In November 2003 Trudy and Gernot participated in the Symbiosis Bangkog to Saigon Cycling Challenge. As the name implies, this leads from Bangkok in Thailand (in fact, about 100km to the north-east of Bangkok) across Cambodia to (60km west of) Saigon. All up over 800km of cycling, plus 150 or so km by speed boat across Lake Tonlé Sap.
The trip was organised by Symbiosis Expedition Planning as a fund raiser for several children's charities operating in South-East Asia, and in order to raise awareness and give westerners like us the chance to see some of the less touristy parts of the region.
This was the seventh bicycle tour of more than a week's duration we had done together, but it was quite unlike any previous one. For one, it was the first time we went in a group. In particular, it was the first time we went cycling in an organised tour, rather than going on our own. So we did not have to carry any panniers with sleeping and cooking gear, food and clothes, instead all of this was carried in a support vehicle, and there was a guide with us at all times relieving us of some of the worries like where to get accommodation at the end of a tiring day. Then it was the first trip in Asia, in fact, the first one in the developing world. And, finally, it was the first tour on mountain bikes, before we only ever went touring on slick road bikes. In fact, six weeks earlier, when we bought our new mountain bikes specifically for this trip, this marked the first time we ever sat on a mountain bike at all!
The organised trip had its good and its bad sides. Obviously, one cannot always ride when and as fast as one likes, but then one rides much lighter. We wouldn't have wanted the group experience without the lightweight riding, as we were forced to ride more during the hot hours of the day than we would have preferred. That way it would have been very hard and unpleasant to cover the same distances and organise all the drinking water and food we needed and find accommodation with the usual 20kg or so of luggage.
To the great disappointment of the organisers, we ended up with only four riders in the whole Cycling Challenge Team. The reasons were a combination of lack of interest resulting from world-wide events and uncertainty (SARS, war in Iraq), and some very late drop-outs due to personal circumstances.
Gernot and Trudy were actually not particularly concerned about the small size of the group, assuming that it would make it easier for the first time round to adjust to an organised cycling tour. Our two companions were Reggie, also from Sydney and the youngest member of the team, and Ali "Big Gears", the oldest team member, our granny (also literally), from a small town north of London.
We really were impressed with the beauty and the people in "Australia's neighbourhood". The fact that the trip was organised by others certainly made it easier for us to venture into areas where it is not only difficult to find a common language to talk to people, but where we cannot even recognise the letters, let alone understand the text of such mundane things as street signs and menus.
After this initial experience we are certainly less timid about going back there, and go back we will! Maybe as early as 2005.
This report records our experience. It is mostly organised by topics, but there is also a
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© Gernot Heiser 2003.