I’ve always been a fan of a good bike ride, but Saigon never seemed like a great place to peddle around. Sure, plenty of locals gingerly roll up and down the busy streets, dodging traffic as they go; it’s just not my cup of tea. Little did I know, however, that within Ho Chi Minh City’s limit there are several places that are perfect for a good, long ride. And, being someone who is always up for an adventure, I took a friend’s recommendation and headed to Saigon Cycles, where avid, serious cyclers unite for their weekly Sunday Rides.
Pretty nice for US$8 a day.
Saigon Cycles, located in District 7’s Phu My Hung area on Phuong Tan Phuong, is the starting point for the bike gang. Meeting weekly on Sunday at the early bird time of 06:00, the group heads out on a morning ride that is usually 50 to 80km in length. For the trip you’ll need a mountain bike, as you will be leaving the comfort of paved roads, at least a litre of water to save yourself from dehydration, a good bike helmet, and dogged determination. Don’t have a bike? Well, you’re in luck because Saigon Cycles will rent you one for the day for $8, which includes a proper biking helmet. They also sell biking gear, including gloves, clothing and CamelBaks.
This is in your future.
Our ride began, led by a seasoned rider equipped with a GPS, with a 10km paved road jaunt to the outskirts of the city, crossing a few bridges before leaving the highway for rougher roads. Surprisingly, as we began to wind our way through the dirt roads, the city’s building melted away into lush, green fields of rice. We passed farmers tending their rice, ducklings crossing our paths, and smiling children and families shouting “hello”. I can only imagine what the kids were thinking when they saw a group of cyclists pedalling through the narrow paddy footpaths when we have suitable motorbikes at home to ride.
Carbing up for the rest of the ride.
At about 20km we stopped for a much-needed noodle break at a streetside restaurant. At this time one member of the group collects 50,000VND from each person and then orders soup, eggs, noodles, banh bao and drinks, allowing the other riders to take a seat and discuss the first part of the ride and the ride to come.
Where are all the buildings? Am I still in HCMC?
After our break we hit the trails again, all the while appreciating the amazing scenery as we biked past. The trails are a mix of concrete, gravel and dirt and can be very narrow at points. It’s definitely a gut check time as you pedal across a rice paddy on a 30cm-wide trail with a metre drop off of each side.
I think it's time for a nap... after the shower.
This ride is recommended for experienced cyclists; I mean 50 to 80km is a long ride, but there is a mix of levels in the group and there is always a sweeper who makes sure no one is left behind. They were also more than encouraging to me as a first-timer with the group and even though I was the only girl I felt welcome. During the ride we experienced weather ranging from sunshine to heavy rain, so be prepared! This was an awesome adventure and the sense of accomplishment I got as I rolled back to Saigon Cycles, caked with mud, was totally worth it.