"Taking a sightseeing tour of Hanoi by bicycle brings special pleasures to visitors. There is nothing like the hustles and bustles you see in other cities. There are not many places for entertainment, but a lot of ancient and quiet beauties which require deep knowledge of history and culture to understand," said Robert Elliott, an Australian visitor.
Taking a bike on the plane...
Most airlines will accept a bike as part of your total luggage allowance - i.e. your bags plus the bike should not exceed the luggage allowance. This varies with the airline and the route; as a general rule the limit is 20kg, but the exact amount is shown on your ticket. A boxed bike typically weighs about 16kg, which does not leave much space for your luggage.
Bikes should be boxed for air travel in order to prevent damage and some airlines will not carry bikes that are not properly boxed. Most good bike shops will box your bike for you so if you are going to have your bike serviced before the tour it may be a good idea to have the shop box it too.
We cannot be held responsible for any excess baggage charge, and some airlines, especially in the US, have a fixed charge for taking bikes, regardless of the weight.
"Trans-viet bike tours, a new tourist attraction"
By Le Van Sam, Vietnam News
Ho Chi Minh City - Two groups of European tourists, mostly from France and Belgium, took part in two trans-Vietnam bicycles tours, with the 36 participants blazing a new trail in Vietnam is burgeoning tourist industry.
The tours were organised jointly by Belgium is Southeast New Adventure (S.E.N.A.) and the Vietnam Yang Travel Agency (VYTA), a branch of the Railway Tourist Company.
The cyclists, the oldest being 65, were all bicycle enthusiasts, and many of them had conquered the world is highest mountainous ranges.
The first group left HCMC on January 8, first going to the tourist resort of Dalat on the central highlands, where they visited some of the beautiful landscapes which the region has to offer.
From Dalat, through the Ngoan Muc (Belle-vue) pass they went to Phan Rang coastal region where they visited many towers built by the Champa. The following day the group travelled to Nga Trang City, visiting Dr.Yersin is tomb and the Oceanographic Institute. Along the central coast of Vietnam, the tourists stopped to visit many scenic areas and historical vestiges before arriving in the old imperial city from HCMC.
Under the program, the tourists stopped for rest after every 100 kilometres of cycling usually at cities or busy towns.
From Hue, after enjoying a pleasure cruise on the Huong (Perfume) River and visiting the tombs and shrines of the kings of Vietnam, the tourists went by train to Hanoi and then Ha Long Bay.
Some of the group had decide to stay to take part in the "Return to Dien Bien" trip. Mr. Hendrick Marcel, director of the Southeast New Adventures, the man who was frequently at the head of the cyclists group, said: "This will be the best chance for us to test our strengths at the 1,050 metre high Pha-Din pass. We cycled through many passes in the world but at the speed of tourists. Moreover, Dien Bien is so well-known and we want to come there to prepare for our cycling tour to Dien Bien by the end of this year."
The cycling group which left HCMC in February had a chance to welcome the Lunar New is Eve on Sa Huynh beach, in Central Vietnam. They ate rice cakes, set off fire crackers and sang the Vietnamese song "Spring in the city", which the guide Ms.Le Hang had taught them.
On the first day of the New Year, the group left for Quang Ngai on their bicycles which were now decorated with apricot flowers made by paper or nylon. On the way the group was stopped by some locals who presented them with real apricot flowers.
One cyclist, Christian, was overcome by the warmth and kindness of the local people. He kissed the flowers, parked his bike and then ran back to the group, allowing each one to kiss the flowers in turn.
Cucurni Rene, a musician, was so moved by the scenery that he, his wife and other members of the group composed songs. Each of them was about various localities the group had passed through. The group learnt the songs quickly and sang them as they cycled along.
The following is the final part of a song about Ha long:
"Vietnam les cyclos ne sont plus que tourists"
"Vietnam les cyclos sont bien sur un peu trists"
"Vietnam le p�tit train les emporte vers Ha Long et ils n�auront plus le plaisir des pistes qui faisant tres sauter leur trefound."
There were also poems composed by other cyclists. Mrs.Martinne wrote "Le Vietnam and Le Hang" and Mr.Hendrick Marcel wrote "Doux visage du Vietnam".
