10 Questions: Cycling In Vietnam

P1000017.jpgDave is an American bike tourist who’s lived in Vietnam for the past 3 years.

In this week’s 10 Questions, Dave shares some of the things he’s learned about cycling in Vietnam, including what the food’s like, how much you need to bargain and how to ask for directions when you’re not sure how to get to the next town.

1. Can you tell us about your bike touring so far in Vietnam?

I have lived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for the past three years and have done bike touring in the south and central part of the country. My trips have included a 10 day trip around the Mekong Delta, a five day trip from Ho Chi Minh City to a Mui Nei a beach resort on the coast and mostly recently a five day trip to the central highlands from along the Ho Chi Minh trail from Buon Ma Thuot to Kum Tum near the border of Laos and Cambodia.

2. Vietnam is famous for its heavy traffic. Do you think it’s a problem for bike tourists and can you escape the traffic?

DSC00989.jpgI guess it is all relative to what you are used to. I come from the New York City area so am used the the traffic. If you are an experienced cyclist and comfortable riding with cars I don’t think the traffic is an issue. One thing I have found in Vietnam is that with so many motorcycles on the road cars are used to riding with two wheeled vehicles. You can definitely escape the traffic all together on roads along the coast as well as on my recent trip in Central Highlands I was riding on the main Hwy between cities and the traffic was pretty light.

In Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi of course the traffic is very heavy and chaotic. Again, because it is mostly motorcycles and slow moving I think it is easy and fun riding once you learn the unique rules of the road.

3. Some bike tourists complain about being ripped off and needing to bargain for everything in Vietnam. What are your tips for dealing with this situation?

DSC00949.jpgYes, this can be a problem but mainly in the cities and other tourist areas. Cyclists may also have to deal with the independent mini-bus drivers, which serve as the town to town transport in most of the country. Once you have a sense for how much things should cost, you can bargain to a reasonable price. Although you will probably be paying more than locals, things are still quite cheap and I think you just have to take it in your stride. The majority of things in Vietnam that you will be paying for such as food and hotels are a fixed price so it’s not a problem.

4. In your journals, you talk about being followed by crowds and generally gathering a lot of attention on your bicycle. Was this enjoyable for you or sometimes stressful?

P1000014.jpgI have biked in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and have found the Vietnamese people the by far the most open and friendly as you ride along the road. It can get tiring saying hello in response to everyone as you ride along. It is great to see how happy people, and particularly children, are when they yell hello and get a hello response. I think it is easy to interact with people and a very enjoyable part of the experience of biking in Asia.

5. Can you cycle year-round in Vietnam or are some seasons better than others?

The best time of the year is probably October through February when the rainy season finishes and the weather is cooler. I just did a cycle trip in May and it was very hot during the day – around 35°C and sometimes up to 40°C at the hottest time of the day. I think the the trick is to get up early and bike in the morning. The hottest time of the day seems to be between 1pm and 3pm so you can find a outdoor cafe and lie on a hammock, take a nap and ride a few more hours in the late afternoon.

6. What’s the food like? Can you find cheap street-side restaurants with good quality food just about everywhere?

P1000034.jpgThe Vietnamese food is good and I think very easy to find cheap and every where that appeals to the western taste. For breakfast the Bhan Mi baguette sandwich is available everywhere on the street and for lunch there are always plenty of options. The most popular dish is Pho, which is a beef noodle soup with vegetables. It is available everywhere for usually less than $1 U.S.

7. How easy is it to get your bike on a bus or a train? Do you have to box it or pay extra?

There is usually no problem putting your bike on a long distance bus or short distance mini van. On the bus they will throw it underneath and may charge you a couple dollars. I have not traveled with my bike on the train but have seen bicycles and motorcycles being loaded so this should not be a problem either.

8. Can you give us one phrase in Vietnamese that every cyclist should know how to say?

DSC00996.jpgIt is good to know how to say “where” which in Vietnamese is “ở đâu”. It sounds like “o dough”.  You can also say “toilet” to anyone and they will point you in the right direction. it is helpful to write down the name of the place/city that you are going and show it to people.  If you try to pronounce the names of places to people they will have great difficulty understanding.

