How to Travel Vietnam by Bicycle

There's always plenty to see along the road in Vietnam.
There's always plenty to see along the road in Vietnam. | Source

Europe tends to be the most popular destination for cyclists on tour, with its ubiquitous bike lanes, temperate summers, and helpful social networks like Warmshowers.org. However, Southeast Asia is also prime cycling territory. Vietnam, with well-maintained roads, cheap food and drinks, and guesthouses every 30-40 kilometers, is probably the best country in the region for a long bicycle tour. This article will show how you can pull it off.

Note: I'm no hardcore cyclist.  I'm a backpacker who took a four-month budget cycle adventure covering about 3200km.  More-experienced riders may disagree with some of what I write, but I just want to show that a cycle trip through Vietnam can also be comparatively cheap and easy.


Buying a Bicycle in Vietnam

There are a few options for getting a bicycle in Vietnam. You can tough out the trip on a cheap local bike, like I did. However, more serious cyclists can find high-tech bikes in Ho Chi Minh City or some other big cities in the region. You can also bring a bike along on your flight.

Locally-Made Bikes: There's a row of bicycle shops in Ho Chi Minh City on Vo Thi Sau Street, near the intersection with Nam Ky Khoi Nghia. Bikes here cost around $120-200, and the best for touring are made by Asama. My bike had only 6 gears, which made for hard work on some uphills, but it was still fine for the trip. Hardcore cyclists will probably be disappointed by the bikes, but if you don't mind pedaling a little harder and going a little slower these are fine.

Imported Bikes: There are a few shops in the city selling high-tech imported bikes which cost around $400. They're hard to track down online, but if you ask around the bike shops on Vo Thi Sau or in online forums you'll be able to find them. Cyclists report that it can be easier to find a high-quality bike in Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Vientiane (Laos) or Bangkok (Thailand) and bring it with you.

Cycling Gear: To Buy or To Bring?

You've got more flexibility with how you'll get the rest of the gear you'll need for the trip. Except for the panniers, everything else is small enough that you can easily bring it with you from home or from other cities in the region.

Panniers: You'll need panniers, also known as saddlebags, to carry your things on the bike. These cost around $100-150, and you can buy them at specialty bike stores in Ho Chi Minh City. You can probably also find them at such stores in other big cities in the region. If your bike has a rack above the back wheel (many of the Asama bikes have this) you can tie a wooden stake to the rack and then use bungee cords and ropes to tie your backpack down to that.

Bike shorts: Though amateurs may not realize it, the extra padding that bike shorts give is crucial to pulling off the bike trip. That is, unless you can withstand wincing in pain for 8 hours per day. These cost around $40 and can be found in sports stores in Singapore and Bangkok. They may also be available in Ho Chi Minh City by now, though they were difficult to find when I did the trip.

Riding gloves: You'll need riding gloves to help keep the sun off your hands and absorb the constant vibrations from the handles. Your hands can quickly start to go numb without them. You can find these in Vietnam, but it's a good idea to bring them along.

Bike helmet: Most Vietnamese people cycle without helmets, so it's quite difficult to find a good one there. A specialty shop might have it, but it's best to bring one with you.

Repair kits and pumps: You can easily find repair kits in Vietnam. The compact pumps that touring cyclists use are hard to find, so bring this with you if you want one. However, so many people ride bicycles in Vietnam that repair shops can be found almost any village. You'll rarely have to go more than a few kilometers until you find one. It will almost certainly be easier to push your bike to the next village or catch a ride on a passing truck rather than fixing flats by yourself on the roadside.

They don't look too fancy, but you'll come to love the hammock cafes.
They don't look too fancy, but you'll come to love the hammock cafes. | Source

On the Road

Cafes and Hammock Cafes

It's unlikely you'll ever go more than 10km without finding a roadside cafe where you can stop to have some coffee, water, soda, or fresh coconut juice. This is one of the most convenient aspects of cycling through Vietnam. In a class of their own, the best cafes for cyclists have dozens of hammocks tied to trees and posts. One of the most satisfying experiences is to chance upon one of these cafes just in time to escape the sun and have a mid-day nap.

I would usually begin riding around 7AM and stay on the road until around 10:30. Then I'd hang out in a cafe and read or study Vietnamese for a few hours until around 1:30 and get back on the road until the evening.

Repair shops

It's handy that so many people ride bicycles in Vietnam. If you've got a flat tire, loose brakes, a slipped chain or any of the other countless malfunctions that could arise, you're never more than a few kilometers from a shop where someone can repair it.  In mountainous areas it may take a while to find a shop, so you may be better off if you catch a ride to the next town on the back of a truck.

In my experience, bicycle mechanics are some of the most honest people you'll meet in the country.  Even when I was clearly stranded, I was only charged around 10,000 dong ($0.50) for repairing a flat tire.

Guesthouses and Hotels

Vietnam is quite densely populated, and while this means the roads are quite busy it also means you're never too far from a town large enough to have a guesthouse. You'll typically hit such a town at least every 30 km as long as you're in the lowlands. If you're in the mountains it could be up to 70 km.

