Dave 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?
I 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?
Yes, 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?
I 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?
The 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?
It 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.
10. 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!
Need more information on Cycling In Vietnam?
- Tour.tk Vietnam Factsheet – Sonya & Ali have lots of practical information on Vietnam, written from a cyclist’s perspective
- Jan Dodd’s Vietnam Tips – A former writer for Rough Guide offers some tips on cycling in Vietnam