9. Which route would you recommend to cycle?

Vietnam has a beautiful coastline and beaches. I think a ride up the coast from Vung Tao to Danang or Nha Trang would be a great ride.

P1000028.jpg10. What’s the single best reason why someone should book their next bike trip in Vietnam?

In the south it is pretty much all flat!

Thanks to Dave for answering 10 questions on bike touring in Vietnam and providing the photos. You can learn more about Dave by watching some of his bike touring videos.

Need more information on Cycling In Vietnam?

If you’d like to answer 10 questions about a favourite cycling destination, read the guidelines and then get in touch.

Comments

  1. Gwen Pennylegion
    11th August 2010 at 2:13 am #

    We plan to cycle in Vietnam from mid October to mid January. Our travel clinic recommends that we receive the rabies vaccinations. Is this really necessary??
    Regards,
    Sean and Gwen Pennylegion

    • friedel
      11th August 2010 at 7:06 am #

      Hi Gwen & Sean,

      The answer is “it depends” – helpful, eh?

      It depends on your level of risk that you’re willing to accept, it depends on how remote you’ll be in Vietnam, it depends on the level of treatment available in the country (will you have to fly out to Bangkok for treatment in a worst-case scenario)? I’m not sure what the availability of the required Rabies treatements is in Vietnam. I’d expect it to be better than Cambodia / Laos but perhaps not quite as good as Thailand, but that’s only a guess.

      We didn’t cycle in Vietnam, but in the other SE Asian countries we visited, we had little if any trouble with dogs. They were generally very placid.

      Here are some specific thoughts on the Rabies vaccination:

      http://travellingtwo.com/resources/vaccinations

      Friedel

  2. Toon Goris
    24th November 2010 at 10:31 am #

    hi,

    I have just finished my cycling trip in Vietnam. I had to take a train because the floods were pretty bad at a given time but for the rest it was great!

    Especially the south and the midlands are really nice and the Ho Chi Minh road sees a lot of cycling tourists which has its reasons: it is an absolutely wonderful road.

    If you like mountains then I really would advise you to take the road from Phan Thiet to Di Linh and from there to Da Lat, then from Da Lat to Nha Trang is again wonderful! Then I would go from Nha Trang back to the Ho Chi Minh trail over the wonderful road towards Buon Ma Thuot. The traffic on these roads is fairly light to almost nothing (Phan Thiet-Di Linh: 1 truck and 20 motorbikes in the last 5 hours!)…
    But it is pretty steep and with my DIY trailer I really suffered!

    I would advise you to stay away from Highway 1: traffic is really bad and the road is not that good if you go further north…

    grtz

    Toon

    • Harold
      30th January 2011 at 6:52 am #

      Toon,
      I am intending to cycle for about 13 days through Vietnam.
      Where did you acquire maps and where would you recommend I go. I would really prefer NOT to go on a guilded tour, I just would like to do my own thing. Your response would be most appreciated.

      Regards,

      Harold

      • Luna
        14th January 2012 at 2:40 am #

        Hi Harold,
        I’ve been researching the Vietnam cycling tours also.
        I think you have a good idea for doing your own thing.
        When do you plan to go?
        Luna

    • Scott
      5th November 2013 at 2:27 pm #

      Thank you all for your Vietnam route advice and suggestions. I rode cross country US this year and heading to a advanced yoga course in Vietnam early next. Researching potential routes covering Vietnam/Cambodia. I’m used to my own bike/panniers but was wondering if I could find decent one there.

  3. peter
    1st January 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    there are other creatures than dogs that transmit rabies and rabies is usually fatal. why would you even think twice about getting a shot that could save your life?

  4. Gary
    18th November 2011 at 5:53 am #

    Hi Dave,

    We are travelling to Ho Chi Min City next february and wanted to buy an imported bike at a raesonable price. Can you advise of shops in the area or give some info.

