Cycle Touring in Vietnam

 Bruce Robertson

Vietnam is probably the most popular country in Asia for bike tours with hundreds available. It is very much a developing country although is further ahead than neighbouring Laos and Cambodia. If you haven't been before, the legacy of the Vietnam War may be foremost in your mind. And while this is still a hugely important factor particularly in Saigon, there is so much more to this country that has moved on considerably in the last three decades.
November to April is the best time of year to tour to avoid the wettest weather and the summer heat - however winter can get quite cold in northern locations. Food is amazing year round across the country and is traditionally one of the world's healthiest cuisines. The national dish is Pho, a (usually beef) noodle soup, and fresh vegetables abound. Coffee and baguettes are also very good with the latter having been held onto from the French colonial era. A little known fact is that Vietnam is the world's second biggest coffee producer after Brazil.

Hanoi and the karst coast

The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is the international gateway to northern Vietnam and also very popular with cyclists. Short tours in and around the city are popular as well as visits to the nearby karst landscapes of Halong Bay and Ninh Binh.
Also within the Red River Delta, and easily accessible, are bike tours on Cat Ba Island, the Kim Boi hot springs and the rural country and villages of Ha Tay province.

Mountains of the North West

This is the least visited but perhaps most interesting part of Vietnam - especially for those who like climbs, whether on or off-road. It is sparsely populated but home to many ethnic minorities and hill tribes within Vietnam that each have their own unique cultures and cuisine.
The main centre for mountain biking is Sapa, a hill station founded by the French that is close to the Chinese border. It is now a booming tourist town, and the ideal base for a bike tour.
Region map of Vietnam

Central Coast

The Huė to Hoi An section is the most visited - an interesting route is to go inland to mountain villages before heading back to the coast. There are three UNESCO World Heritage sites and Huė is a former imperial, and later, national capital. It is renowned for it's impressive citadel, palaces and pagodas.
The busy Highway 1 links these towns - with the beaches and port city of Da Nang in between. However there are numerous local roads that make this such a great area for cycling.
Hoi An is a beautiful city with the UNESCO listed Old Town and a culture that dates back over 2,000 years. Nowadays it is very touristy which means that it has great facilities but perhaps not the most authentic atmosphere - however the local region has some great cycling.
Riding further south along the coast is the resort town and excellent beaches of Nha Trang. Scuba diving is particularly good in one of the world's most beautiful bays. Not far inland in the Central Highlands is the charming French-built resort town of Dalat.

Saigon and the Mekong Delta

Officially known as Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon is a large and seemingly chaotic city but cycling is certainly possible - I recommend using a local guide! However it is best to use the city as a base for cycling in the Mekong Delta or the start of a longer expedition. There are also plenty of reminders of the Vietnam (or American) War through museums and memorials.
The Delta is flat which makes for quite easy riding. Floating markets, endless rice paddies, charming villages, temples and pagodas plus tropical landscapes are all to be found here in southern Vietnam as are the eerie Cu Chi tunnels of the former Viet Cong army. You can also take a bike and boat cruise to get a different view - the Mekong can take you into the heart of Cambodia or beyond.

Cross Country

Vietnam is over 1,700km from north to south and only 50km as it narrowest point. That makes it seemingly ideal for a long distance tour from Hanoi down to Saigon. The main route is Highway 1 along the coast, which is very busy but possible to ride as it has a wide shoulder. Local guides can take you by smaller roads that crisscross the Highway but most tour companies opt to use other transport to avoid the worst sections - and make the journey more time effective focusing on the more interesting parts.
An alternative is the inland Ho Chi Minh Highway which is perhaps more scenic although the road is often in poor repair so the lighter traffic isn't enough of a compensation. Also the main tourist attractions and destinations are along on near the coast.

To Sum Up

This long narrow country has a huge range of cycling and what you choose depends on what you want to see or do as much as it does on your fitness or riding ability. As always an organised or guided tour takes care of the logistics while also enhancing the enjoyment and reward you get - especially if your time is limited as it is for most of us.
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