By Guest Blogger Abby Clark
Vietnam has a passion for cycling. Though it’s a developing country, Vietnam is relatively safe and its roads are for the most part in good shape, making it an ideal region to experience by bike.
Vietnam is suitable for cyclists of all fitness levels. Experienced peddle heads tend to head for the hills and beautiful landscapes of the northern highlands, and beginners and leisure riders favor the flats of the Mekong Delta in the far south.
You’ve likely seen news footage from Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi with bustling city streets jammed with bicycles, but the country also features an expansive network of rural roads, where riding conditions are perfect and the country’s agricultural life is part of the scenery. Many feel that the Asian rural existence makes a better-suited backdrop for long hours in the saddle than nearly anything else, and the bicycle is the favored mode of locomotion for many locals and tourists.
Westerners riding in Vietnam find the Vietnamese people they encounter extremely open and friendly. Many of them, especially children, will wave and say hello as you ride past, and many riders find it uplifting how happy the locals seem to see you. It’s generally easy to interact with people you encounter on the road, and this is a large part of the appeal of cycling here.
Of course, you have two general options for a Vietnam biking adventure. You can buy or rent a bicycle, and amble along on your own time, at your own pace, or you can sign up for a tour. The second option is the more sociable of the two, as you’ll likely befriend other travellers over the course of a multi-day tour.
Most tours are run out of Ho Chi Minh City. They vary in distance and duration, from short (3-4 hour long) outings, all the way to 15-day tours from Ho Chi Minh City cross-country to Hanoi, or to Bangkok, Thailand.
Let’s look at a couple of the better tour options:
REI is similar to Mountain Equipment Co-op—it’s a consumer co-operative that retails outdoor gear—and through ‘REI Adventures’, it runs professional and reputable hiking, biking and mountaineering tours in several countries around the world.
REI Adventures’ Vietnam biking tours will guide you through villages and markets, past pagodas and rice paddies, and expose you to the real Vietnam. You can ride as few as 10 or as many as 75 miles per day—riding schedules are flexible and there is time to stop at sites as you make your way across the country, with checkpoints between ‘stages’ at 4-star hotels and resorts.
Tours are pricey (more than $3000 per person for a 15 day trip) but include many frills and a high level of professionalism. Rates are lower for REI members, but tours are open to all.
This tour company has the distinction of being hand-picked and endorsed by the largest travel book publisher in the world, Lonely Planet. Sinhbalo offers several different multi-day tours, as well as highly regarded day tours to the BenTre and Cai Be floating markets.
The degree to which Sinhbalo guides will accommodate special requests and last-minute bookings is impressive. Its website features detailed information about tours and the bikes they use, a warm and sincere blurb about the company’s founder, and photos of all of its staff. There are male and female guides of all ages.
Sinhbalo costs much less than REI on a per day basis but as such accommodation and dining are more basic. A 3 day/2 night trip costs $500–$700 per person, with ‘standard’ and ‘deluxe’ hotel options.
Bicycle rentals and sales
Commuter bikes can be rented inexpensively in most towns in Vietnam. For peace of mind however, many travellers buy a bike in Vietnam, along with a good helmet and spare parts before setting out on a tour. Note that tours such as those provided by Sinhbalo generally include the use of a bike that will be a step up from a cheap street rental.
Some cyclists visiting Vietnam have their own bikes shipped to them from back home. Suggestion: go this route only if you are really attached to your bike! Shipping will be expensive, and it may make more sense to just buy a trusty solid bike in Vietnam as your $4000 alloy racing bike would probably be a theft magnet on the streets of Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi, anyway.
There are many shops in Ho Chi Minh City that sell bicycles—a bike of similar quality to one you would typically receive as a rental should cost $30-$50 used, and around $100 new. These will be functional but unimpressive ‘no-name’ bicycles. You can spend more on a Trek or a Schwinn or another name brand, and probably for a better price than you’d get in North America.