    Thanks/Gary

  5. Dave
    6th December 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    Hi,

    I just finished a Hanoi to Saigon bicycle trip. Here is my blog

    http://bicyclevietnam1.blogspot.com/

    Dave

  6. Craig
    24th June 2013 at 8:28 am #

    I joined a ride from Saigon to Siem Reap last February. The entire group agreed that the favorite part of the whole trip was the Mekong Delta.

    http://asia-adventures.com/index.php/cycling-tours/saigon-to-siem-reap-cycle-tour.html

  7. Bob Adair
    5th August 2013 at 10:06 pm #

    I cycled for a week in late January 2013, from Savannakhet in southern Laos to Hue in Vietnam (Lonely Planet routes), staying in budget-end hotels and eating in restaurants or markets, and spending $15-20 a day in Laos. Laos was somewhat tough going (bad roads in some places, with pretty basic services), but quite doable and a bit of an adventure. The road (Hwy 9) was being worked on in many places, so even a year or two will likely make a big difference. Traffic was minimal and people were very friendly.

    Vietnam was pretty much a first-world experience after Laos, with excellent roads, and much better food and accommodation. My costs went up to $25-30 a day ($20 for hotels seems a common rate), but I didn’t try to economise or bargain much.

    I travelled on Highway 1 from Dong Ha down to Hue, and although the cycling was quite safe (wide paved shoulders) I found it extremely noisy (a lot of traffic, and a lot of air horn use) – to the point where I decided in Hue not to continue further down the coast by bike (I’d bought a cheap bike in Savannakhet, and was planning to ‘donate’ it at the end of the trip in any case). I’m in my early 60’s and have some hearing / noise sensitivity issues so others may have a different experience, but I think many people will not find their actual cycling time on Highway 1 particularly enjoyable.

    On the other hand, a day trip through the countryside around Hoi An on a rented bike was pure pleasure! If I returned, I’d try to avoid Hwy 1 where possible.

  8. ben crombez
    28th November 2013 at 10:14 am #

    traffic is not an issue…….??!!
    I mean, i’m an experienced cyclist, i’m comfortable riding in traffic, i do cope easily with cities traffic around the world, but what about the pollution? air and noise?
    For me, traffic is the number one issue for touring cyclist in south east asia.
    Ben

  9. Mike Todd
    2nd April 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    Hi, All. I don’t know if this forum is still active. I am planning to take a one month ride from Hanoi TO HCMC in May 2014. I would like to use the HCMT more than the coast, though I would plan to jog over from Pleiku to Qui Nhon to see a bit of Binh Dinh province, and go by Phan Thiet later to see how they’ve changed in 40 years. I’d also like to see Da Lat. Does anyone have comments about route, and my plans to go North to South? I especially wonder if there are suggestions on what to do about the big climbs along the HCMT, and whether it’s better to divert to the coast for those segments.

    Also, does anyone have comments about 29 inch wheels rather than 26’ers?

    Thanks,

    Mike

    Thanks,

    Mike

  10. Lukas
    22nd October 2014 at 4:55 am #

    Hi, I was also hoping for some advice where I can find route maps and other details about logistics for bike touring in the Mekong Delta area, please. So far, I have only found an old Lonely Planet bike tour book.

    Any recommendations or info would be most appreciate, please!

    Lukas

  11. Nick
    29th November 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    Hi, is it possible to cycle from Vung Tau to Nhatrang via Muine, Phanrang and Camranh? The last time i went up there route, there were long stretches of poor condition routes after Mui Ne rendering it not possible to cycle. Can anyone help? Thanks.
    Nick

  12. Halle
    15th December 2014 at 11:40 am #

    They’re upgrading the road’s condition so they offer another routine instead. I tried this routine one month ago and I pretty please with their service as well as the quality of the road. I think you can see detailed information in here:
    http://www.bestpricevn.com/Tour_Bike-and-Raft-from-Dalat-to-Nha-Trang-Full-day.html

  13. Ishay
    12th March 2015 at 4:17 pm #

    Hi
    Im planing to ride starting 1st April 15 from Hanoi to Hochiminh via the HCM road.
    Im looking for some good advices on places which are a must to see , i mean mostly at the rural and rmout areas and not the clasics places.
    What should i take as rain protection, is it an big issue?
    I intend to fix my bike with 1.6″ tiers, is it too wide?
    Where can i find GPS rout files?
    Many thanks for any assistaance

  14. Peter Holmes
    10th April 2015 at 3:27 am #

    Does anybody know where I can buy a recumbent two wheel bicycle in Vietnam?

