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Challenge yourself to cycle across the mountains of northern Vietnam and Laos and be rewarded with an experience of a lifetime! Starting in Hanoi, you will cycle all the way to Vientiane. Cycle the majestic mountains, go tiger spotting on eco-safaris, stay in local homes, learn from NGOs in regards to the effect of unexploded landmines, and enjoy incredible food! This arguably most challenging and rewarding Social Cycles adventure is not for the faint-hearted.
To make the most of Laos and Vietnam, you will stay in a variety of different accommodation styles. In Luang Prabang, you will stay at Villa Saykam, a beautiful French colonial style building in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage City. Once you move away from the major towns and into the rural villages, you'll stay in clean and comfortable guesthouses. All local guesthouse rooms have their own private bathroom with a Western toilet.
On the third day, you will spend the night with a local family in a traditional homestay. At the night safari, you will be able to enjoy the eco-lodge bamboo huts by the river in the national park. You'll always be in an air-conditioned room (where possible). If you’re traveling with your partner, you’ll have your own room. Otherwise, rates are based on twin share. The single supplement can be arranged depending on the tour.
This tour takes a minimum of four riders and a maximum of 12. Social Cycles strongly believes that when you travel with a group beyond 12, there is a risk that voices and opinions may be drowned out when you have the rare opportunities to visit non-government organizations and ask questions to local leaders.
The overall distance, should you cycle the whole way, is just over 840 kilometers over the eight cycling days. In addition to that, there are a lot more hills than there is flat. More often than not, you’re either going to be climbing a mountain or flying down. In total, it is a 16,243 meters ascent and descent over the trip. It can sound a little daunting but with the aid of the support van, you can cycle as much or as little as you like. Should you choose, you can even just cycle the downhill.
In Laos, Social Cycles partners with a local supplier for the hire of the bikes and as a result, there is a great range designed to deal with the local environment perfectly. The bikes used are either Trek 3900 and / or Giant Rincon mountain bikes. Each mountain bike comes with a helmet, lock, comfortable gel seat, and handlebar bag. All mountain bikes have a 24-speed gear set to help you get up and down those hills.
Friends International are leading the charge in the “ChildSafe” movement and the “Think Families, Not Orphanages” campaign. Friends International has an office in Luang Prabang which makes for a great introduction to Laos. Their programs of “Saving Lives” and “Building Futures” have been used as templates all over the world.
Nam Nern Night Safari in the National Park of Nam et Phou Louey supports the conservation of endangered wildlife, such as the tiger, gaur, sambar deer, and white-cheeked gibbon. The initiative ethically balances tourism with conservation by financially rewarding local villagers to protect the wildlife, turning ex-poachers into protectors.
Lone Buffalo Foundation is committed to improving opportunities for young people through English study and football coaching. LBF aims to enhance the opportunities for careers in the business and tourism sectors for Phonsavan’s young people. Quality of Life Association provides support to UXO victims, people with disabilities, and UXO affected communities in Xieng Khouang province, Lao PDR.
You will arrive in the thriving city of Hanoi and check in to your hotel any time from 14:00. You can spend the afternoon finding your feet before meeting up with the rest of the group in the evening for dinner. There are lots to fill spare time in Hanoi, such as walking around beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, with the reflection of modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples, and the tangle of ancient streets in its still surface.
You can also dive into the culture at the Vietnam Fine Art Museum or The Vietnamese Women’s Museum. You’ll dine together for dinner at Koto Restaurant, a social enterprise restaurant focusing on vocational training for marginalized local youth.
This morning, you’ll get the chance to explore the Vietnamese capital in more depth by bike. Full of parks, lakes, and tree-lined boulevards, the city is known for its laidback atmosphere. You’ll spend the morning learning from your first non-government organization.
In the afternoon, you’ll have time to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex which includes the Buddhist temple One Pillar Pagoda and the former residence of Vietnam’s most famous revolutionary, Ho Chi Minh. There’s also time to explore the vibrant Old Quarter, an architectural museum where blocks of ochre buildings give off the air of a 1930s provincial French town.
