I was curious. I love startup stories and the inspiration behind it. I know Art of Bicycle Trips has been in existence since 2011 organising many cycling tours in Asia. So, it was but natural to probe Pankaj a bit and satiate my curious soul on how Art of Bicycle Trips actually began. What followed was a Q&A with Pankaj Mangal and rediscovering old images. Here is the excerpt.

 

Q. What was your aha moment that led to the beginning of ABT? And what followed next?

Around 10 years back, I went on a bicycle ride with a couple of friends from Bangalore to Kaveri Fishing Camp. I was more into motor biking but one of my friends who came from Sweden insisted we do a cycling trip. We zeroed down on Kaveri Fishing Camp and along the way we sat down under the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. I felt cycling was the only way to see the world. It slows you down and allows you to see the world at the right pace. You could stop and appreciate the surroundings, converse with the locals and take a detour. More than that it also brings alive your five senses. So, while sitting under the statue I realised there is something in this and that was my aha moment.

After the trip I came back to Bangalore and was still thinking about it. I researched cycling and how it could be combined with travelling. As a part of my research, I came across the concept “cycling holidays” which is well-known in European market. I went on researching for a while and finally when I felt ready, I decided to launch a cycling holiday in India.

Bicycle Trips in Asia

Q. What were the biggest challenges you faced on the ground? 

It was not easy to make people believe it was possible in India. Cycling was thought of as a utility in India and not something out of choice. Why ride a cycle when you can drive a car? Secondly people thought the whole of India is as chaotic as the cities and hence it is not safe to go on a cycling tour. However, we all know it’s quite safe to ride around the countryside. It is actually safer to ride a cycle than a motorbike in cities. So perhaps the biggest challenges have been those around mindsets.

Q. Was it easy to leave your well-defined career and become an entrepreneur?

I was not the sort of a guy who would confine from a nine to five pm job. Travelling was always my hobby. And I got into cycling . So it was easy to visualise this is the life I wanted to live for myself. Once I knew how clear my mind was to put myself into this unknown journey, it was quite a straightforward decision to leave the job and start this.

Cycling Tours in Asia

Q. Has the growth been organic? Though you operate in many countries you did n’t scale up through funding?

I completed my business studies and was paying my education loan, so I did n’t have any disposable income in my bank. Post my aha moment and research, I knew this was what I wanted to do. One fine day I just went and bought seven bikes through my credit card. After that things moved pretty well with cycling tours, and we grew the company organically. Apart from me buying the initial set of bikes, everything came through the business itself.

Initial number of years we were confined to India. We had by now built a strong customer base and through them we could now launch in other countries. The first country was Sri Lanka and then it followed with South East Asia. Our current cycling tours in Asia can be viewed here.

Q One of the biggest strengths of ABT I have seen is its community. It is rare to see such a strong base of folks who like organisation. Please tell us a bit more about it?

A strong community can only be built with time. I am a firm believer in that. It also teaches you a lot of things. You might have  competition coming your way, and they may do a lot of things. But fundamentally If you always have a good product it always sells by itself. Once that happens you will always get loyal customers no matter how big the competition is. They will always stay with you.

Cycling Tours in Asia

Q. Do you still remember your first customer? What was it like?

Yes, Indeed I do remember. The first customer we got was from a bike festival we organised in Bangalore. They were two friends. One of them was from Canada and the other person ’s name was Fenny. They took the Victorian Bangalore Safari. It was a three hour tour built around the heritage of the city.

What are the ingredients of a great cycling tour?

Excellent bikes, rolling terrain, during cycling breaks – tea or coffee with cake, No hurry to reach a destination. Cycling tours in Asia is also about meeting people along the way and get into casual conversations during tea breaks and learn more about their life.

Art of Bicycle Trips conducts Cycling tours in Asia. 

Vietnam ‘s landscape is sublime: The Red River Delta is in the north, the Mekong Delta is placed in the south, and there are brilliant green rice paddies in between the two. Long, sandy beaches grace the coastline, while inland there are these soaring mountains and lust forests. It is a country of traditional charm and rare beauty. There are whole lot of options to explore during a cycling tour in Vietnam. The people are friendly, hardworking and love their food. And in the last couple of decades Vietnam has opened up to the outside world making it an ideal destination for a bike holiday. Our definitive guide on cycling in Vietnam will offer you a snapshot on how to plan your cycling holidays and what to  expect in Vietnam.

For simplicity we have divided this cycling guide  into four sections

Cycling Tour in Vietnam 

SECTION I( KNOWING VIETNAM)

 

The Essential Bucket List( not to be missed)

Grabbing a bicycle and taking the ride of your life through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

Taking a boat and floating along the Mekong.

Selecting an outfit from the latest fashion catalogues and having it tailor made in the delightful city of Hoi An.

Visit the 36 streets of the old quarter in Hanoi.

What you may find

Conical hats: Traffic: Silk Shops; Rice paddies: Buffalos: Landscapes:  Lot of two wheelers.