  15. Mike
    24th April 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    Ishay, Hi!  You have probably already left and know more about your route than I would.  I tried last year to jump on the HCM trail at the DMZ heading south.  A tour guide pleaded with me not to do it.  It’s a little hard to sort out their advice.  The Vietnamese  care about you and want you to have a good trip, but don’t seem to think out of the box a lot, or to visualize adventure travel in their country.  At any rate, they said the road was very poor, very remote and mountainous, and I would have great difficulty obtaining services, even at times just a place to stay. 

    I like to stay off Highway 1 as much as possible.  Yes, you can ride it, and the drivers do try to be careful with you, but it is noisy, crowded, anxiety provoking, hot, and full of exhaust.  I take side roads whenever the amazingly helpful Google maps tells me I can, and download maps of my segments in advance.  Look at the satellite pictures as well as the street maps.

    That trip last year I ended up riding along the small coastal roads from Hue to Lang Co.  It was very fun.  I would have a mountain capable bike, or at least a cross to take some dirt and gravel stretches.

    I would stay east of 1 along this stretch and south of Da Nang asking the little roads you see on the map running between the fishing and coastal villages along the coast.  You can take the mountain passes, but it will force you into traffic (except maybe what’s left of the old Hai Van pass road).  The local roads along the coast are more scenic.  The people along the way are great.

    I just came back from my second trip where I tried again to take the HCM trail, this time through the Central Highlands. I was encouraged by a local cyclist to cut inland from Hoi Ann to about Kontum and head down the HCM from there.  I ended up riding north from Quy Nhon to Bong Son on my own, taking a lot of back roads (especially those west of highway 1 from Phu My to Bong Son), and had a blast.  I think you could do this heading south if you wanted to see a little of Binh Dinh.  I can send you map tracings of my route.

    From Bong Son I cut over to Pleiku by van (? $14.00 with my Bike Friday?), then tried to head south on segments of the HCM.  

    The road between Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot has significant construction at this time (April 2015).  You don’t want to try to ride it right now.  

    I tried to take the back roads to Buon Ma Thuot via Chu Prong to Ia Lop and Ae Sup, and got run off by the secret police.  There is something going on back there they don’t want to talk about, but I think you can suss it out with a Google search.  They were very polite and did not try to intimidate me, but were honestly concerned why I wanted to ride through the area, and questioned me thoroughly at their headquarters.  In the end they let me go 10 to 15 miles east from Chu Prong tailing me closely, I think to see what I was really up to, and then turned me  around and nudged me politely but firmly back (uphill!) to AH17/QL14 where I caught a van down to Buon Ma Thuot.  

    What I saw of the Central Highlands was absolutely lovely and gave me an idea that the rest of the ride would be a world class.  

    I was told later in Da Lat there is a lot of political tension in the area, but the Phat Tire tour company there thought they could get me through the Highlands with a registered guide and permits, though they hadn’t done it themselves, and no one had told me in advance that would be required.  I might try that arrangement next year.

    Learn a little Vietnamese on Pimsleur, convert your dollars to dong in advance at Wells Fargo, and go have a good time. Drink plenty of electrolyte, carry a lot of water, and take a little antibiotic.  I had a lot of fun, often on less than $20.00/day.

    Peter, I think if you contact Hanoi Bicycle Corner

      https://www.google.com/search?q=bicycle+shop+Hanoi&oq=bicycle+shop+Hanoi&aqs=chrome..69i57j0j5j0.7275j0j4&client=ms-android-att-us&sourceid=chrome-mobile&espvd=1&ie=UTF-8#istate=lrl:iv&rlimm=1977756586104985139

    he can probably try to help fix you up with a tandem. He seemed to have a pretty good shop set to western standards at good prices.

    Mike

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