On Your Bike! Free Vietnam Bicycle Tours
I have been asked on numerous occasions what are the best free things to do here in Ho Chi Minh City. I usually wax lyrical about independent walking tours, street food sampling and people watching but here’s my latest discovery. A group that provides regular FREE Vietnam Bicycle Tours. Let me explain.
A lot of my friends love to cycle. They love road bikes, mountain bikes and everything in between. They worry about missing their training rides when they go on holidays and they seriously miss their social bike rides while they’re away. But despite this passion, there wouldn’t be too many of them that would consider bringing their bikes with them to visit us in Saigon. I can hear the responses now…”What are you nuts!!! We’ve seen your videos on Ho Chi Minh City Traffic! You’d have to have a death wish”.
But what if I told you that cycling is one of the most pleasant ways to experience Vietnam and then told you how you can see a lot of the area in and around Saigon for FREE. What if I told you there’s a group of incredibly supportive cyclists of all levels that would love to have you along for a ride. And what if I told you, you’d be spending most of your time on peaceful rural roads, sampling the local cuisine along the way and actively support local charities with the ride. Would that change your mind?
I’ve been looking at adding at least one fabulous bike tour to our Tours page. Along with walking tours, food tours and motor bike tours I think cycling is a logical way to explore the real Ho Chi Minh City and surrounds. I recently hooked up with Huy from Vietnam Bike Tours to see what they had on offer. They’re one of the biggest bicycle touring companies here but promise to give an authentic, small group experience. I’m heading out on one of their regular rides this week so I can do a review but he also told me about the SUNDAY RIDES he organizes and I definitely thought it worth a mention here.
Every Sunday, of very keen locals and tourists head off on a ride ranging in distance right up to 100km or more, although the average is 60-80km. They usually begin at Ben Thanh market, right in the centre of the tourist district, at 6.30 am and spend the rest of the day exploring the roads less travelled around town. On the way they experience authentic Vietnamese cuisine, incredible landscapes and the very best of Vietnamese hospitality. The rides are FREE if you have your own bike and, if you don’t it’s very easy to hire one for the day. The big downer for me was that I WORK ALL DAY SUNDAY. So I can’t write about it from experience. I thought the next best thing was to interview one of the regulars to get a personal opinion of the ride and the riders.
David Sheppard, a KIWI who has been living in HCMC for almost 4 years, was kind enough to meet up for coffee last week and give me an insider’s perspective of the ride. He’s a firm believer that the group is for any level of rider and was glowing in his account of the high level of support provided to participants of all skill levels. “Everyone is welcome” he told me. “It’s not elitist at all. The riders are mainly local Vietnamese with a passion for cycling and there’s a few foreigners thrown in for good measure. The bikes themselves come in all shapes and sizes, from incredibly expensive carbon fibre frames through to heavy old clunkers. Tourists are more than welcome to come along for the day. Don’t be worried that you won’t be able to communicate as most of the riders speak above average English.”
The first thing I asked him was if anyone could join. 100km seems an awful long way for the average about town cyclist. Would they be left behind? His answers were comforting. Not all of the rides are anywhere near this distance. They definitely get a lot more people on the shorter rides but no-one is EVER left behind. In David’s words “It doesn’t matter how slow a rider you are, someone will be with you all the time. It’s a very caring group. Everyone is incredibly supportive.” The rides are broken down into comfortable 15 to 20km stints with plenty of opportunities to rest and refuel. Even on the longest ride to date, 182km, a young Vietnamese girl completed the ride on an old 1 speed clunker over the course of the day. Riders started off at 6.30am and easily made it home before dark.
“It doesn’t matter how slow a rider you are, someone will be with you all the time. It’s a very caring group. Everyone is incredibly supportive.”
If you’re an experienced rider and like to race a bit, don’t be worried that you’re not going to get an opportunity to stretch it out. Whilst there’s always someone to support the slower riders a few of the participants like to egg the others on for a bit of “play time” on the way back and you’ll be more than welcome to get competitive if you have the energy.
David told me that there’s already been over thirty of these rides completed so they’re very well organised. Every 3-4 months they go on a charity ride where more than 40 people attend. The group does the normal ride but schedules in a visit to a local orphanage or other worthy institution. The riders have a great time amusing the kids and money collected goes to the charity. This can amount to sizeable contributions of up to 8 million dong (~$400) and sometimes even more which makes a huge difference to the lives of the recipients.