Leaving behind the hectic pace of life in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi and continuing the journey to Ninh Binh, you’ll really have the opportunity to soak up one of Vietnam’s most spectacular views; limestone karst peaks thrusting out of serene rice paddies, the sounds, and views of the river which winds through the fields and has boats parading up and down its length.
Following your bike ride, you’ll stop for lunch at a local restaurant before visiting Trang An, a new addition to UNESCO’s list of heritage sites. Here, you’ll board rowboats for a three to three and a half hours’ journey through caves and passing local villages along the river system of the Red River Delta.
You will be leaving Ninh Binh in the morning by bus and driving about a half hour to Dong Dao plantation where you start cycling. Today, you cycle about 30 kilometers on the panoramic road to Cuc Phuong National Park. You will go through the pineapple plantations, valleys, and villages and meeting friendly locals along the way. Arriving in Cuc Phuong about at noontime, you enjoy your lunch at the local restaurant here. Afterward, you will make a visit to the Endangered Primates Rescue Center.
After breakfast, you’ll make your way towards the Laos border. There is still some distance to cover, so there will be a mix of scenic cycling and transit by van. The aim is to get to the border in the early afternoon where you’ll do a land crossing. At this point, you say goodbye to your Vietnam guides and hosts as you transfer to Laos and meet the Lao team who will be with you until the end of the trip. After crossing the border, you’ll transit to Vieng Xai.
After breakfast, you’ll spend the first part of the morning exploring the natural beauty of the famous Vieng Xai Caves. You’ll venture through Khayson, Souphanouvong, and Nouhak caves; all named after former leaders and royalty. The evening will be in the small village of Ban Tad Saleuy where you’ll spend the evening in a local homestay.
Immersed in the magical world of Nam-Et Phou Louey National Park, Nam Nern Eco-lodge has rightly been the winner at the World Responsible Tourism Awards twice. The bungalows are built by locals, the food is locally grown and prepared. You’ll have the chance to enjoy authentic, delicious dishes like Soop pak (a traditional Laotian steamed veggie dish) and Khmu tempura.
As an incentive to preserve the local wildlife, the more endangered animals you see, the more money the local villages receive, thus encouraging further eco and conservation projects. You’ll take multiple boat rides (day and night) and go on hikes to salt licks with expert trackers, all done while learning about the conservation programs. This is by far the most interactive non-government organization experience of the trip.
After a homemade family breakfast, you will say goodbye to your hosts for the night and start cycling to Vieng Thong. The 95-kilometer journey comprises of some challenging mountain climbs and downhill. The beautiful bends in the well-paved road make for some of the most scenic cyclings in Laos.
Vieng Thong District was under the same jurisdiction as Pak Xeng District, Luang Prabang Province, and was a Buddhist settlement called Muang Hiem, which means “beware of the tiger”, alluding to tiger attacks in the area.
The first 12 kilometers from the guesthouse head straight up. An above sea level height of 350 meters turns to 1,050 meters in just 12 kilometers. It’s enough to make the strongest riders jump in the van although if you’ve had enough coffee, you’re welcome to attempt it (the provided road is in good condition). The undulating road for the following 60 kilometers is an incredible insight into local village life amidst beautiful tree lined roads.
The road feels almost flat (compared to what you’ve just done) as you enjoy your last cycle day into Luang Prabang. On the way, you’ll visit Pak Ou caves and then look to take a boat for your final journey into Luang Prabang. Your last dinner together will be enjoyed at Friends International restaurant, Khai Phaen.
You’ll have the chance to learn from one of the Friends International leaders and find out more about local challenges, programs, and initiatives set up within the “Saving Lives” and “Building Futures” programs. If there are no “clients” at the time of your visit you will be able to visit their social drop-in center next door.
