunshine!
The trip ends this morning after breakfast in Saigon.