Like most SE Asian countries, Vietnam is an assault on the senses, sometimes for good and sometimes not. Between sidestepping your way around sidewalks, scooting through motor scooters, and saying no countless times to ladies trying to stuff your faces with donuts on the street, the cities of Vietnam will have you screaming ‘Serenity now!’ in no time flat. Luckily, there are other places. Unfortunately, most people opt to see these places on stuffy tour buses with more stuffy tourists which will also not lessen your need for serenity. Skip the buses, don’t skip the countryside, and hop on a bicycle. Two wheels gives you much needed freedom to explore the peacefulness that exists outside of the city limits. And while this mode of transportation can probably help you find tranquility in many other places other than Vietnam, I found it particularly awesome here. Below are a few places we jumped off the bandwagon and onto a bike. Serenity now (insanity later)!
We were torn on what to do in Ninh Binh. It is a little town and used as a jumping off point for exploring two popular tourist destinations, Tam Coc and the Hoa Lu temples. There are many tours that will take you through these places for a good amount of money and some quality time in an air conditioned bus, hooray. We went in a different direction and took the local bus to Ninh Binh. From there we rented bicycles (relatively new ones for a change) and lost our way into the countryside and into the beauty of Trang An. This was probably one of my most favorite days on our whole trip thus far.
Yen Duc Village Homestay
After a two day sailing cruise around Halong Bay we opted for a one night stay at the Yen Duc Village Homestay. This is an up and coming tourist village but with it being so new our foreign faces were in for a lot of staring time. Here, besides catching fish with bamboo baskets, planting a garden, visiting the morning market, and learning how to make a northern Vietnamese dessert we also got some bike riding time in. Although we had a guide for the tour, it was a pleasant ride around a little village with some beautiful scenery and of course an abundance of rice fields.
Hue is an historic town. Boasting several ancient tombs and an ancient citadel along the river, there’s enough to see for a few days. Usually, the tombs are best seen by boat tour. Unfortunately for us it was quite chilly and rainy while we were there so the boat tour was pretty out of the question. Instead, we took a break in the rain to bicycle down to the Tu Duc Tomb to nose around. We passed through tiny streets, cemeteries, people being people, all stuff that you can easily miss on a boat or a bus. I enjoyed the tomb way more than I thought I would and if we had more time I would have liked to explore all three major stops. After the tombs we regrouped and decided to head out to a handmade bridge in the countryside. Commissioned by a little old lady a long time ago, this bridge was quite small. And while the destination might not be all it’s cracked up to be, getting there was the fun part. We passed little kids playing badminton with cardboard box lids and decided to buy them some real racquets. Seeing as it was late in the day we passed many farmers tending their fields, fishing, and picking morning glory from its murky living space, and we were provided tea and dried ginger snacks from a very nice lady at the bridge. All thanks to the humble bicycle.
The Mekong Delta was another question mark in our trip. Do we go or not go? Do we go there for a few days or take a day trip from Saigon? Looking into it further, it seemed that the day trips were a whole lot of driving and not a whole lot of doing much of anything. Most of them head to My Tho which is the northernmost town of the delta and I’m guessing the most overrun with visitors. After reading some travel blogs and conducting a little more research we decided to go for it, but to go further into the delta than most people. Here, we opted for another homestay, Nguyen Shack, which is a little down the river from the town of Can Tho. We took a bus to Can Tho, then a taxi to a bridge and then from the bridge they came and picked us up from a tiny dock and took us to the homestay by boat. Boat is the only way in and out. Peaceful and inviting on all accounts. I knew I wanted to do two things in the delta: go to the floating market, and go bike riding. Unfortunately we were only able to go to the floating market as Nick came down with something, but I assure you the bike riding would have been awesome. The guy who manages the place offers bike tours for a few bucks or you can just take bikes for free and ride around yourself. He’s even nice enough to draw you a little map of where to go. That was what we were going to do had it all worked out.
But not everything always comes up evens. Next time. Even so, Vietnam by bike is beautiful and undiscovered. Find your own bliss on two wheels.