Traveller stories: Exploring Vietnam by bike

Cycling in Vietnam | Richard I'Anson
Cycling in Vietnam | Richard I'Anson

It all started with a phone call from Heather (Spirited Women’s Adventure Race Sponsorship & Events Manager) to say I had won the spot prize – the Vietnam by Bike tour with World Expeditions! Right off, my wonderful aunty said she'd look after the kids and that I should take my husband, Simon, for this once in a lifetime trip.

Within two months, we were off on our adventure; first stop: Hong Kong.

Oh... my... goodness, I never fully understood how large that airport was until we stopped there. After finding our way to the transfers area, we walked well over 25,000 steps just exploring the airport from one point to another. Yes, we got lost and almost headed out of Hong Kong airport on the train!

We then hopped on our connecting flight to Hanoi where we were met by a lovely staff member who took us to our hotel. After a rushed check-in, it was straight into the briefing where we met Tim our tour guide and the seven others with whom we would share the next 15 days on this wild ride.

That evening we watched a water puppet show, followed by dinner at a local homestay. The family were so charming and it was lovely to be taken into their home and share the evening with them.

Day one was spent cycling around Hanoi, which ended up being a bit longer than the 20 to 30-kilometre trip we were all lead to believe and understandably by the end of the trip we knew that when Tim gave us a time or distance we’d double it, and ‘level’ meant going up hills.

We were then off to Ha Long Bay for our overnight boat trip in one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. When we hopped onto our tender out to the boat, which we would call home for the night, we were given some unfortunate news from the boating company: our boat had lost power and we were not going to be able to use that ship. The good news, however, was that we were upgraded from 3-star to 5-star – no complaints there as it was a beautiful boat.

Ha Long Bay definitely delivers and with the beautiful landscape it took my breath away. It is so serene, peaceful and untouched. What an amazing place and we're very glad we visited this beautiful slice of Vietnam.

The floating village was amazing, seeing how the locals live and their lifestyle, yet so hard at the same time.

It was sad to leave this place of beauty, but we had a drive ahead of us and, of course, more cycling. We cycled to Ninh Binh and boarded a Sampan for a journey though the mountains of Trang An and were very glad that our guide took us here early in the morning when no one was there, allowing us to really experience the peacefulness of the place.

We then experienced the train from Ninh Binh to Hue, and wow, what an experience, I have to say. Definitely not what we are used to back home! At the train station, an 11-year-old girl came up to my husband to practice her English and I couldn’t fault her at all. We showed her pictures of our home country, New Zealand, and talked about how different NZ and Vietnam were for children.

Hue was another beautiful city and wished we spent longer to explore here, but that will just give us another reason to return since it was such an amazing place.

Hoi An was just as stunning with so much to take in. The people were friendly and the bustling markets were exciting to walk through, even though people seemed to grab you from all directions to buy from their stalls. We had the pleasure of spending two days here which perfectly timed with the lantern festival, making it a memorable night as we walked around at with all the lanterns lit up.

We left to cycle to Quang Ngai and most of our group tackled the 500-metre high hill with many 10% graded hills. This took about two hours to get to the top. My hubby completed the climb and I was so proud of him, as I had just about passed out from the heat earlier that day, so thought it was best I hopped on the bus for this trip.

<i>Richard I'Anson </i>

We started at the beach between the peninsular and hill and finished with spectacular view from the top between the North and South of Vietnam.

From this point we headed into central Vietnam which is popular with the French as it’s not too hot in the summer.

We spent two days cycling past huge, beautiful old French villas being restored to their former glory.

Travelling south to Nha Trang, a busy beach city with plenty of tourists and major development happening, this was contrasted by the stunning beaches, amazing landscapes, loads of shrimp farms and seafood for seafood lovers.

On the way out to the airport, there were about eight miles of resorts being built or developed, so we were glad that we had the chance to see this place before all this growth happens as I feel it will take away the natural beauty of this city.

Next stop: Ho Chi Minh City. With 13 million people, it was so busy with more cars and motorbikes than any other city we had visited.

The next morning we collected our bikes and cycled to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This place was very surreal as there was a lot of Viet Cong activity in this area, and the underground tunnels were amazing. Fascinated to learn how they had cut out the tunnels by hand – which networked them all to survive and lived up to nine metres below ground – my hubby went into the tunnels and couldn’t fit through, even while on his hands and knees!

We had a great night for our farewell group dinner, yet also sad as we had met some wonderful people along with our trip guide Tim, who we loved to rib all the time.

These people, who at the start we didn’t know from a bar of soap, became great friends and made the trip what it was.

Thank you to World Expeditions and Spirited Women’s Adventure Race for this once in a lifetime experience that has deeply touched my hubby and I. We honestly hope to be able to go back and explore more of Vietnam with our family one day.

Words and photos by Michelle Berghan who travelled on the Vietnam by Bike adventure with World Expeditions in June 2018, a trip she'd won after completing the Spirited Women’s Adventure Race.

Cycling, halong bay, hanoi, ho chi minh, Hoi An, Hue, ninh binh, Pu luong, Vietnam

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