The ancient town of Luang Prabang was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. French architecture, glistening temples, and extensive natural beauty make this the premier destination for travelers throughout all of South East Asia. You’ll dig a little deeper and learn from a local non-government organization about their programs and strategies to empower the local population and provide an opportunity for education and growth. In the afternoon, you’ll jump out of town and go for a dip in Kuangsi Waterfalls.
It’s a potentially a challenging day on the bikes today, with a total distance of 135 kilometers from Luang Prabang to your hotel and very little of it is flat. An early start will be at the small amount of traffic that roams Luang Prabang and you’ll be able to cycle as far (or as little) as you’d like. You’ll allow the day for strolling through the beautiful mountain scenery and get into Phou Khoun at around 17:00 whether it be by bicycle or by car. You will be seeing remote villages and epic scenery.
Slightly fewer kilometers than yesterday, this 128 kilometers ride is doable but it’s not easy. The support van will be around all day to give you a lift if when, or if, you need it. You’ll start early in the morning to escape what you can of the midday sun. With a little luck, there might be some cloud cover that day. This is some of the best cyclings on the planet. The scenery is incredible and the villages are breathtaking. The reward of conquering this day is well worth the effort. The alternative is an air-conditioned van whilst taking in the magnificent views.
In the morning, you’ll visit a local non-government organization that works with victims of landmines, still remaining from the Vietnam War. Before you start the days cycling, you’ll pop out to the Plain of Jars, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a beautiful ride today, taking you through remote areas and deep forest where villagers still live almost untouched by civilization. The ride will be followed by the van the whole way if you fancy taking a break but the pace will be relaxed and casual.
Today, you venture through Phou Khao Khouay to get to Thalat. In the morning, you’ll head out of Paksan towards Tad Leuk Waterfall at the side of the park. After lunch, you’ll cycle through the park before getting a boat for a two-hour cruise through the national park from Longsane Village.
The last day on the road. This epic adventure is almost at an end. Today, you’ll click over the 500 kilometers' point. The road flattens out somewhat as you near Vientiane. The cycling comprises of some more beautiful rainforest scenery as you ride near Nam Ngum Lake. The ride finishes up in Ban Mixaiphoun before you transit to Vientiane. You’ll have a special dinner tonight to celebrate.
After breakfast, you’ll spend the mornings with your final non-government organization for the trip, learning more about some of the culturally specific programs designed for Lao people to create an opportunity for empowerment. You’ll have a coffee as you discuss where you would like your donation to go based on the learnings you have taken in over your ride. Then it’s a fond farewell as you take you to the airport.
Brett, the founder of Social Cycles, tries to get along to most SC adventures when he can. He loves cycling, food, and social impact; start him talking about this and he may not stop.
This tour will start from Hanoi, Ninh Binh, and Cuc Phuong, Vietnam, then cross the border into Laos to take the route from Ban Tad Saleuy, Nam-Et Phou Louey National Park, Vieng Thong, Pak Xeng, Luang Prabang, then to Vientiane.
The menu will consist of sticky rice, fresh vegetables, mountains of fresh herbs, fish and meat, fish sauce, chili, spices, fruit, and more sticky rice. One of the wonderful features of the Lao diet is the almost complete absence of processed foods. Ironically, it’s the poor economic status of this small landlocked South-East Asian country that has kept its cuisine fresh, vibrant, and healthy for hundreds of years.
Lao’s culinary offering includes universal hits like steamed fish in banana leaf and pork larb salad, alongside options for the adventurous eater such as duck’s blood salad. Food poisoning is the most common cause of illness during travel. Sometimes it is due to the local hygiene of the food but can also be from cross-contamination (from your hand) or A single due to a change in diet.
It is recommended to bring hand sanitizer for use before meals to reduce risk. You should only eat in restaurants that are busy and have a high turnover of customers and food. If possible, try and inspect the kitchen. Foods that are cooked to order generally carry less risk (fried rice is better than rice from a buffet). Ice is generally safe to consume in all countries you visit but do not drink water from the tap.
Noi Bai International Airport
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