Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Rows of elegant Vietnamese women with conical hats cycle gracefully through the streets, the smell of jasmine and chillies cooking permeating the air. The traffic may be chaotic in the city centre but cycling is the way to see Ho Chi Minh City, once known as Saigon, and the surrounding area. Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City has an elegant but edgy charm and is a culturally diverse and fascinating place to visit. Get into the countryside and the verdant green of rice paddies, smiling children in villages and life by the river will both fascinate and endear you to this beautiful and welcoming country. If you want to see Vietnamese life up close and get to places that a tour bus cannot, then consider a two wheeled holiday.
There are a number of bike rental shops and businesses in Ho Chi Minh City. Some also sell bike equipment and there are rental companies that offer guided tours for cyclists. These are excellent for getting to know a bit more about the area and for orientating oneself to the chaos of the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City. Many of the bike rental companies will also have connections with local cycling clubs who may organise events in and around the city. A number of travel companies also offer cycling vacations with the Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi trail as a highlight.
Vietnam is located in the tropics and there are rain showers usually in the early morning and afternoon. If you are planning to cycle it is worth considering a change of clothes for this reason. Some of the roads are primitive compared to Western standards and there are few cycling tracks. Traffic can be chaotic until you find a tranquil spot on the city outskirts, and the whine of mopeds is everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. There is little regard for traffic laws in Ho Chi Minh City, with bikes and mopeds ruling the roads and competing with cars and lorries. Riding on the pavement is de rigeur and a feat in itself, given the many cooking stalls and small businesses set up by the side of the road. If you are cycling go with the crowd, don’t hesitate, and consider a face mask for the traffic fumes.
In Ho Chi Minh City there are some very interesting and scenic cycle routes to take. One of these is the Cu Chi Tunnels, which were built during the Vietnam War by the Viet Cong and are located in a district of Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels are part of a larger network used to mastermind the wartime logistics and are now a major visitor attraction. The route begins by cycling out of Ho Chi Minh City to the village of Tan Phu Trung. Bomb craters are covered and the road is paved, however there are still traces of war if you look closely. The cycle ride traverses rubber plantations, and places where visitors can see rice paper and rice wine being made. Crawling into the tunnels is a unique experience, giving an insight into life during the war in Vietnam, and a memorable place to visit by bicycle. Another cycling route takes in the best of Saigon and starts by a ride through Chinatown and Binh Tay Market, where watching everyday life is a real attraction. Thien Hau Temple, dedicated to seafarers, is also in the area and en route. Observing the markets, the food on offer and the smells is part of experiencing this beautiful nation, and a wonderful if chaotic cycle ride. Many people also take in lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area and visit the market stalls, which are at the heart of entrepreneurship in this country. Visitors can also cycle into the countryside surrounding Ho Chi Minh City and expect to be welcomed by a sea of smiling faces. Chatting to people in rural villages and observing the way of life is a charming way to see the best of Vietnam and to cycle in very scenic surroundings. Getting free of the pollution from traffic fumes is an added bonus of cycling in the rural areas, and it is the perfect way to escape the crowds and see a unique way of life.
(Image by exfordy on Flickr)