I was searching for a cycling trip, and as ever, my focus was on my favorite destination, Europe. But by the time I decided and finally made up my mind, it was already winters, and Europe was ruled out.
The extensive search began again for the best countries to travel in December. None other than south-east Asian countries reflected in my search.
My cycling friends suggested doing Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam.
And I was back in my exhaustive search.
I was mailing to cycling touring companies, getting the best tour deals, searching for best deals on flights, AirBnB options, checking on reviews, bike hire, planning an itinerary. Phew! I was exhausted.
But finally, the plan was laid we were set of our trip, cycling in Vietnam
With fewer flight options, we took a flight to Hanoi via Kolkata from Mumbai.
No one knew what was in store. Not even me, even though I had planned for the entire trip.
We reached Hanoi in the eve, and after a little glitch in coordinating with the pickup guy(as language was an issue), we were heading towards our stay.
We reached the small bylane, and our host leads us to our apartment.
All the hotels and buildings in and around our stay were more vertical than horizontal, same as Hongkong. Our apartment had two rooms on each floor with three stories and a swirled staircase. We all captured one place each, luxury of staying in a condo than a hotel.
After a quick freshening up, we were out in search of food and beer. As we were walking around the street, we realized that we were staying in the central city, and we had lots of eating and drinking options.
We spotted a Czech bar and headed straight in without wasting much time.
According to figures by the Ministry of Transport, there are 45 million registered motorcycles. For a country with a population of 96 million, that’s close to one bike for every two people. Hence our guide,Tom suggested we move out of the town and then start the ride.
We reached our ride venue, assembled and checked our bikes, and were all set. The weather was terrific, and we traversed through beautiful small villages, rough patches, dirt roads, canopied trails, and places where you’ll not find tourists. We loved it. It was just our group that was riding on those beautiful trails.
We crossed Nin Bingh, did not go for the caves ride because it takes three hours for the tour, and we were running short on time. The ride around the mountains was breath-taking: beautiful, serene, and no traffic.
We carefully saw the banana and pineapple plantation.
After a great riding day, we packed our bikes and cushioned ourselves in the van to ride back.
We were up early and about for another riding day. Today we were to start our ride from the city and then move to the outskirts. While crossing the road, our guide was pretty impressed by our ability to crisscross the streets, after all, Mumbai traffic has taught us all!
We picked up the bikes from the cycle store and started our ride. We rode past the narrowest bridge I have ever seen, explicitly meant for two-wheelers. It rumbled, shook, and rattled as if it’ll breakdown any moment. I held my breath all through until I crossed it.
We then rode across the periphery of the city, crossing the cabbage fields, talking to farmers (google translate came handy here), flower fields, stopping now and then for clicks or just soak in the beauty around. Weather played a significant role in making the ride favorable.
Another fantastic riding day, and we were back with all smiles.
This eve we also went for a little stroll and watched the water puppet show. It’s just a 45mins show, and the artists clad in traditional dresses, playing traditional musical instruments narrate different scenes which are common in Vietnamese culture. Go for this show ONLY to experience the music. I booked the tickets in dance via Viator; you can choose your preferred timing and seating. Opt for the first row if possible to get you a clear and uninterrupted view.
We then chose to sit on the rooftop café and sip our coffees and also roam around the night market. The place was vibrant and lively. We loved the vibes around and spent almost entire eve here.
It was a day to fly to a close-by island. We packed our backpack (as Veitjet Air allows only 7 kgs of handbag and you pay for everything else – that’s how low-cost airlines work) and headed to the airport. There are very few domestic airlines that fly between the islands; also, they are very poorly schedules and unorganized.
But we had no choice, and with few glitches, we landed in HoiAn. Our host was excellent and very prompt in communication, and she also arranged a vehicle for the pick up at the airport. We enjoyed all these luxuries because Vietnam is not an expensive country to travel, and we were paying bills like a multi-millionaire in lakhs and billions. Uh, la la !
