[updated April 2020]
I might as well have named this post “Petal Power” about my fourteen day cycling tour of Vietnam since all ten of my co-riders were women! Without much preparation or training, I had signed up for an Intrepid Travel Vietnam bike tour that went down the length of the country—from Hanoi to Saigon. What was I getting myself into?!
All Women Vietnam Bike Tour
We were told that it was the first time in Intrepid Travel’s history that a bike tour group was all women—and it had to be my group! At first, I was a bit disappointed because I’ve never been one for girly gossip or constantly talking about how to find a husband. Too much estrogen can be a bit much and it’s nice to have a mix with some ‘maleness’ thrown in. But it turned out to be a really interesting and fun group of gals plus some of the chicks were tough cyclists who would beat the bike shorts off most men.
Not only was it all women, but eight of the girls were from Australia, two from England, and then there was me, the unsurprisingly only American. It was a tad bland as far as ‘internationalism’ goes. Nearly all of us were thirty-something, English-speakers who looked as white as Wonder bread.
We did have some diverse occupations, though, from a fashion designer to a radiologist, to an architect to some gals who worked in mining. Mostly it was good fun and I even scored my own room without having to pay a single supplement.
Cycling Tour of Vietnam Route & Logisitics
To give you just a brief understanding of our Vietnam bike tour mechanics… here is the nitty gritty:
The bicycle tour itself started in Hanoi, the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, in the north and ended in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south. It’s a long, but narrow country of 83 million people and we were seeing a lot of it firsthand from right over the handle bars.
We were assisted by two vehicles. A bus rode in front of us and carried all our bags and suitcases plus an ongoing supply of bottled water, fresh fruit, and, of course, snacks like the international Oreo cookie (we were all women, after all!). A truck followed behind us and carried the bikes when we were not riding. Also, if you were riding along and got tuckered out you could simply sit by the side of the road and wait for the truck to come along, throw your bike in the back, and hop on for a lift and a much needed rest.
Read more details about my Cycling Tour of Vietnam:
Vietnam Bike Tour Leader
We always had a local tour guide riding in the front and the tour leader would follow behind. Phuc Le (pronounced f-o-o-k, very close to another word), was our tour leader and at the time, had worked with Intrepid Travel for just six months. He organized everything for us and made our daily lives pretty easy and stress-free.
We didn’t need to do much thinking each day—just riding. It was quite nice, especially for me after traveling for nearly six months straight; it was nice to give my planning brain a rest. He took care of where we rode, what we ate, and where we slept.
Phuc was from Hanoi, but went to University in Sydney where he studied English and management, so he was a bit more “westernized” than some other Vietnamese and really easy to understand, very cool and laid back.
On our first day, we found out it was his first time doing this cycling tour for the Intrepid Company. My initial reaction was regret because I thought it would be better to have a seasoned veteran. But Phuc turned out to be the best we could have hoped for. He was a bit quiet and seemed shy at first, but he has a nice easy going leadership style. He tried to make the experience, albeit physical, as relaxing as possible, and he did it with a smile on his face. I really appreciated this along the way. He didn’t rush anyone, but we still adhered to a daily schedule. It is a tough balance on tours like this to keep to the schedule but also not have your travelers feeling pressured and rushed. Plus, if any of us ever needed anything at all he was on the case immediately. I got to know him a bit since he would ride in the back and I often found myself back there with him because I wasn’t so fast and I often stopped for photos.
Each day started around 7 a.m. with breakfast and then we either hopped on our bikes or got on the bus for awhile until we found the spot where we started riding. We averaged about 50 kilometers (30 miles) a day, but some days we rode as much as 80 (50 miles) or as few as 30 (18.6 miles). Every 15K or so, we’d stop for a fifteen minute break for some fresh fruit and cold water.
Loi, the bus driver, was another good guy. As soon as we ride up, he’s greeting us with a “well done!” Then he’d put a much needed bottle of cold water in our hands. Plus he sliced up some of the tastiest fresh fruit I’ve ever had. I couldn’t get enough of the sweet, local pineapple.
All he really had to do was drive the bus, but he did so much more and became part of our family. He was also a bit of a photographer, snapping shots of us on his old film SLR as we rode past. It was really nice to see these guys become great assets to the Vietnam tourism landscape, especially because some hawkers just see tourists for instant cash. They don’t yet understand the idea of ‘long term’ gains from developing relationships with tourists to earn respect, repeat business, and recommendations, which encourage future growth of the industry.
What We Ate On our Vietnam Bike Tour
For most lunches Phuc would find a small, very inexpensive roadside Vietnamese joint and we would have noodles, fried rice or a local specialty. For dinner, he took us to a local spot in each town. All the food was tasty and super cheap–I mean really cheap. Most dinners with a beer, cost less than $5. And lunches were about $2. There was a lot of meat, pork, fish, noodles, rice, squid, etc.
There are some other less popular meats here and there. One night, I tried something Phuc called “a cow tendon.” Of course, after much prodding, he told me what it really was–part of a cow penis. Mmmm. Kinda gristle-y.
All in all, it was a fantastic experience and one I highly recommend. Looking back, I don’t know how I did this much cycling, but it was so worth it for the experience of being this local.
Not up to the full two-week Vietnam bike tour? Here are some shorter tours that will still get you low to the ground and will be memorable experiences.