There’s only one way to travel a country slower than on a bicycle – by walking. I have never walked a country, but I have cycled one, Vietnam. Together with Agness, we have cycled more or less 2500 km. If you’re thinking about it and would like to know what to expect, here’s my insight based on the experience.
There are usually two concerns people have when considering cycling in Vietnam, i.e. road conditions and safety.
Despite a common belief that Vietnam is a poor country and it is barely possible to travel it by non-mountain-bike, it is more than possible. Most of the roads we travelled were at very good state and any kind of bike would give you a comfortable ride. Take the bicycles used by locals as a proof. These are mostly the simplest possible push-bikes and are far from being called “mountain”.
When planning a bike journey in Vietnam you can bring your equipment from your home country, buy mountain bike in specialist store in a major Vietnamese city (like Hanoi or HCMC) or get a cheap second hand bicycle from locals. It all depends on your preferences and budget. However, I would strongly recommend to get a bike with brackets. Thanks to them you’ll easily travel uphills and downhills.
Another misconception of Vietnam is that it’s extremely dangerous on the roads. Well, It’s not without a reason, because crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh City is not as easy as in London, but most of the roads in Vietnam do not look like this. Motorbikes are nearly everywhere and carry all kinds of things, from 5 passengers to live animals, but the drivers are aware of this and YOU.
With constant beeping they acknowledge you of their presence when approaching and take extra care when they see a foreigner. Throughout our journey we had no collision whatsoever. It may look haotic from the outside, but once you are part of this traffic madness, it all makes sense and make you comfortable within it.
Food and drinks
There’s no single kilometre where you won’t find anything to eat or drink. There’s no need to stock up on food or water if you don’t want to. You’ll find it every time you need it. One thing to bear in mind though, people will try to sell you stuff for more than they normally do. You will see that every time you’ll get a different price, even if it’s written.
This is the only reason why you might want to stock up in places where you know you’re not getting ripped-off.
Similarly to food and drinks, never a problem. With one important thing to remember. Don’t look for hotels, look for Nha Nghi instead. For tips on accommodation in Vietnam, see my other article Cheap hotel / hostel in Vietnam.
Bicycles have been covered previously in this article, so I won’t come back to this. Just make sure your bike is equipped with bicycle racks, front and rear. Front basket has proven to be extremely useful, although it looks silly. Bicycle bell is recommended but not necessary. Shouting would be just fine, I’d say even more effective.
There’s no need for speciality bike bags, panniers, etc. Your backpack will be just fine, all you need to do is to strap it with elastics. In this way you’ll be able to explore Vietnam conveniently, both by bike and walking. Don’t forget to take a helmet, for your own safety and to avoid fines from police officers, and sunglasses.
I found the latter to be one of the most important things I had with me. Not only it shields your eyes from the sun, but also from all flies and mosquitoes, the last thing you want is to blink all the time.
Riding in the evening or at night may be much more pleasant than during the day. Not only the traffic is less intense, but the lack of sun is welcoming you to take advantage of it and do extra few km. To do this you need to see and to be seen. It’s crucial to have lights attached in the front and back of your bike. The stronger the better.
Above all, this is the reason why you should do it. The variety of things you’ll see will make you breathless, biking too. It takes a lot of effort, but you’ll be rewarded for it. Here’s few photos for you, the rest you should take yourself.
Over to You
Have you cycled long distances in the past? Have you been to Vietnam? Have you done both at once? Please share your experiences in comments, so that others, like me, can benefit from them. Thanks.