NOTE: As we slowly emerge from COVID quarantine with grand ideas about what to do once we’re free, and whether travel is safe, here’s some fuel for your imagination–a big-picture perspective about how to REALLY get out and do something memorable, from someone who understands cycling in Vietnam.
Guest Post from Scott Zimmerman
The beauty of cycling in Vietnam is limitless. You have the beautiful terrain of the Mekong Delta, the cultural heritage and quaint atmosphere all through the villages, mountain biking spots to bring joy to the heart of the most pessimistic biker, and the bustling city life of the capital Hanoi.
Without a proper knowledge of the region, however, all the beautiful cycling gems littered around the country may just end up being a dead waste, like a samurai sword in an untrained hand.
You don’t have to fret, though, below is a summary of all you need to know to make the most of your cycling trip to Vietnam.
Vietnam and Covid-19
Before we proceed, it is important to note and acknowledge the current covid 19 pandemic and the hold it’s had on every major aspects of our lives – including traveling. And while, as at the moment this article was published, there are still some restrictions on travel to certain countries, it is important to note that Vietnam is actually one of the countries with very little recorded cases, and a great record of dealing with the virus.
It is one of the rare countries where the virus has been fully contained, which of course is great news if you plan to go cycling in Vietnam anytime soon.
Best Places to Cycle in Vietnam
1. Ho Chi Minh City – A city teeming with culture and activity, exploring Ho Chi Minh on a bicycle brings about a whole new perspective that is quite overwhelming in its beauty and tranquillity. From colonial architecture to mighty domes, Ho Chi Minh has a lot to offer when it comes to adventure, and is definitely one of the best places to cycle in the whole of Vietnam.
2. Hanoi – Of course the capital makes the list. Where else can you find such an amalgamation of people from all walks of life and traditions, from natives to foreigners, and intrepid cyclists from all over.It is as though all of Hanoi was built with great cycling routes in mind. There’s also no shortage of attractions to ride through – and speaking of attractions, our must-visit recommendation definitely has to be the Mausoleum complex. Simply breathtaking.
3. Sapa – One of the really famous sites in the whole of Vietnam, Sapa may have become something of a tourist trap through the years, but thankfully it never lost its zeal and conduciveness for epic cycling adventures. The lush landscapes here is a legitimate paradise for cycling.
4. Mekong Delta – Mekong Delta is known from great atmosphere, conducive weather conditions, beautiful green countryside, tranquillity, and being an amazing atmosphere for cycling.
You have great paths, beautiful orchards, flanked by great farming villages and warm folks. There’s really not much more you could ask for.
5. West Lake and Three Bridges – A gentle back road along the Red River, West Lake and Three Bridges is a popular cycling route, and for good reasons too. The grades are easy, the atmosphere is quite relaxed, and the scenery is one to kill for.
Other honorable mentions include Cat Tien National Park, Hoi An, Vietnam National Highway, and of course Vung Tao and Danang.
Planning a Successful Cycling Trip
Below are a few tips and information that would prove valuable for planning a successful cycling trip to Vietnam. They include best time for the trip, dos and don’ts to follow, and right of way conventions, and some important questions to consider before and while on your trip.
First we start with the questions.
Questions to Consider on Your Cycling Trip to Vietnam
1. Should you bring your bike or rent one?
Vietnam is a great country for biking. In fact, here almost everyone has a bike. Students bike to school in groups; even adults and women use their bikes for transporting edibles to and from the market.
Thanks to this, there’s an abundance of bike shops and good bicycles for sale in the whole country. Also, this is why it is advisable to get your bicycle in Vietnam, as opposed to bringing one yourself.
It is also more advisable to buy a bike, rather than rent one, thanks to the fact that you don’t have to worry about returning your bikes on every cross-city tour.
The bicycles you’ll get in most cities are new, in good condition, and can hold their own on a long trip. They are also a lot cheaper.
And just in case you’re on the lookout for really high-end bikes, you can pay a visit to the Hanoi Bicycle Collective, where you’ll find really great bikes and knowledgeable folks on the subject.
2. So I can’t Bring My Own Bike?
Of course you can bring your own bike. Doing this comes with its advantages of fit and familiarity, and also shortcomings, especially for those with special bikes that need special repair parts.
Vietnam roads are also very rugged, so you really have to make sure your bike is a hybrid capable of handling the rough terrain. Getting one in Vietnam ensures you are able to tailor your purchase to fit this need more efficiently.
3. What are the Things I’ll Need to Have on the Trip?
For a smooth, convenient trip, you should bring the following with you along on the trip – or get them once you arrive in Vietnam, of course.
1. Front and Rear Light – for night traveling.
2. Bike Locks – for obvious security reasons.
3. Horn – Just because, as you’ll find below, Vietnamese roads are a honking fiesta.
4. Helmet – for obvious safety reasons.
5. Dress – Two cycling shirts; spandex with great cushions.
6. Gloves – Because things may get sweaty.
7. Wrenches – For personal adjustments.
8. GPS/Mobile Phone – For easy navigation.
9. Saddlebags – To conveniently store your stuff.
10. Sunscreen – You don’t find these easily in Vietnam, so ensure you bring a lot with you.
4. Will I Be Better Off With a Folding Bike?
There are definite advantages to a folding bike, as long as it is rugged enough to handle unimproved roads. A full-size touring bike that folds in half, for example, gives you an extended range of convenience. You have the luxury of folding your bike inside a trunk so that you can drive or get a ride between cities, see more places easily if you plan to do that, and packing more experiences into your Vietnam vacation.
Tips for Planning a Successful Cycling Trip to Vietnam
1. Best Time to Cycle in Vietnam
Definitely the best time to cycle Vietnam is during the periods between October to February. This is, of course, due to meteorological reasons. During these times the rainy seasons would be over, and the weather would be cooler and more conducive.
If you’re going to be biking at any time apart from these, a good rule of thumb is to get up early and do some early morning cycling.
2. Right of Way
The general convention to determining right of way when cycling in Vietnam is simple: the bigger vehicle gets the way. This doesn’t really give much power to the cyclists for sure. But hey, it is what it is.
Vietnam is generally a great biking country. Meaning there are enough bike repair shops and mechanics in almost every major biking spots. Beware though, most of these may not be able to handle your complex gears and special needs bikes.
4.Side of Road
Vietnamese drive on the right side of the road. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to be officially. Sadly this isn’t generally how it turns out.
Truth is, traffic rules are pretty lax in Vietnam and may appear sometimes to be more of a suggestion than a hardened rule. So, in short, be alert and on the lookout.
Be prepared for traffic. Be prepared to hear lots of pointless honking. Be prepared to haggle and bargain a lot. And of course be prepared to be overwhelmed by beautiful coasts and sceneries.