Bicycle tours ideal for exploring suburbs

An off-road cycling trip through the capital’s towns and villages follows dirt paths, crosses ricefields and passes historic sites. Cong Thanh reports

Jens Pickhan, a German businessman, had time to explore the Old Quarter and suburban areas of Ha Noi after participating in a marketing survey for a travel agency.

On a hot summer day, Pickhan and his group of 10 friends decided to explore some of Ha Noi’s most visited sites, including Son Tay citadel, the historic villages of Duong Lam and Tay Phuong Pagoda.

Pickhan was invited to join an off-road bike trip through the capital’s surrounding towns and villages.

At the suggestion of a local guide, the group took an off-road route, crossing rice fields and riding along dirt paths in the countryside.

Chung, a former tourist guide and biking instructor in Ha Noi, accompanied the group on their half-day trip.

Chung chose a difficult route for the first-time riders.

The group left Ha Noi in a van, while another van carried their bikes and luggage.

After a 30-minute drive, they reached their departure point in Xuan Phuong Village, 30km west of downtown Ha Noi.

There, the guide explained how to avoid problems with muddy and uneven terrain.

At about 8.30am, group leader Pham Ha urged the team to begin riding in order to make a lot of progress before the sun reached its peak.

“I’ve experienced summer weather, so I know to hurry in the morning and reserve energy for hotter afternoon travelling,” Ha explained.

They arrived at Thay Pagoda after an hour and a half. The 20-km route from Xuan Phuong Village to the Thay Pagoda proved challenging for the group; they had to carry their bikes crossing trenches and several riders got flat tires.

But the group agreed that terrain bikes were the best vehicles for their journey across fields of maize and harvested rice.

“It’s amazing. We tackled slippery roads and immediately tested the skills we learned from our guides,” said Pham Thi Hien, a member of the group.

“We also had the chance to talk with local people, who offered us tea and fruit when we took a short break near their gardens.”

The monumental Thay Pagoda, which was built in the 11th century during the Ly dynasty, has statues for the worship of the Zen Buddha and his incarnation as King Ly Nhan Tong.

The upper pagoda’s main gate features two four-metre statues made of a mixture of clay, honey, egg white and chopped paper; they were lacquered more than 500 years ago and remain the largest clay statues in Viet Nam.

“I was fascinated by the statues. They reminded me of little clay toys that I used to make when I was a kid, but this was the first time I’ve seen a giant statue made from clay,” Hien added.

“We climbed up to the top of Sai Son Mountain to look down on the pagoda. A pavilion in the middle of the lake, which was set in front of the main building of the pagoda, looks like a match box from a bird’s-eye-view angle on top of the mountain.”

Having lingered at the pagoda for two hours, the group headed on to Tay Phuong Pagoda, where a unique collection of Buddhist statues has been housed since the 17th century.

The pagoda was built on the top of a mountain and visitors must still climb up 239 steps to reach it.

“It’s quite high and we were exhausted by the uphill path to the pagoda after our long ride. But it felt so good to get to the top. It was as if the fatigue disappeared,” Ha recalled.

A lunch at a local restaurant revitalised the group, before they continued another 8km to Tay Phuong Pagoda.

The pagoda is renowned for its lacquered wood arhats, considered to be among Southeast Asia’s most beautiful statues.

It was built in the late 16th and early 17th centuries during the post-Le dynasty era on Tay Phuong mountain in Thach Xa Village.

The pagoda has 62 jackfruit wood statues from the 18th century, each featuring a different aspect of the Buddha.

The group then went on to visit Son Tay Citadel and ancient village of Duong Lam by van.

“We made sure to select a favourable route that would take only one or two hours and would help visitors get a taste of rural life,” said Ha.

The centuries-old village includes Mia Pagoda and the tombs of Viet Nam’s first two kings – Phung Hung (791-802) and Ngo Quyen (939-944) – who were famous for their struggle for Vietnamese independence.

The temple of Va, 5km from Duong Lam Village, was the last stop of the biking group, before they got in the van to drive back to Ha Noi. By sunset at 6pm the group was tired, but pleased by their interesting trip through the countryside. — VNS

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