Cycling is good even if there is pollution

It is no secret that Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City start have a problem with air pollution. It’s not that bad in the South these days thanks to the rain, but there are times when it can be worrying to get out there and breathe the fumes of the thousands of cars and motorbikes that flock the streets everyday. Yes, we can use masks despite the heat, but it is reasonable to wonder if the harm of pollution will be higher than the benefits from exercise you get when you cycle. Our slogan is “Climate change, ride a bike” for a reason, we want  a cleaner world, but not at the expense of our own health. Fortunately, it looks like cycling (exercise) is always good, despite the polluted air. At least this is the biggest finding by a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge.

However, according to their research, there is a point after which the benefits of cycling don’t increase even if we keep cycling and another breaking point, when they become smaller than the harm that the air can cause. In Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world (much more than Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City) after 30 minutes the exercise will cease bringing benefits and after one hour it would become more harmful than good. In Hanoi or Saigon the pollution is usually about half the one in Delhi, so cycling in the city would cause more good than harm after two hours.

 

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And there is another factor, wether you cycle or not, you are in the city, you breathe the same air. One of the authors of the study said in this interesting piece in Quartz magazine, “we are not disputing the fact that air pollution kills,” said James Woodcock, one of the authors of the study. “[But] it would do so even when you are sitting at home. What we find is that being physically active, even in polluted cities, can cut that risk. So it’s a win-win.” In short, get on your bike, it’s always better than not doing it. And anyway, we would always advise to get tours or ride outside the city, the countryside is way more exciting for cyclists! 

 

Meet tour guide Le Tan Phuc

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Tour guide Le Tan Phuc is the kind of person you want to be with when you are on vacation. After meeting him for a few minutes, you feel you are loaded with energy and you can achieve all your dreams. No doubt you need that sort of energy when you are cycling under the Vietnamese heat.

This 29-year-old young man has been a tour guide for the last five years and he couldn’t be happier about it. When he was younger, in his Mekong Delta village in the province of Dong Thap few believed he could achieve his dream of becoming a tourguide in the city. he didn’t listen. He studied college in Saigon. He felt his English was very weak so he decided to work as a waiter in Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker’s area in Saigon. After one year he was offered to be a cycling tourguide for Vietnambiketours. He did well and got more and more tours. He loves it.

“I like a lot cycling tour guide. It’s good for the environment. I imagine if everybody in this city cycled, the air would be much cleaner. It’s good for health. And when you cycle you get to see more. If I didn’t have this job I would miss a lot in my life. In my village I discover things, I get to small roads with my bike and my friends and parents don’t know when it is”, he says.

Cycling is getting popular in Vietnam but for Phuc cycling has always been part of his life. He had no choice. As a child, he used to cycle everyday to school 45 minutes to go, 45 minutes to go back. When he got older, he used to help in the rice field after school. He knows what it is to work under the sun, to carry heavy sacks of rice. “Farming is very hard. My father said I ran away from it”, he recalls. Compared to that cycling long distances is like a game. Maybe that’s why he sometimes feels the need to challenge himself and cycles from his village to Saigon in one day. 160 kilometers. 8 hours on the bike, under the sun. That’s one of the reasons why he is so fit during the tours.

Phuc has a good reason to keep returning to his village every 3 weeks. His wife and his 2-year-old son still live there. He plans to help them move in the future, but so far it’s not possible. When he misses them, he is lucky to share time with the tourists, enjoy with them and learn from their culture. “They help me to learn English and I also learn from their cultures. When we do the long tours, some of them are crying when they have to say goodbye”, he tells.

Phuc keeps learning from his own country as he cycles with the tourists and he is thankful for his job. If he had to choose a tour to discover Vietnam he wouldn’t be sure, but he thinks the Mekong delta is a good introduction, specially for tourists not specially fit. “In the Mekong there are a lot of different places”, he says.

If you want to learn more about him you can see him in this great video.