Our apartment was a beautiful two-floor bungalow and all to ourselves. While searching for lunch, we landed at a beachside restaurant with a breath-taking view. Vast, beautiful sea with lovely breeze made the environment all the more soothing. We had a heartfelt meal and were not at all keen to go anywhere else but just plonk ourselves on the couch.
We somehow forced ourselves and landed on the cycle seats. We decided to explore the night and lantern market that day. It was a beautifully lit market with well-placed shops and neat lanes.
I would suggest visiting the night market at HoiAn than Hanoi.
After exploring almost every lane and tasting the food and drinks, we rode back to our apartment.
It was a beautiful eve as we sat and chatted for a very long time and ended the day with a great spa.
Another amazing day
We took the day easy as the weather also demanded the same. We went for a stroll by the beach and had a sumptuous breakfast cooked at the apartment. We then got on to our bikes and, after a little discussion, decided to head towards the pottery village and coconut village. Knowing nothing about the route, we started riding. Our google map showed coconut village closeby, so we obeyed every direction instruction.
While on the way to the coconut village we saw a beautiful café and we stopped there to have a coffee. We chatted with the host and sipped our coffees. We then continued our ride in search of the coconut village. A lady midway guided us to the village, and we were there within no time. We hopped on the round boat and went an hour-long ride. The experience was terrific. A must-do when I Hoi An.
We had our lunch, which was the toughest part for me. Myself being the only vegetarian in the group found it challenging to remove chicken from the chicken fried rice and eat, but I had to as there was no other option. That’s how travel makes you learn and adjust to all types of situations.
We strolled all through the town and were back to our apartment by evening to board the flight back to Hanoi.
We planned for a short ride around the town but visited the local cycling shops instead. After a hitch start as there was an ATM fiasco that took time to get sorted, I left the situation as it is and headed for our destination. Another learning, struggle until you can else leave the issue and move ahead. We then walked around local markets and shops until it was time to leave for the airport.
The beautiful, mesmerizing, filled with laughter, secrets revealed, countless beers and so much chatter in this trip.
Our last lapse of the trip was here.
Back to the pavilion and reality.
Must do when in Vietnam:
- You can land at Hanoi or HoChiMinh city; both are crowded and chaotic
- Don’t expect clean and organized lanes. You’ll have a Bangkok and Mumbai feeling there
- Do use google translate, and it helps a lot
- People are amicable, sit with them, and talk. It’s a beautiful experience
- Leave the central city as soon as possible (if you are keen for main tourist attraction then visit water puppet show, night market and center of the town)
- Look out for experience tours where they take you to local villages showing you the essence of a country. You can opt for walking or biking tours
- Cave boat ride to Nin Bingh
- Halong Bay Cruise
- Try egg coffee, coconut coffee and even other flavors of Vietnamese coffee
- Eat local food, also if you are vegetarian like me do try the regional cuisines
- Two days at each place is more than enough
- You can club Myanmar and Combodia too
- Check for hot air balloons over golden pagodas in Maynamaar
- Hoi An has lots of high-end hotels as well so if you are keen for luxury can check those too
- Shopping, eating is very cheap there so look out for pieces of stuff made out of bamboo
- You can easily create a week’s trip in less than 60-65K, which will include your flight, stay, eating, shopping, and roaming around.
- Viator for local tickets
- Airbnb for stay
Useful links for stay and local restaurants
- Hanoi stay, https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/37258278?source_impression_id=p3_1580053738_B%2BUWQRkFMFnxEEae
- Hoi An stay,https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/13578767?source_impression_id=p3_1580053788_%2FmAW72w%2B6pTOApBA
- Cafe at coconut village,8X Coffee and Bar,Hoi An,ĐX18, Cẩm Thanh, Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
- Water Puppet show, https://www.viator.com//tours/Hanoi/Skip-the-Line-Water-Pupet-Entrance-Tickets-with-program-details/d351-8364P16?mcid=61846
- Spa at Hoi An, Mango Mango Nail and Spa,https://www.facebook.com/mangonailspa/ , 152 Nguyen Phan Vinh, Hoi An 560000 Vietnam
- Bike tour/tour planning, https://vietnamcycling.com/