So, we’re back in the UK (sad face), unpacking and reflecting on the kit we took; what worked, what didn’t, and what we might have done differently…
- Ortleib panniers: We ordered two pairs of roll-back Ortleib classic panniers from Sustrans, and were generally very happy with their performance. Although they didn’t get tested in wet weather (amazingly, we had no wet days on the road) they proved to be durable and reliable. One pannier did lose a rivet on a very bumpy stretch of ‘under construction’ road in Vietnam, but we used a bungee chord to protect it from any further damage and it didn’t prove to be problematic. On return to London, I found a replacement rivet had already been posted out to me, so now it’s as good as new.
- Crossbar and Handlebar bags: I used a small Topeak crossbar bag to store the bare essentials – phone, wallet, multitool. Rachel used a Vaude handlebar bag, to store things like biscuits, face-masks, hand-wash, loo roll, etc. Both were really useful in their different ways, and essential when you’re riding in clothes that don’t have pockets. My crossbar bag had a simple velcro fastener which made it really easy to grab phone and wallet when they were needed quickly.
- Mobile phone: How did people cycle tour before the smartphone?! I ordered a new Fairphone just before leaving and it proved invaluable; the GPS, when used with Rach’s handlebar-mounted compass and the maps.me app, told us exactly where we were; the camera captured lots and the 2 GB storage card didn’t even fill up; we downloaded city maps from TripAdvisor and used the app to book hotels in the bigger cities; we stayed in touch using email, Facebook and Instagram, and we listened to music on the road (via the internal speaker) when we needed a bit of extra motivation. We only bought one local SIM card (in Vietnam) and barely used it; wifi was available widely, apart from the odd overnight stop in Laos. There was one hairy moment when I dropped it and it fell through a roadside drain, but thankfully it was dry season so the drain was empty and we managed to retrieve it.
- Tablet: Not as essential as a mobile phone, but having the tablet (a Google Nexus) was useful too, especially for blogging. The standalone keyboard accessory (which also acts as a case) made it easy to do longer bits of typing and is recommended. We got a 3G compatible model but in the end only ever used it on a wifi connection.
- Cat’s Eye: It was so useful to know exactly how far we’d cycled, how long we’d been cycling for, and what our average speed was. The wireless Cat’s Eye we bought from Evans in December was a basic model, but it gave enough info and worked reliably for the whole trip. It would have been nice to know things like altitude and temperature, but these are less essential than keeping an eye on your speed as you bomb down a hill! It was also motivational on longer days, when we’d ting our bells to mark each 10km as it passed.
- Hats, sunglasses, face masks: All essential in the hot weather and often dusty or polluted roads.
- Camelbak All Clear UV water purifier: This was so useful, saved a fair bit of plastic going into landfill, and may even have saved us some money. By zapping all the microbes in the water and stopping them from reproducing, it renders tap water safe to drink, and we used it in all the countries we visited… and lived to tell the tale! Cycling is a thirsty business, so we saved having to buy countless bottles of water using this device. The only place we didn’t use it was in Tat Lo, where the the tap water was a muddy brown colour; even we felt drinking this was a step too far!
- Grapeseed Extract: To give us a degree of piece of mind, we also took one Grapeseed Extract capsule every day. It’s supposed to provide extra protection for your gut and help prevent upset stomachs or sickness. Hard to say conclusively if it worked or not, but we didn’t get sick at all and only had a bit of mild upset tummy, despite eating and drinking an awful lot of ‘street’ food and drink (and ice!)
- Sleeping bag liners: Ok, we didn’t use them very often, but they came in useful on a couple of occasions – once in the forest in Laos when it was very, very cold and they added an extra layer to help keep warm, and once or twice when we were sleeping in beds which were, shall we say, a little grubby and they provided a welcome extra layer of protection.
- Washing line and washing powder: Very light to carry; very useful to be able to wash and dry clothes in your room and not have to pay to do laundry all the time.
- 3 in 1 coffee sachets: Time to ‘fess up: we got slightly addicted to these, especially in Laos, where a hot drink in the morning was the perfect way to start the day. These weird, sugary, milky mixtures are ultra easy to prepare and taste surprisingly good.
- Brake pads and tyres: Somehow, we escaped a single puncture in the three months; this may have been the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres or just good luck. So we didn’t have to use any of our three spare inner tubes. We also didn’t have to change brake pads or cables, which is pretty surprising considering the amount of downhill we did in Laos and Vietnam.
- CTC Cycle Bags: We used the transparent polythene bags from CTC to travel with our bikes on the plane. The idea is that, because the baggage handlers can see that it’s a bike, they should hopefully take more care with it – as compared with a cardboard box, which might just get thrown around without much care. We used the bags on three separate flights and the bikes came through largely unscathed – a few scuffs and scratches but nothing too bad. Only downside was the cost (on Air China): £45 per bike, per flight.
- Local suncream: After the suncream we brought from home ran out, the stuff we bought, first in Vietnam and then in Cambodia, pretty much failed to work. It’s true that perhaps we were sweating it off much more quickly as the temperature hotted up but, even so, we got burnt on a couple of days despite slapping on gallons of the stuff.
- Bicycle pump: We rather foolishly just took a bottom of the range Topeak hand pump, and it wasn’t up to the job. It lacked a pressure gauge as well as Presta valve compatibility (or it broke, not sure which), which left us a bit deflated at times, to put it mildly.
- Locks: We basically took too many. Two heavy D-Locks plus a length of cable. There was only one time we used all three together (on the night train to Chiang Mai, when we were advised to lock our bikes securely to prevent theft from the open carriage they were being stored in), and we could have probably got away with just one D-Lock and saved a lot of weight.
- Mosquito nets and spray: We started the trip with a mosquito net and a large bottle of treatment spray each. Not sure why, but we held onto them almost until the end, when it finally dawned on us that rooms either had nets or they didn’t; there was almost no occasion when it was possible to hang our own nets and consequently they didn’t get used at all. In the end we ditched both bottles of treatment spray and one of the nets, and still can’t quite believe we cycled the mountains of Laos carrying so much unnecessary weight!
Things we lost along the way:
- 1 pair of shoes: at the hotel in Bangkok right at the start of the trip. Perhaps for the best as they were quite bulky.
- 1 cash card, at a cash machine in Laos – cash machines here give you money first, then card, so it’s easy to take the money and then forget to wait for your card to be returned!
- 1 cardigan – not sure where.
- 1 travel pillow – not sure where, but quite early on.
- 1 cheap orange digital watch – not lost as such; it fell off Rach’s handlebar and then I accidentally ran over it while cycling down a hill on Cat Ba Island.
- 2 pairs of cycling gloves – both in Laos, both lost by me. So easy to take off during a break, leave somewhere stupid (like on top of a pannier), and then cycle off and not hear them fall to the ground. Doh!
- 2 pairs of pannier straps – lost by Rach, not sure where… if she knew, they wouldn’t be lost.
Things we didn’t lose:
- Amazingly, we didn’t lose any sunglasses, swimwear or hats (despite Rach’s best efforts to ‘misplace’ my green cap), and no wallets, phones or cameras were stolen.
Things we discarded:
- 1 coat – Rach’s dirty old rain coat was too heavy to keep on carrying around once we hit the warmth of Hoi An in Vietnam.
- 1 heavy jumper – ditto for me.
- 2 bottles of mosquito net treatment spray and 1 mosquito net – see above.
- 1 pair of jeans (converted to jean shorts in Hoi An).
Things we had to buy in Beijing because it was so cold:
- 1 pair of jeans for me – shorts just didn’t cut it here.
- 1 jumper each – it was really cold!