Bicycling in Vietnam

I flatted on a dirt path that wound for miles out of a deep valley into the high mountain area somewhere along the border of northwestern Vietnam and China (photo of another flat incident below). Hmong hill tribesman had been passing by all day and as I tried to glue a patch on the tube, I looked up to find a dozen of them had gathered around, paused and were me staring curiously. I looked back at them, with the same sense of wonder - their colorful, hand-woven dyed clothes and silver jewelry, weathered but gentle faces, and simply, alien appearance held me transfixed. Tube repaired, I began to pump up my tire, but distracted as I was, I failed to notice a section of tube still sticking out and after a few seconds there was a loud boom as the tube burst. They all immediately jumped back, wide-eyed and amazed. I couldn't help but laugh, and then they smiled, looked at each other and began laughing as well. I was as far from home and out of my environment as I could go, my bicycle providing a link to another world.

These experiences have a rejuvenating effect on emotions and feelings that are never alleviated by the distractions of TV, reading and "virtual reality" we each escape into. And as society pressures us to go online, respond to voice mail, faxes, and form letters, we seem to be furthering ourselves from such these experiences.

Vietnam is one of the few remaining places where you can experience the "real" world. Your therapy begins the first mile in the saddle...

Familiar cityscape is replaced by an exotic tapestry of tropical countryside. Coconut palms tower over small villages, where people along the road shout "hello!" - and children scramble onto bikes to ride along. Passing seas of rice fields you gradually enter the lush forest canopy, enveloped by a hundred stunning shades of green.

Soon, the hours, minutes and even days of the week mean nothing - there is only this moment (and maybe a thought of the dinner that lies ahead), and the hundred laughing schoolchildren that are encircling you.

Only a few years ago, cycling through destinations like Vietnam, Burma, Laos, and Cuba would have been problemetic. But times have changed and southeast Asia, indeed the world is opening up as never before. If you feel the desire to escape, we offer a wide variety of tours highlighting these previously hidden areas, from high-adventure mountain biking and camping to historical exploration along the Mediterranean of Turkey. And cycling is an ideal way to direct experience, providing ease of human connection while exposing your senses to the environment that no van tour could provide. However, the same process that lifts the curtain on these remote places, ensures their absorption into popular culture. Native, homogenous societies become irreversibly diluted with much of their customs and way of life replaced by, most likely, a good dose of ours. Instead of truly connecting person to person, you may soon enter a straw hut only to find all eyes transfixed on the TV episode of Gilligan's Island, and not your neon-blue lycra shorts. Join us for a journey we promise to be the experience of a lifetime.

- Patrick Morris

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