David’s description of the rides certainly had me wishing I could go on one. The meeting point is usually at the very central Ben Thanh Market at 6.30am. The riders warm up as they weave their way out of the City. Sunday mornings are always pretty quiet at that time so you can concentrate on getting the legs pumping rather than dodging the manic traffic. They ride for about 40minutes before everyone sits down to a traditional Vietnamese breakfast of Pho or Bun and stack in the carbs. After breakfast the group will do stints of 15 – 20km until lunch time which is always a very special event.
Road conditions vary on the rides but the common denominator is that you’ll be riding on back roads with very little traffic. Sometimes these are bitumized, sometimes they are nothing but a track. Waterways are crossed on small ferries that are a critical part of the transport network in Southern Vietnam.
David recounted some of his more memorable experiences. “After winding our way through rural scenes and fields, we found ourself at a local’s house and that’s apparently always an excuse for a party. With Western tourists in the group that seemed to create even more reason to celebrate. It’s a fun way connect with the locals in a friendly social environment with the assistance of your new friends as translators. Sometime after the third round of drinks (both alcoholic and not – your choice) an adult pushed a shy child at the group and they proudly sprouted what little English they had. A modest exchange ensued. I congratulated them on their language skills which had both child and parents beaming. As they disappeared, another child took their place and so it continued. Most of these kids have had very little contact with foreigners before so it seemed a pretty exciting event in their life.”
As we are now in the rainy season I was a little curious as to how the group handled the weather. David cheerfully reported that “Up till now [they’ve] never had to postpone a ride because of poor weather. Even in the wet season, the rain is sporadic. It’s certainly not cold in these parts so getting wet is almost a pleasure. I’d rather be wet with cooling, cleansing rain than soaked in sweat. And a little bit of mud makes it even more fun.”
An obvious question is how you can find out about the ride. That’s easy. The rides are announced on the preceding Thursday on Vietnam Bike Tour’s Sunday Bike Ride page on Facebook. Click through on the event posted and you’ll see all the information in both Vietnamese and English. You’ll find start times, a brief description of the ride and any other relevant information such as if a support vehicle will be provided and if the ride is a special one
One issue I could see was that most tourists don’t bring their bike with them. David admitted that 99% of the regular attendees have their own bikes, but that shouldn’t let that stop anyone wanting to join up. Bike hire is readily available all over Ho Chi Minh City. Huy recommends bike rental through Xe Dap Vietnam who give a 50% discount for those wanting to join the FREE Sunday ride. For just under $5 (100 000 VND), they will rent you a very new, well maintained Trek with comfortable gearing, a proper saddle for comfort and a safety approved helmet. Drop in the day before to have it fitted up OR just email your measurements so you can be allocated the correct size. The shop is out at Binh Thanh (See details below) so it’s best if you get there early in order to ride back (or catch a taxi) and meet the group at the starting point.
So, have I changed your mind? Fancy a free day out with new friends? Need to get some exercise or training in while your on holidays? Want to experience another side of Ho Chi Minh City and surrounds in a safe and friendly environment? If you answer yes to any of the questions above then check out next Sundays Free Vietnam bicycle tours on theirpage. You’re guaranteed to have a lot of fun with David and the rest of the enthusiastic line up.
I’ll be reporting later in the week on my 1 day cycling trip down in the Mekong Delta with Vietnam Bike Tours. I’m looking forward to getting back on a bike although I’m pretty sure after being appallingly lazy for 4 months it’s going to hurt!
*Update: Here’s my first VietnamCycling Review of my Day trip down to Cai Be on the Mekong River. Enjoy.
* There’s no paperwork or formalities required so there’s no need to bring your passport (or other valuables) if you have somewhere safe to leave them. Be sure to waterproof everything if you have to bring them along.
*Incidentals like food andrefreshments are unlikely to cost you more than $10 for the whole day.
* XE Dap Vietnam who can help you with bike rental is located at 126 Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, P.15, Bình Thạnh, HCMc
Mr Vũ’s phone number is: +84 (0) 937447740
Note: I do not receive any payment for this post (or any others on the site for that matter!). I do receive a small amount of money by allowing advertisements on the site and any purchases made through those links.