Amber Wilkie, a recent Social Cycles rider from the Jan 2017 Vietnam tour, gives us her reflections and insight into her experiences. You can read more from Amber at her site; From Desk To Dawn
If you’re into cycling, and into helping people as well, look no further than Social Cycles for your next cycling trip. Founded and led by Brett Seychell, a guy with an awesome vision, Social Cycles is relatively new on the bike tour scene. Brett is ably assisted by his partner, Lien Nguyen. The two of them together make the best tour guides I’ve ever had. Brett’s drive is to combine cycling adventure travel with meaningful social action. It’s a novel idea and one that Social Cycles has pioneered in the last 12 months. The idea is to cycle as a group through a developing country, visit some NGOs along the way, and decide which one to directly contribute some money to. This bypasses any middle man and your donation goes directly to the cause that you’ve directly chosen. Social Cycles are committed to not disturbing any children’s learning along the way, and are signed up to Think Child Safe.
Our group visited three social enterprises: Habitat for Humanity in Ho Chi Minh City, an NGO on the salt plains near Kampot called Chumkriel Language School, and Daughters of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. All of us without exception were particularly struck by the school. As we were committed to not disturbing the learning of any children, we didn’t see any classes in action. We went there on a no school day. However, in the area around the school we witnessed real socio-economic disadvantage, entrenched poverty and child labour. Having witnessed the locals of the area, and their children, manually carry salt on their backs for a salary of only $2 a day, we all wanted to help ensure kids there stay in school longer. At the end of our trip, we all unanimously decided that this was the NGO we’d like to support. Our money will aid the school which aims to educate the kids of the area so that they might escape the fate of being a worker on the salt fields.
I must admit, I signed up mostly for the cycling. The charitable side of it was certainly alluring, but ultimately it was the promise of off-roading through seldom-ridden tracks of South East Asia that got me. So many cycling tours of Vietnam I looked at were on the road – boring! I was really pumped for the promise of taking the road less travelled over dirt and through mud.
This promise was well and truly delivered upon, and then some! Over the 480km trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, we covered the most diverse array of off-road terrain. The first couple of days were through rice paddies and the majestic Mekong Delta. I’d seen pictures of bikes in Mekong, but nothing could prepare me for what it was actually like. Since we were on mountain bikes, we could take muddy paths of raised soil that ran crisscross between the many verdant green fields. Due to heavy rains in the previous days, it was a slippery affair – not without a few people taking a tumble!
As a MTB fangirl, I enjoyed the more technical sections of train. Overall, our off-road ventures represented perhaps 70% easy trail, 30% technical or ill-maintained single track. Considering the distances we were tackling (60-90km a day, on knobbly-tyred MTBs), this balance seemed to me to be just perfect.
Upon making our land crossing by bike into Cambodia, the terrain changed immediately. The land went from green to red, as if the soil knew of and obeyed the artificial divide that is the border. Cambodia reminded me of central Australia – red and dry but interspersed with lush green and random thirsts of water. Our first day in Cambodia saw us cycle through Kep Province, along the beach of sandy loam. There was literally nobody else aside from the odd Cambodian. We didn’t see any other westerners for hours and hours – sometimes for an entire day. It was eye opening to be so very off the beaten path.
One memorable experience occurred as we neared Phnom Penh. In an extremely local and rural village, we spotted an open concrete home with a local woman weaving on a home-made loom. We gestured to her and smiled, non-verbally asking if we could enter. She smiled and gestured for us to come in. We watched her weave, her complicated threads of wool becoming verdant and intricate cloth. It was a lovely and entirely silent interaction with a local person.
A real point of difference, Brett and Social Cycles offer a less seen perspective on the countries they ride through. A chance to engage with grassroots local enterprises that are working to effect real change in developing countries. The trip is a fairy tale for a cyclist with a social conscience. Wake up, ride, see a social enterprise, interact with locals, and ride more. Travel through amazing terrain, knowing you’re doing something to educate yourself and to help. Combining my passion for cycling with my desire to make the world a slightly better place felt good.