All the 36 participants of the two journey had the same remark: "The more we travel through regions in Vietnam, the more we have close friends. We meet sincere eyes and smiles on our ways. Besides, Vietnam is a treasure of culture difficult to be found again in other regions." This remark was made by writer Lemenceau J.Claud on behalf of the two groups.
Bicycle Touring Vietnam - 1998 - the Friendly Country Lesley, Tony and David's bicycle tour to Vietnam December 1997/January 1998
We felt that we were prepared for our trip to Vietnam. We had read lots of guide books, stories of the wars and the peace and novels by Graham Greene and Marguerite Duras. Lesley had spent a year trying to come to grips with some of the intricacies of the Vietnamese language and its pronunciation. We had talked to other people who had cycled in Vietnam. We didn't expect to be surprised. The immigration police lived up to their reputation for being rude and abrupt but everyone else was so friendly and helpful that it was almost embarrassing. Only a relatively short time earlier our country had been involved in a bloody war with these people and they were welcoming us with open arms. It took us by surprise.
Our trip started in Hanoi where we stayed at a small hotel in the old town and played tourist. We visited the spectacular and beautiful island studded Halong Bay, the Perfumed Pagoda, the Ho Chi Minh museum, etc. We enjoyed being in Asia again. We even rode our bikes. Traffic in Hanoi was a seething mass of bicycles, cyclos and motor scooters with a small number of cars and trucks thrown in for good measure. What road rules that exist are ignored; people ride on the wrong side of the road, ignore red lights and no entry signs. It was hard enough to walk across the road. Would we be able to ride safely in the chaotic maelstrom of Vietnamese traffic? It was easy really. The traffic doesn't move very fast; you just join in and move with it. When you want to turn, you just start turning and everyone makes way for you. No problems!
After a week in Hanoi, we took the Re-unification Express overnight train to the old Imperial capital of Hue. Our bikes had travelled on a freight train a day earlier we were all relieved to find our bikes waiting and un-damaged at Hue. We spent two days enjoying the sights of this lovely town and adjusting to the heat and humidity of the south.
We left Hue for the small seaside town of Lang Co at the foot of the Hai Van Pass. It was good to be on the road. The cars and buses gave us a wide berth and we raced the children on their old rusty bikes along the road. High school students often have to ride 15 to 20 kilometres to get to school and as there was a morning session and an afternoon session of school, there seemed to be students on the road nearly all the time. The boys acted like young boys everywhere and the girls looked beautiful and serene in their brilliant white 'ao dais' as they pedalled sedately along the road.
On our second cycling day we climbed Hai Van Pass. We were up early and had breakfast by seven o'clock in an attempt to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures. The road started climbing as soon as we left the town and climbed steadily for over ten kilometres. Within minutes, our clothes were wet through from perspiration. The sweat dripped from us as we slowly made our way up to the pass. Eventually we reached the top and were greeted by food and drink sellers who made sure that we were well refreshed. After a long break, we quickly sailed down the other side of the pass and made our way to the attractive old port city of Hoi An. We had a rest day here and took a bus trip to the impressive Cham ruins at My Son. This area was heavily sprayed with Agent Orange and even though it was over 25 years since the end of the war, it was still devastated. There were only a handful of trees amongst the low shrubs that cover the mountains. In some areas, they were putting in eucalyptus groves as they tolerated the poisoned soils better than other trees.
We headed south to Quang Ngai. Every few metres along the road we were greeted by someone calling out "hello" to us. Voices calling greetings accompanied us throughout the day. Every time we stopped at a drink stall or market to buy anything we were surrounded by people wanting to know where we were from and where we were going. With the help of her phrase book and dictionary, Lesley managed to have long and often involved conversations with people. In Quang Ngai, we felt that we were not very welcome for the only time during our stay in Vietnam. This seemed to be a much poorer town than the others we visited and it had been bypassed by much of the development which had taken place during recent years. It had also been a major communist stronghold during the 'American War' but doesn't seem to have benefited from this. We were pleased to leave the place.
Most days we rode quite long distances with many days over 100 kilometres. The length of the day's stage was determined by the availability of a hotel which was allowed to accept foreigners. Despite the freeing up of the economy, there were still lots of regulations restricting accommodation. Many new privately owned hotels were being built in areas which were on the main tourist stops and these offered good value and good service. In other towns we were forced to stay at government owned and run hotels. These were much more expensive, overstaffed and gave poor service. In Qui Nhon the government owned hotel had staff sitting and standing around everywhere but there was no one available to make a cup of tea or sell a beer in the bar. We generally ate our evening meal in small cafes and restaurants and rarely paid more than five or ten dollars for the three of us. Often we couldn't finish all the food we were given. For breakfast we tended to have bread, jam and eggs while lunch was bread, cheese and bananas. Vietnamese bread is based on French recipes and is delicious when fresh.
