The trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City is not one of the world’s great exotic journeys.
Whether you drone down by plane (two hours), rumble your way by train (two days), or bump and curse your way by car or bus (forever), it is a journey which most people only enjoy when it’s over.
But the H2H group take a different view. Rather than make it quicker, they make it slower. Rather than let the plane take the strain, they choose the unforgiving bicycle saddle, over 2,000 kilometres and 27 days.
This charity ride has been rolling since 2009, and this year features 20 riders who will traverse the often stunning scenery of the inland Ho Chi Minh Highway raising money for a wide selection of charities. A good cause which this year aims to raise US$50,000 (VND1.1 billion), according to ride leader Zach Kester.
“[That would be] the record amount of money raised by a single H2H ride... It would bring our total impact to US$300,000, which is a nice round number.”
Riders are mainly expats who live and work in Vietnam, this year featuring riders from the UK, US, France, Syria and South Africa. The ride, says Kester, provides riders an opportunity to give something back to their new home country as well as having the trip of a lifetime.
“You just become aware of how amazing the world and the people in it can be,” he says. “You become far more aware of your privilege. Another great experience of the ride are the people we get to meet in these small villages that we ride through and spend our nights in.
“Many of them never have seen or met foreigners, let alone had 20 of them riding through their towns on bikes. The people are incredibly friendly and curious.”
The way to get involved without doing the hard yards is to sponsor a rider, each of whom has to raise at least US$1,000 to take part. Direct donations can be made via the Just Giving page on the group’s website and choosing any of the H2H 2017 riders. All costs for the ride are covered by the riders and sponsors, so all donations go directly to the beneficiary charities.
In addition, various fundraising events including quizzes, charity dinners and other events are being held until the end of April.
With the experience gained from previous years, the group now encourages readers to invest in a proper bike costing upward of VND6 million, with popular models being the Giant Escape 2 (a hybrid tourer) and the Cannondale Synapse (an endurance road bike).
Peril on a Plate
Still, the riders have to suffer for charity. Injuries are common, ranging from minor to serious. Three riders failed to complete the trip in 2015, one even fracturing three bones in her wrist while slipping when ordering a banh mi.
Organisers have tried to minimise the danger by avoiding the busy coastal route, and pedalling through the Truong Son Mountains to places such as Pleiku and Phong Nha.
There must be easier ways of raising charity dollars, but H2H’s record is impressive. So far in eight years it has raised over US$250,000 to combat poverty in Vietnam, focusing primarily on children’s education, healthcare and safety. Much of the money goes to organisations that build schools, fight sex-trafficking, foster orphans and provide educational opportunities. Charities include Saigon Children’s Charity, Blue Dragon, KOTO, Live and Give, and ILA Community Network.
There are also few charitable occupations which bring such benefits to the fundraisers themselves, Kester believes.
“One can get jaded spending most of one’s time in the big cities such as Hanoi or Saigon where it feels that everyone is trying to take advantage of you,” he says. “In the countryside, people are so open and honest, and share nearly everything they have, even if they shouldn’t. It’s refreshing and helps you to reset and fall in love with the country all over again.”