Phong Nha, the new gem of Vietnam

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Until 2013, Phong Nha was just a small village where some cave enthusiasts used to go and discover the wonderful caves there. It was mostly a destination for local tourists who ventured on the boat tours to Phong Nha caves or dared to go to other sites that require more adventure, like Paradise cave. Then, suddenly, foreign tourists started to flow, and two years later it had become the second most popular destination for foreigners after Halong Bay, according to Lonely Planet.

How was that possible? Well, it is no coincidence that Phong Nha is the closest village to Soon Dong, the biggest cave in the world, which was just discovered in 2009 by a team of British explorers with the indispensable help of a local man named Ho Khanh. This gave a lot of publicity to the place, and although the tours inside Soon Dong are limited and very expensive, it allowed tourists to discover the other caves around, which are also wonderful and can be trekked in one day (two or three days for more distant ones, such as Hang En or Thu Lan).

The once quiet rural village where kids died of starvation 20 years ago is now a bustling village where everyone wants a share in the tourism boom. As you walk (or better, pedal) through the main street you will go through dozens of newly born hotels and restaurants that publicize western food, pizza, beer and hamburgers, with charming spelling mistakes, seeming to be the biggest hits.

But why are we talking about this in a blog about cycling? Because aside from this tourism gold rush there is another striking fact in the country of motorbikes: most tourists move around by bicycle. All homestays and hotels offer bikes for rent and it’s common to see groups of Western boys and girls in their twenties pedaling around the town by bicycles. The sportiest ones venture into the countryside with the bikes and park them in front of some of the caves near the road. It’s difficult to find a better place for cycling: there is barely any car, you are surrounded by nature and even the climate seems to help, the mountains bringing some fresh air (except during the hottest months in the summer). If you are in central Vietnam and you like cycling, it can be a good choice. You can even try cycling there from Hue; you can rent a bike in our office there if you don’t have one with you.

Join us in Hoian

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Following our dream to be present in the main tourist spots in Vietnam, since last month we have one more office in Hoian. As usual, one of our goals will be to connect with local cyclists, both locals and foreigners, both expats and tourists, and help people discover the wonderful potential of Hoian and Danang region. It is very common to see groups of tourists with their bikes along the rice fields or in the ancient town of Hoian, a perfect place for bikes. But we want to go a bit further and discover some of the secret gems for cycling in the area. We like discovering the countryside, but also the cultural treasures, and they are a lot in the area. For instance, yesterday, in the second Sunday Bike Ride in Hoian, we had a wonderful ride to Tra Que Herb Village, where after an interesting ride you can experiment being a farmer, preparing rice paper or cooking in the traditional style from the center. From Hoian you can easily pedal to My Son Heritage site, where you can discvoer some ancient Cham culture structures that survived through the centuries, go to Lang Co bay and Hue or go further South to Nha Trang.

hoian addThe office will also be a starting point for cycling tours in the region, one more possibility of exploring the center after the one in Hue. Those who need to rent bikes will be able to enjoy our GT Avalanche, with 27,5 inches wheels, or the bigger Karakorum elite with 29 inches wheels. Both are very comfortable off road and feel very light when you are on the road.  And because we value safety more than anything, the helmets we offer are not just ok helmets, but very good Giro Hex with a market price over 100 USD.

There is no excuse to miss the chance to visit Hoian with a new perspective from the saddle! Don’t miss our office in 162/22b Ly Thuong Kiet, Hoi An (0974131032).

Bike ride in Myanmar

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Biking can be a good way of exercising, of seeing the world, of moving around the city in a fast and clean way… We all know there are many advantages to cycling. We also want to promote friendship between countries through cycling, with a special focus on our neighbors from ASEAN. Last February we cycled to Laos, we have cycled in the past with clubs from Malaysia and now we are excited to enjoy a ride in Myanmar next May with the cooperation of the Asean Cycling club and the Myanmar Cycling Federation.