Hotels (khach san) are generally more expensive, running around $7 per night for even the cheapest rooms. Guidebooks usually only list khach san, so they make accommodation in Vietnam seem more expensive than it is. Look out for guesthouses (nha nghi). These primarily cater to Vietnamese people, but foreigners are also allowed to stay. You'll probably need some basic Vietnamese to arrange a room, but it shouldn't be too difficult. If you're willing to look around a bit, you should be able to find a room for 100,000 dong ($5) in a nha nghi in any town.

Traffic

Traffic in Vietnam is notoriously unruly and the roads are crowded. It can be quite dangerous if you're not careful. However, people are used to seeing people on bicycles and one advantage of being a foreigner is that people take special notice of you. As long as you keep to the right and always check behind you before passing someone you should be fine. Also watch out when two big trucks are passing each other, especially on smaller roads. You may need to ride on the shoulder to give them room to get by.

City riding is a different beast. It's all too common to find people coming straight at you even though you believe you're on a one-way street. Odds are that you're right, but that isn't going to stop anyone. Awareness of your surroundings is key. Just take it slow at the beginning, and eventually you'll get a feel for the informal rules of the road.

A Taste of Traffic in Vietnam

Budget: $15 Per Day or Less

Another great thing about cycling through Vietnam is how affordable it is. Here's a short breakdown of my day-to-day expenses during the trip.

  • Fan room in a guesthouse: $5
  • Meals: $1 x 3 (sometimes 4) = $3
  • Water (1.5 liter bottle): $0.25 x 3 = $0.75
  • Drinks (coffee, energy drinks, fresh coconuts): $ 0.40 x 6 = $2.40
  • Total per day: $11.15

In a normal day of cycling, these were my minimum expenses. Meals can be more expensive if you go to foreigner-friendly restaurants in the cities. Since you're on the bike all day you hardly spend any money, so it's actually a pretty great budget trip.

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Comments 13 comments

kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

"Traffic in Vietnam is notoriously unruly and the roads are crowded. It can be quite dangerous if you're not careful."- Quite interesting observation :) I live in the Philippines and the traffic, I have to say, is pretty much the same,LOL! I guess traffic makes Southeast Asian countries both famous and infamous :D


lifeisabeach profile image

lifeisabeach 5 years ago

Wow, a truly satisfying hub which made my mouth water. Instead of dreaming of cycling in Netherlands or Denmark I am now considering Vietnam.


edgeicurean profile image

edgeicurean 5 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand Author

@life: glad to plant the idea :) I'm sure you'll have a great trip there. I'm planning on posting some more info on biking and traveling in Vietnam, so I hope it's helpful!


edgeicurean profile image

edgeicurean 5 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand Author

@kerlynb: yeah I've been to Philippines, but I think there are way more motorbikes in Vietnam. Sort of the difference between riding in a stampede of cars or a swarm of motos. I wish they had Jeepneys in Vietnam though!


tokigostudio1 profile image

tokigostudio1 5 years ago from Panama City Beach, Florida

Loved this hub! Lots of good info and pretty specific. Just had friends head to Cambodia. The more I read, the more I want to go. Not counting airline fees, it would be hard to find a less expensive adventure.


fordie profile image

fordie 5 years ago from China

An informative hub. Well put together


Rodrigo 4 years ago

Did you travel alone?, did you hear about people whose bikes were stolen?, I'm already in Hanoi and just thought to do a bike trail around Vietnam, your hub made me more confident about doing it.


edgeicurean profile image

edgeicurean 4 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand Author

hey Rodrigo, I'm glad to hear it! They were definitely 4 of the best months of my life... I'd love to do it again if I have time!


melanie 3 years ago

Thanks for the great information! Do you think this bike trip is also possible for not very well trained people? My husband and I are not very sportiv but would really like to try this challenge. What do you think, was it very straneous?


edgeicurean profile image

edgeicurean 3 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand Author

hey Melanie, glad that the info was helpful :) I think you'll be ok...maybe start around the Mekong Delta, which is mostly quite flat, to make sure that it's not too difficult. There are also lots of little towns in that region where you can stop at guest houses, stop to rest, and get your bikes fixed if you need to. If you stick along the coast as you go north, it'll also be flat for most of the way. There'll be some big hills around central Vietnam, but you can always put the bikes on a big bus and ride past the difficult parts.


Felix 3 years ago

Hey

this was a good read, and i'm really interested in giving Vietnam a shot i think the cheap prices on everything is great cause i'm just a student atm. My query is in regards to i guess saftey, my mum says if i go for it then i should take a friend or hire a guide for the trip. Did you do it all alone?, would i be okay to do it alone?


Mike 2 years ago

Sat here planning another trip to Vietnam, cycling is the only way for me, gets a bit annoying with having to slap hands and shout hello back to the local kids all the time, tho small price for the most amazing cycle ride. I did it with a tour of others, boring, as lot of the time the bikes were stored on a truck whilst a coach took the strain, safety through the city! not quite what I envisaged, 2nd time by myself far more enjoyable, I think being by yourself you confide in others easier and get to meet and see so much more. Roll on November.


Sarah Stackman 20 months ago

seriously great guide. Thanks mate

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