Vietnam is an amazing country with diverse natural and cultural highlights which deserve plenty of time to be experienced, understood and ultimately loved. Cycling may be one of the best ways to glean a better understanding of Vietnam's local life.
Along with walking, cycling may be the easiest, healthiest, best and most economical way to get close to nature and it is suitable for people of most ages. Whether you are planning a day-tour or a long-distance ride, it is one of the best ways of observing real life.
In Vietnam, some wonderful places are only rarely discovered by travelers. Such places are usually located in the countryside, and can only be reached by bike or even on foot.
How to Plan a Cycling Trip
If you want to plan a bike trip in Vietnam, all you need to consider is when and where to ride, what the road and safety conditions are like, and how you can rent a bike or hire a local cycling guide.
When and Where
With rich culture and beautiful scenery, Vietnam is undoubtedly one of the best countries to see by bike. In Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, you'll see some landmarks of the city's evolution; in Hoi An or the Mekong Delta, the leisurely rural life and scenery will make you reluctant to leave; and if you prefer spectacular views of the coastline, the route from Nga Trang to Mui Ne is best.
If instead you wish to follow in the footsteps of history, Hue and the route to the Cu Chi Tunnels will unveil some mysterious history to you. If you are looking for a challenge, then cycling in Da Lat may satisfy your passion for adventure.
Although Vietnam is home to a tropical monsoon climate, the distance from north to south is large, and the rainy season varies in different areas. This influences the best time to cycle in different places.
If you plan to ride in the north (Hanoi, Sapa) or the south (Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City), there will be less rain and relatively pleasant weather from November to April. However, the best time to cycle in these areas is from November to January, when it is dry and cool.
The central coastal region, including Hoi An, Hue, Da Nang and Nha Trang, will be influenced by the northeast monsoon from September to February, when there will often be strong winds, large sea swells and rains, which make it difficult for travelers, especially those who want to engage in outdoor activities.
So the best time to ride in central Vietnam is from February to August.
If you plan to go to the central highlands (for example Da Lat), the best time is from May to November.
Road Conditions and Safety
The road conditions in Vietnam are among the best in Southeast Asia. Most of the roads are flat with few slopes, so they are more suitable for all ages.
In Sapa or Da Lat, however, the highland characteristics make it much more challenging to ride, so it is more suitable for experienced or professional cyclists.
The only puzzling problem is the ubiquitous motorcycles, which are always a latent danger of Vietnamese traffic. Whether in the cities or the countryside, motorcycles have been the direct or indirect cause of most of the traffic accidents in Vietnam.
So, effectively avoiding motorcycles is a key to safety when cycling in Vietnam.
Bike Purchasing or Rental
If you are planning a long-distance ride (more than 30 days), then you'd be well-advised to buy your bike, for you can always sell it after your ride. Since Vietnam has a biking culture, you can find bike stores in any city, but not all the bikes are appropriate for long-distance rides.
In Hanoi, bikes are cheaper in Ba Trieu Street, but you need to be canny to get a good discount.
If you are only planning a short ride to explore a few places, you can join day-trips which provide sturdy bikes and knowledgeable guides. Many travel agencies provide such packages in the main cities in Vietnam.
Get a Local Guide
Is a local guide necessary? The answer is definitely 'yes'.
Since Vietnam is a country with both natural landscape and cultural attractions, the experience of a local guide will not only help you find more beautiful natural scenery, but also let you observe different customs, which is what you might miss if you ride alone.
Although tourism in Vietnam is developing fast, language is still a big problem for travelers, especially in some rural areas. So traveling with a local guide allows you to communicate with local people without any trouble, so you can have a closer look at the lives of local people.
Best Places to Cycle in Vietnam
Basically, you can ride in almost all major cities or areas in Vietnam. Obviously what you can see or experience along the way will be different, and the difficulty of riding will vary from place to place too.
Soft cycling is suitable for anyone who can ride a bike and can manage a bit of exercise. The whole ride will last about 2.5 to 3.5 hours per day.
Hanoi: Cycling in the city you'll probably pass through the Old Quarter and taste some delicious street food. If you are tired of all the hustle and bustle, you can pedal off the beaten track. Cycling along back-roads and the river bank, passing through the flower and vegetable gardens, you may discover a different Hanoi.
Ho Chi Minh City: You can wander around the busy China Town and enjoy beautiful temples, or visit most of the other attractions in the city, by bike. Ho Chi Minh City is a place which warrants a slowing down, in order to experience its fascination.
Hoi An: This is one of the best cities in Vietnam for experiencing the local life by bike.
You can immerse yourself in the cultural splendor of Hoi An on an enriching 4-hour ride, on which you may observe the most traditional way of fishing or buffaloes taking a bath in the river, or cycle alongside through the paddy fields. Such things are generally not seen in the city.
How about meeting friendly villagers and learning how to make crackers, or wandering around the local markets and getting to know special ingredients? The most attractive thing about visiting Hoi An is its leisurely pace of life.
Hue to Hoi An: This is a stunning 130-kilometer bike ride, and a great way to see another side of Vietnam. It is wonderful to be out in the countryside, enjoying mountains, oceans and green fields.
You will have a short drive along the coast, passing through Hai Van Pass, known as one of the most picturesque cycling coastlines in Southeast Asia.
Nha Trang to Mui Ne: This 220-kilometer trip provides a great opportunity to enjoy the coastal views of Vietnam. Though long-distance rides may be somewhat boring, you will forget all your fatigue on this trip, for your attention will be focused on the charming coastal scenery.
Sapa to Bac Ha via Lao Cai: This 110-kilometer ride will not only help you enjoy beautiful countryside and intriguing villages, but also to have a chance to explore local villages and visit local markets.
There is about 35 kilometers of downhill riding, during which you do not need to use the pedals, but just to concentrate on the road and enjoy the fantastic surroundings.
Along the way, you'll see people dressed in colorful ethnic costumes and carrying big bamboo baskets. Why don't you just stop and take a photo with them? It will be a precious memory for you, which you will miss if you travel by car.
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