Vietnam is a long thin country with high mountain ranges running the length of it. As we rode south we had views of the jungle clad mountains and bright green rice fields all the time. Where the mountains were close to the coast, we had long hot climbs to get over the passes. We passed numerous beautiful beaches which were deserted. Riding was pleasant in the mornings but by midday it became hot and unbearable. We tried to start riding as early as possible and to reach our destinations in the early afternoon. Roadside drink stalls often sold fresh coconuts. When the top was cut open, these made a refreshing cool drink which only cost a few cents.
When we reached the popular beach resort of Nha Trang, we had a couple of rest days. This gave us the opportunity to replace some broken spokes in Lesley's rear wheel. She had broken two spokes in her rear wheel but we had been unable to remove the rear cassette to replace them. For some time she had been riding with our emergency kevlar string spokes in her wheel. It took the mechanic and Tony and I on a metre long piece of pipe to get enough leverage on the cassette tool to release the extremely tight cassette. We went on the outrageous and extremely good value 'Mama Hahn's Boat Trip' around Nha Trang harbour. It was just what we needed to relax after the hard cycling of the previous week.
The road to Dalat started climbing as soon as we left Phan Rang. After 40 kilometres, we reached the start of the main climb to the pass. It was extremely hot and humid and Tony and David climbed very slowly. Lesley seemed to be thriving in the conditions and easily out-climbed the two men. We stopped for lunch when we reached the pass. The road then dropped into a valley before starting to climb again. We reached a road junction with a sign to Dalat. We asked a number of people if this narrow rough road was the main road to Dalat and were repeatedly assured that it was. The road climbed very steeply up and down over a number of mountains and became progressively rougher and rougher. Our progress was very slow. We had climbed to over 1,500 metres and we could see the road climbing steeply ahead of us. It was getting late and the sun was going down. There was still 30km to go to reach Dalat. We couldn't get there except by riding into the night without lights. David felt very dehydrated in spite of having drunk 12 litres of water during the day. When we reached a small village, we arranged for a small station wagon to take us and our bikes the remaining distance to Dalat. We found out the next day that we had taken the old road. It was shorter but climbed up and down all the way. The new road followed river valleys and was much easier but was a few kilometres longer. If we had stayed on the main road we would have easily reached Dalat in daylight.
From Dalat, it was all downhill - well it was downhill except for a number of long climbs on the way. When we reached Dau Gaiy we rejoined Highway One. We had already travelled 125 kilometres that day from Bao Loc and felt as though we had come far enough for one day. The nearest hotel was 10 kilometres away in the wrong direction. When we made enquiries we were told that there was a motel in town just near the crossroads. The "motel" turned out to be a couple of wooden beds covered with thin mats. The beds were separated into "rooms" with thin curtains. It was relatively clean and very cheap at $US2.00 each. The owners made us very welcome. Unfortunately, the noise from the heavy traffic along the highway continued all night and we didn't sleep very well.
The next morning we were on the road well before seven. We had a fast trip although the highway became increasingly busy as we approached Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Just before the bridge over the Saigon River we stopped at a roadside restaurant for a drink break and to build up courage before we tackled Saigon traffic. Everyone we met who had been to Saigon had warned us about how bad the traffic was and we were more than a bit apprehensive about it. After our drinks, we had no more reasons for any delay and headed out into the traffic. There were a lot more cars and trucks on the road but there were still lots of bicycles and motor scooters. We had determined to ride in a positive manner and went for it. While the speed of the traffic was faster than in Hanoi, we tended to be riding faster than most of the people on the road. Through a huge roundabout, right onto one of the major boulevards, then a left into one of the smaller roads and we were soon at the hotel where we planned on staying. In reality, riding in Saigon was not much different than riding in any other Vietnamese city. We had cycled 1,265 kilometres since arriving in Hanoi.
The cycling part of the trip was over. We now had 6 days to play tourist in Saigon and the Mekong Delta. It had been a great trip.