Exploring Saigon

With Saigon’s natural flat terrain, getting people to join on biking expeditions is not a big problem. The problem is finding a challenging terrain to keep your group interested and on their toes — or on the pedal for that matter.
A new group of expat bikers from District 7 (who for the purpose of this interview we shall call Saigon Explorers) have started their weekly bike run within the city. Although they’re not new to the city as they’ve lived here for around 4 years, it is only recently that they’ve gotten to know the streets of Saigon from the back of their bikes.
We sat down with one of their members, Marlon Yu.
Vietnam Bike Tours (VBT): How did your group started? How do you choose your routes?
Saigon Explorers (SE): When we started, we just went around the district — going through routes that we were already familiar with — routes to our kids’ school, friends’ apartments. We basically were just choosing routes which we knew we could finish. We reached a stage where we wanted to challenge ourselves to bike further and started using an app called Endomondo to track our activities and search for routes near our area created by our users. It wasn’t long after that we began creating our own routes.
VBT: What time do you usually set out to bike?
SE: We start at 5:30 AM.
VBT: What was your first route that took you out of Saigon?
SE: We found a route using Google that went through mostly rice fields which the group agreed to try. We followed it for the most part and ended up biking out of HCMC and into Can Guioc District in Long An Province without even realizing it!
VBT: What kind of terrain did you encounter?
SE: We mostly follow flat, paved roads until this recent expedition that allowed us to go through rice paddies, narrow and muddy rural roads with some parts into the rice fields as the area is only wide enough for 1 bike wheel to go through. You can’t even put your foot in either side or you’d end up in the water!
VBT: What were the sights?
SE: Pretty much the usual rural sights like the rice fields, produce on sidewalks, unpaved roads, huts and the townsfolk relaxing by the roadside. We also crossed a river dam and a 4-lane highway that was surprisingly devoid of vehicles during the early morning.
VBT: How long was the route?
SE: According to Endomondo, we travelled for 58.63 kilometers.
VBT: What were the difficulties you encountered?
SE: Aside from the distance, the fact that it had rained the previous day caused our back road experience to be very muddy and slippery. As with any road trip in Vietnam, the sheer volume of motorbikes we encountered on some of the roads and the way they zip past us and cross our paths are difficult in itself.
VBT: What was the highlight of the route?
SE: The ride itself was the highlight as we haven’t done a long route before.
VBT: Any notable pit stops? How many times did you have to stop?
SE: We’ve lost count how many stops we had to take because we are not hard core long distance bikers. We stopped when we felt tired and we never try to continue if we can’t. In this route, we had to stop oftentimes to check our route map to make sure we weren’t lost.
VBT: For this route, what are your must haves in your go-bag?
SE: A hydration pack! We didn’t pack any water and had to buy from street side vendors. A sun protection sleeve is also a must as you’d end around mid-day already and a sun burn is painful. A bike repair kit comprised of tools to repair a punctured tire, a broken chain and adjust screws that go loose over time is also important and highly recommended although admittedly we didn’t bring any at that time. Lesson learned!
VBT: Do you recommend this route? To whom?
SE: For those wanting to explore the back roads and rice paddies but don’t really want to get too far away from the city, this is definitely one good route to try but one must be willing and able to do long rides (>2hrs or 30kms).

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