It will be 4 days in Yangon, from May 21 to 24th, with a ride on the 22nd in Yangon with local riders. The cost is 185 USD for the hotel with breakfast, 3 lunch and 3 dinners, a biking shirt, transportation in Myanmar (does not include the airfare) and a certificate. It will be free for riders from Myanmar. You can register here before March 31.

Here is the schedule:

May 21
This is the day we are arriving from Vietnam so we will just have time to meet for dinner at 5pm in the hotel lobby and get the first impressions of Myanmar.

May 22
This is the big day, when we will do a cycling tour together with our fellow Myanmar riders around Yangon. The ride will start at 5:30 AM from Yangon International Stadium and we will go around the city for a 35 to 40 km ride, which will help us discover the city and also enjoy time with our friends from Myanmar. We are happy that biking can be a way of getting people and countries closer. After the ride, all participants will receive a certificate and a medal. Then we will all have lunch together and those who didn’t have enough with the bicycle can participate in a Badminton friendly match before dinner.

May 23
We will probably be tired from the previous day, so we thought this could be a good time for the participants to relax, go sightseeing… But if you didn’t have enough exercise, you should join the Futsal friendly match. With Vietnam’s recent achievement making it to the World Cup next September in Colombia, riders from Myanmar should be scared of our skills. And if some foreigners want to join the team, they will be more than welcome. Here is the complete schedule

May 24
This is the end. A little time for sightseeing or shopping after breakfast, lunch together and the tour will end.24/5/2016 ( B, L ): Have breakfast at hotel, free to visit sightseeing. The tour ends after lunch.

And here is a summary of what the price includes:
– 3 nights at the Orchid 4 stars hotel
– Meals (3 dinners, three lunches, 3 breakfasts)
– T-shirts for participants
– Bus transport in Yangon

There will be bikes for rent for 10 USD per day. For more information, contact us at info@vietnambiketours.com

Competition and cultural tour in Hue

cycling raceThose who have cycled with us know we don’t specially focus on the physical performance or on how fast we ride. Our approach is more relaxed or social. However, a little competition from time to time doesn’t harm anyone, and we all know it’s exciting. If we can combine it with something of cultural interest, we can have a cycling tour that fits anybody’s preferences. This is what we plan to do in Hue from March 25, to celebrate the 35th Sunday Bike Ride in the former imperial capital.

Here is the schedule for those who want to join:

Day 1, March 25
We will check in a hotel in Hue, enjoy some free time and spend the night there, preparing to start the fun on the bike. We suggest you try some Hue specialties like the local pancakes (banh Beo, banh Nam, banh Loc), some seafood like the baby clams with rice crackers, before having a walk along Nguyen Dien Chieu street, relax crossing the Trang Tien bridge and see the night scene in the backpackers area.

Day 2, March 26
This is the day. Get a good sleep, have a nice breakfast and be sure your legs are strong. Those who want to join can register here. It will be 42 km and the start is at 6:30 AM. If you are not into racing, you can just watch and join the afternoon ride to Than Tan hot springs, where we will have the chance to soak our whole body in the hot water to relax. At the foot of Ma Yen Mountain, these springs were discovered by French Doctor A. Sallet in 1928. Since then they have been renowned for the health benefits of submerging your body in hot mineral water. If you need to relax, this is what you need. For those in need of some action, we suggest a visit to the Waterpark, with a zipline included. After that, we will cycle back to Hue and share a nice dinner.

Day 3 March 27
Of the many culinary specialties of Hue, Bun Bo Hue is probably the most popular in the whole country. However, locals say that it’s never as goo as it is there. We will have a chance to check if it’s true over breakfast, before visiting Dong Ba Market and doing a city tour around the major sites. The citadel is one of the most interesting ones. This old residence of the Nguyen kings includes the Ngo Mon Gate, Thai Hoa palace, Forbidden Purple City, the Emperor Temple, the Hien Lam pavilion and the nine dynastic urns. After that we will go to Thien Mu pagoda, the most ancient in the city, as it was built in 1601. Our historical tour will end with the visit to the impressive mausoleums of emperors Khai Dinh and Tu Duc, where we will appreciate Hue’s architectonic style. If time allows it, we will finish the day climbing Ngu Binh mountain.