 Through the notes 

Some references that will help understand Vietnam better

  1. a)    Read- Writings by Vietnamese writer Bao Ninh.
  2. b)    Listen- to US based Khanh Ly, a contemporary pop music icon
  3. c)     Eat – the staple pho( noodle soup) or Ga Tan( stewed chicken with medicinal herbs,dates and grilled baguettes)
  4. d)   Watch – The Quiet American, based on Graham Greene ‘s 1954 novel and starring Michael Caine.
  5. e)   Drink- the cheap and widely available bia hoi( draught beer) , Ca phe( coffee) served with condensed milk.

No. of UNESCO World Heritage Sites sites in Vietnam: 8

Currency: Vietnamese Dong(VND)

1 USD is approx 23,000 VND

Both VND and USD can be used within the country. It is best to keep an option of both.

Time Zone: Time zone in Vietnam is GMT+7

ReligionVietnam is officially an atheist state. As per polls a majority of the population don’t believe in a God.  The others however practise Buddhism or are Christians.

Language: Vietnamese is the official language. A few helpful key words and phrases that may be helpful during your trip to Vietnam

English Vietnamese Pronunciation
hello xin chào sin chow
goodbye Tạm biệt tam bee it
how are you ? bạn khỏe không ban co kew khome
I want to go to tôi muốn đi đến toy mua dean
where is ở đâu ..uah dau?
left trái tchai
right đúng dung
go straight đi thẳng di tan
thank you cảm ơn bạn gahm un
excuse me xin lỗi seen loy

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

 

SECTION II (PLANNING YOUR BIKE TRIP)

 

Best Time to Visit 

From a cycling point of view, we can divide the country into four main sub-regions: Northern Mountains, North, Central & South Vietnam with distinct weather conditions. The Central and South Vietnam features Tropical climate.

Northern Mountains – Sapa, Ha Giang: best months for cycling in Northwest mountains are between Late August & Early December, and from Late February to May. It can get a bit cold in December & January with light showers.

North Vietnam – Hanoi & Halong Bay: has a distinct winter and summer season. The cool but mostly dry winter runs from November to April. May to October is a bit hot and humid and the region experiences its highest rainfall with July to September being the wettest. Oct to May is a good season to go here with coldest months being Dec-Jan.

Central Vietnam –  Hue to Nha Trang: features Tropical monsoon climate and is at its wettest from September to December. Traditionally this period sees monsoon rains and occasional typhoons which can cause flooding in the area. Whilst this is rarely of such a level as to seriously affect an itinerary, we do advise people travelling during this period that there may be last minute changes to itineraries to accommodate for the weather conditions. Good season runs from January to September for warm water beaches, with an average temperature of around 30°C.

South Vietnam –  Saigon & Mekong Delta: features Tropical climate and is an almost year-round cycling destination. April and May are touted as the hottest months. During the remaining time of year, the temperature hovers around 30°C and the days are sunny & a bit humid. Though it may be a bit warm, South Vietnam is still a good destination for biking as the countryside is amazingly green with many water bodies. From May to early November, it rains moderately for a short period and then settles down which makes the condition much cooler and perfect for biking. November to February is the best time of year for biking – warm days with light breeze and clear skies.

 

TERRAIN AND CONDITIONING TIPS

To ride safely along the narrow and sometimes trafficked roads, it is important to ride single file and to develop good balance on your bike. Balance can only be developed by riding on the road. We recognize that not everyone lives in an area conducive to outdoor riding, but please keep in mind that while running, riding a stationary bike, spinning and other aerobic exercise will help improve your strength, endurance and cardiovascular health, these activities will not help with balance.

 

What to pack for cycling tour

Some not to be missed essentials which can be carried

 

Clothing: Cycling Shoes, Rain Jacket, Dry bag, Sunglasses,

Personal: Toiletries, Chargers, Emergency Cash, Medication,

Gear: You are welcome to bring your own gear, such as pedals, seat, helmet, toe clips and cyclometer, to use with a bicycle. However, please inform us in advance if you choose to bring any of your own things.

Note: Although we provide helmets, we encourage you to bring your cycling water bottles, bike gloves, and helmets as they are more of personal items. Also, your own saddle is good to bring along as we change bikes while moving from one country to another.

Miscellaneous: Small towel, Waterproof cover, Plastic Bags, Hydration Kit, Journal, Notebook, Camera

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

SECTION III (FAQs pertaining to bike tours in Vietnam)

Our most common asked queries regarding cycling tours in Vietnam.

Will traffic be an issue for cycling in Vietnam?

It is a right hand drive in Vietnam. Whoever has the largest vehicle usually dictates the road. Congestion is common around major attractions and shopping malls in cities, particularly Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. 

It’s not really going to rain, is it?

As much as we don’t like to think about it, rain is possible no matter where you travel. Your best bet for staying comfortable during a shower is to wear quality rain gear that is both waterproof and breathable. A jacket and pants made of Gore-Tex will keep you dry even in the fiercest downpour.

What kind of bikes and equipment are provided for me on my trip?

