Fall must be the time here at Trek Travel for new trips in remarkable destinations. First was the inaugural Cross Country trip, still progressing toward the Atlantic, and now our first ever Vietnam trip has concluded with unbelievable praise. The trip designer and guide, Phillipe, has truly outdone himself as the letter below attests to. Check out trektravel.com for more information about this new cycling trip being offered in the culturally dynamic country of Vietnam.
First, I want to thank you for taking on the challenge of arranging a private bike tour in Viet Nam. The care and effort that went into the planning was obvious. Our experience was remarkable. I thought you might enjoy some feedback on the trip.
We were introduced to one of the most exotic and unspoiled locations left on earth. From the moment we were met at the airport to the final diner, this trip was stunning in its balance of activity and cultural experience. I should start by disclosing the feeling of apprehension that I felt about how Americans might be viewed or treated by the Vietnamese. This turned out to be completely unfounded. Without exception, to a person, everyone we encountered, from the peasant farmers to the hotel staff, was warm, gracious, and genuinely nice. This was uniformly the case. There is no doubt that Vietnam is about the future. No one dwells on the past. Never once did I or anyone else on the trip feel uncomfortable or unwelcome.
Philippe was simply awesome. His conversational command of the Vietnamese language brought the experience to life. Vietnam is a place that is rich with culture, history and tradition. Several times throughout the day, something would catch the eye of one of the guests and rather than just becoming a photo opportunity, Philippe would stop and start a conversation in the local language. From venders at the market to peasant women making brooms, chance encounters turned into something wonderfully interactive. Within a few seconds we would all be laughing and carrying on. It was magic.
The riding is best suited to mountain bikes and our equipment was appropriate for the conditions. Even though the roads were mostly in good shape, some of the more interesting and remote riding did involve stretches of rough surface and occasional rain run off. The routes were well scouted and offered some of the most fascinating scenery I have ever encountered. The vast majority of the roads had only sparse traffic. Often the roads felt like paved bike trails but these were in fact rural roads that connected small villages. It is worth mentioning that maps of the roads do not exist. Every mile of the ride had to be scouted in advance and the routes were fantastic. There was hectic city traffic in Hanoi and Saigon but it was surprisingly no worse than most major US cities. As our guides pointed out, it is all about flow. Once you get the hang of the rules of riding, it quickly became quite comfortable to negotiate traffic.
This trip is not about pounding out the miles. There is way too much to see and take in. We stopped quite often to talk to a rice farmer or watch incense being made. Everything was spontaneous and genuine. Absolutely nothing about the trip was scripted. We were in very remote areas that almost never see tourists. Children would run up to the road just for the joy of saying hello to a foreigner. This happened all the time. No one tried to sell us anything The trip was much more of an interactive adventure than any other ride I have ever been on. It involves shorter daily rides than many other Trek Travel trips. Our long day was about 120km and had nice rolling hills. The other rides were mostly flat and ranged from 30 to 70km. Everyone seemed to be very pleased with the rides. In the context of the surroundings, the bike invites interaction and this was the theme of the trip. If you are to do this trip again I would let the uber-cyclists know that head down riding is not what this is about. Nor should it be.
The participants on our trip ranged widely in riding ability but everyone shared in the experience equally. I would have no hesitation about inviting a novice biker on this trip. This was the case for one of our riders and she had the time of her life. The ground support was unbelievable. We had two passenger vans, a bike truck, two guides riding with the group, and on one segment, a motorcycle that followed along. We were never more than seconds away from assistance. We were at times in very remote locations but were never without ample cold refreshments, snacks or a ride in the van if someone wanted a break. We were as protected and well cared for as was possible. One of the vans was always in the lead to make sure that no one missed a turn or that the occasional errant water buffalo was shooed off the road . The ground crew was on task and attentive. They were very good.
Food and lodging was the biggest surprise of the trip. Our seasoned group of travelers was awed by the world class quality of the hotels we stated in. The Da Lat Palace is a 39 room hotel that has been restored to the height of old world colonial elegance. It is one of the nicest hotels Carolyn or I have ever stayed in and compares favorably to Gerorge V in Paris. The next stop was a beach resort in Na Trang, that was on par with the Bali Four Seasons. Every room we stayed in was hand picked by Philippe. We had the best views, the nicest beach front and the most desirable locations. It was stunning.
My endorsement of this trip is unqualified. At the closing dinner, Phillipe posed the question of what could be done better next time. There was nothing any of us would have changed. The Trek Travel team got this right. I would encourage you to offer this as a regular trip.
Best Personal Regards,
John and Carolyn