The prices will be different depending on your accommodation choices. You can get more information on our Facebook page or contacting us here: info@vietnambiketours.com

 

Phan Rang: quiet beaches and mini Angkor Wat

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A few weeks ago we explored the Southern stretch of the Ocean Road, from Vung Tau to Phan Tiet. If you keep going up, you will end up in Nha Trang, and along the way you will encounter beautiful sea sights, a lot of sand and very few big towns. The biggest one is Phan Rang 120 km south of Nha Trang, and still considered as no more than a fishermen village by many Vietnamese. However, if you look closely, you will discover all its beauty and its quiet roads, ideal for cycling, and its very rich cultural background. Here are three places you should absolutely visit if you are in the area.

1) Vin Hy Bay
It’s a lovely little bay where fishermen can protect their boats from the winds and the fury of the sea. The winding road gong there is ideal for cyclists and you can enjoy the beach, taste the local seafood and sea the real life of a fishermen village. The village is surrounded by lush nature.

2) Ca Na
If what you are looking for is an astoundingly beautiful beach in the area, go to Ca Na, south of Phan Rang. White sand beaches like this are difficult to find in Vietnam. However, it might seem boring to the most adventurous traveler, considering in this area the Cham princes used to hunt tigers, elephants and rhinoceros. Unfortunately, these animals are no longer there.

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3) Cham culture 

Yes, you are probably wondering who are those Cham princes who were hunting tigers in the 16th century. The kingdom of Champa occupied a big stretch of Southern Vietnam between the 7th and XVIIIth centuries. Originally a kingdom influenced by Indhuist culture, they started to convert to Islam in the 11th century. Today, there are still around 160,000 Cham people in Vietnam, mainly in Ninh Tuan province, An Giang, Phan Tiet and Saigon. Their splendorous times are over, but in Phan Rang, just near the train station, you can still admire one of the most impressive traces of their empire, the Poklong Garai. there, you will see the influence from India and you will feel like you are visiting a mini Angkor Wat.

Welcome the cycling ambassador

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From mr Ted Osius Facebook

Do you imagine an ambassador shutting himself in his office, wearing a suit, going from one fancy cocktail to another or always having important meetings in luxurious hotels? This might be the stereotype, but US Ambassador in Vietnam Ted Osius doesn’t seem to fit this cliché. He looks more like an outdoors person, and a cyclist always willing to seat on his bike and discover the country where he lives from an unbeatable perspective. On January 24th (last Sunday), the coldest day of the winter in Hanoi, he started with a group an amazing cycling trip from Vietnam capital to Hue. The trip started at the O Quan Chuong city gate in the Old Quarter. According the Mr Osius Facebook page, this spot was chosen because “it is the embodiment of U.S. – Vietnam cooperation”, as the U.S. Government restored the ancient gate five years ago. Along their journey, they have been visiting places where the US and Vietnam cooperate.

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From mr Ted Osius Facebook

Having an office in Hue,. VietnamBikeTours can’t miss the chance of being part in such a cool event and we will welcome them in Phuoc Tich village on January 30 at 1:00 PM from where they will do the last few miles to Hue. All riders interested are welcome, they can either meet us at 9:00 AM at 8 Nguyen Hue Street or at 1:00 PM at Phuoc Tích village.

During this 840km trip, the Ambassador and his cycling mates have been learning about the pangolin in Cuc Phuong, Vietnam’s oldest national park, about king Le Loi at the Lam Kinh temple, where he planted bamboo to promote sustainable development and had a warm meeting with children at the SOS village in Ha Tinh. They were unlucky to start their journey with some of the coldest temperatures Northern Vietnam experienced in the last few years, but as they go South the weather is becoming warmer and the rains seems to go away. We can make it even warmer by giving them a nice welcome as they arrive to Hue. 