A well-maintained hybrid/mountain bike and helmet is included. You can feel free to bring your own saddle, cleats/pedals and helmet. Our guides will be happy to fit them on your bike for you.

How much on an average will I be cycling during a day?

The average distance is directly proportional to the terrain that we will be riding. In most trips, on average, we bike about 50-60km a day. Please have a look at your trip details to know the average biking distance specific to the trip that you’re doing.

What about medical emergencies?

Our support vehicle always follows you throughout the tour and comes handy for transfer to any nearby hospital during an accident. Our emergency protocol is to provide you basic first aid and then transfer as soon as possible to nearby hospital for further action. Our guide will also notify our central team and we connect with your insurance provider as well.

Do I need a Visa to travel to Vietnam?

According to updated Vietnam Immigration Law (effective from 01 Jan 2015) to use the visa exemption right, the time distance between two continuous entries must be at least 30 days so as to enjoy visa free for both two entries. If the time distance is less than 30 days, they must apply for a visa for the second entry.

  1. Citizens of the United Kingdom, France, German, Spain, Italy and Belarus are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 15 days without visa. It is effective from 01 Jul 2015.
  2. Citizens of Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia and Finland are allowed to stay within 15 days without visa.
  3. Citizens of Brunei and Myanmar are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 14 days without visa.
  4. Citizens of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 30 days without visa.
  5. Citizens of the Philippines are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 21 days without visa.

It is recommended to always check the latest regulations before your travel at Vietnam’s Government Website.

Is your query not mentioned here. Drop us a note at contact@artofbicycletrips.com and we shall help you in planning your cycling tour in Vietnam.

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

Do I need any insurance?

It is a mandatory requirement to purchase adequate travel insurance in order to participate in our tours, and to protect yourself from unforeseen events.

Since Art of Bicycle Trips adheres strictly to our cancellation policy, we recommend to note below:

  • Art of Bicycle Trips highly recommends purchasing travel insurance to protect yourself from unforeseen events. There are inherent risks involved in cycling and mountain biking and we will not be liable for your medical expenses or evacuation in case of an accident. We recommend using World Nomads for travel insurance and claim. Travel insurance is non-refundable but is strongly advised to protect you in the unfortunate event that you have to cancel or leave your trip.
  • Please note that we do not sell insurance and does not assist in any buying and claim process. World Nomads is only a recommendation and Art of Bicycle Trips can not be held responsible for any dispute with them. All dispute shall be dealt directly with your travel insurance provider and under no circumstances Art of Bicycle Trips is liable for that.
  • We recommend that you purchase adequate travel insurance which also covers trip cancellation. Cancellation insurance will pay out if your trip is cancelled or cut short due to any of the reasons specified in your policy. It’s one of the key elements of your travel insurance, and can be a lifesaver if the worst happens and you have to cancel your trip.

Can you store my luggage for me?

Please limit your luggage to one soft-sided medium-sized suitcase and one carry-on bag. Mark your luggage with your name, address and phone number. 

A Van follows the group of riders throughout the trip and carries all belongings. If at any point riding seems a little hard, the van takes you for as long or as little as you wish it to. It also provides you refreshments along the way and sometimes a chilled beer.

Please Note Art of Bicycle Trips recommends that you not bring valuable personal electronics including, but not limited to, IPAD, laptop computers and expensive cameras. While we will transport them from place to place during the trip as a convenience, we do not assume responsibility for any damage, loss or loss of function to the devices. This policy also applies to other items such as expensive jewelry, fur coats and fragile and delicate accessories, whether purchased on the trip or otherwise.

Is tipping compulsory in Vietnam?

Tipping is not necessary, but  is always appreciated.

What types of pre and post tour services are provided for cycling tour in Vietnam?

Your ABT Travel Coordinator will be happy to help you with recommendations on all pre and post travel arrangements, such as hotels, flight and rail tickets. We can extend the tour arrival/departure hotel as pre or post tour hotel. If the same is not available, we can recommend you few hotels which you can directly book online using hotel platforms such as booking.com We book mainly internal flights which are part of your tour. We can recommend you arrival/departure flights. Once you have reserved your bike trip, call or email us to discuss all your pre- and post-tour plans.

Cycling tour in Vietnam

SECTION IV

Tours guidelines post CORONA

Please find the health and safety guidelines as prescribed by ATTA for adventure tourism.

Other updates

VFS Global in partnership with the Embassy of Vietnam in India, has launched the first-ever online portal for eVisa on arrival for travellers to the southeast Asian country. Travellers can apply for an eVisa before departure to Vietnam. There’s a more expensive option of special priority services for approval on the same day or the next day.

Offers from Art of Bicycle Trips

We realised everyone is waiting for things to clear up in order to lead a normal life. And travel as well. Hence, though travelling at the moment is not feasible, planning and booking one’s travel plan is fine. To make travel plans easier we have launched booking offers for as low as $1. You can now book without any advance deposit and remain flexible.

You can find all our cycling tours in Vietnam here

Cycling Tour in Vietnam