Banner Ted Osius
Vietnam Bike Tours
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With Founder of Vietnam Bike Tours – Ngo Trong Huy


5 reasons we prefer bicycles over motorbikes

11062084_915181691866542_5579551241258364130_nIn a motorbike country like Vietnam, where locals use their vehicle for anything you can imagine (and even things you would never imagine) traveling by motorbike can be very tempting. Roads are decently paved, the traffic is not so dense out of big cities and the weather is perfect for it. Many tourists like to rent or buy an old motorbike, attach their backpacks and let it roll. It is, for sure, an attractive plan. But why not doing it by bicycle? Both have two wheels, both need momentum to keep balance, one has an engine and the other one has your legs. It might be slower, but who is in a hurry

1) You feel more free

Remember the first time you rode a bike as a child, the feeling it could take you anywhere without your parents being around, that first feeling of independence and absolute freedom? That’s what we are talking about. Some people might not agree, since an engine allows you to go faster and further, but everyone who rides a bike has experienced this unbeatable feeling of freedom, as if the only thing you needed in this world was a bicycle.

2) It’s healthier

Sitting down the whole day on a motorbike seat is not the healthiest thing to do. If you cycle you will also enjoy the sightseeing and your legs will be moving, your fitness will improve and you will go to bed with a very pleasant feeling.

3) It’s silent

This is not something you should overlook. Enjoying a country means sightseeing, but also listening. Imagine you are in the middle of the countryside, gently pedaling, listening to the subtle noise of the chain turning, of the wheels rubbing the road. You are in peace. Imagine the same thing with the roar of a motorbike… You get it, it’s not the same.

4) You know the country better

Here we prefer to listen to one of the best American writers ever, Ernest Hemingway:”It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle”. OBviously, we couldn’t say it better.

5) Don’t worry for the Police

If you are a foreigner and you have driven a motorbike in Vietnam (specially when the New Year is nearing), you know that the Police is bnd to pull you over and ask for as fine for whatever reason. If you don’t have a Vietnamese driving license or the registration papers of the bike, you might be in even more trouble. It can usually be solved with money, but it’s a hindrance that for sure makes a trip less pleasant. We have never seen the Police stop anyone on a bicycle. You just forget about that worry.

Vietnam Bike Tours

The Ocean road: Vung Tau-Ho Tram-Phan Tiet

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Although Vietnam has plenty of nice roads for cyclists, it’s sometimes difficult to find one where you can feel like it’s only you, your bicycle and the scenery. The Ocean road from Vung Tau to Phan Tiet along the coast belongs to that special category, specially the stretch that goes from Long Hai to Ho Tram. Here are four reasons that make this road so special

Landscape

Vietnam has all sort of landscapes: mountainous ones that would remind you of the Alps,  lush green forrest, the intense green of the paddy fields, the waterways in the Mekong Delta… The one in the southern coast is yet one of the most singular ones. Not only for the quietness, the hills covered with sand and the sea a few meters away. There is a phantasmagorical atmosphere in that road, with all this deserted land where you suddenly bump into a luxurious resort, a huge casino (Ho Tram) and then pass by a hotel that was abandoned before its total construction, like a haunted house.

Silence

We mentioned it earlier, but it’s worth saying it again, it’s rare to find a place where you can feel so isolated from the world. Just a few cars and groups of motorbikes pass by this road.

Seafood

Well, we had to mention it. Seafood is excellent in many places in Vietnam, but few can say  they have such fresh seafood, fished that same day for a price that will make you forget about your long cycling. Maybe not the best food for cyclists, but we are not here to win the Tour de France.

Beaches

Sometimes in Vietnam we miss finding wild beaches in which you can set your foot without asking for permission in the nearby hotel. If you’re looking for wilderness, sea and sand, this is your place. You will pass through long stretches of deserted beaches where you can have a quick swim if you are very hot. However, be careful on hot days, better to do it early morning or late afternoon.