For a tourist who comes to Vietnam for the first time it is very surprising to see they are still around. But they might not be there forever. Cyclos, that once were one of the most popular forms of transportation in Vietnam, are slowly disappearing, banned from many streets in the city center, cornered by development, by cars and motorbikes, and often compelled to belong to a tourism company. If you hang out around Ben Thanh market you won’t miss them. There are some young drivers, often more pushy with the tourists, and there are older ones who just tend to wait in the street, who like to engage in a conversation for the sake of it, the ones who often have great stories to share. Nam Dinh is 62 years old and he belongs to the latter group.
Nam can still speak a decent English, the language he learned from the Americans during the war. At that time, being 18 years old, he didn’t know anything about politics, he just did what he was told to do. This knowledge of English didn’t help him much during the 1980’s when life was hard in Saigon and it was impossible for him to get a job. He tried to do business in Cambodia but the country didn’t feel safe and he ended up becoming a xe-om. Strangely enough, he was already over 50 years old when he started to ride his cyclo. “Being a xe-om is not good anymore, many people like to go by taxi”, he complains. When asked if it’s not too hard to push the pedals, he says he is still strong. He is actually young compared to other drivers, who are close to 80 years old.
He is close to many other cyclo drivers who operate in the area, but he doesn’t get too close to the new generation, that he sees sometimes as too interested in money and lacking principles. “I charge 200,000 dong per hour and 35% goes for the company. I never have problems with the tourists because I am honest, but I see some young cyclo drivers who are always trying to cheat the tourists. Some charge them over 1.5 million dong. It’s not good for us, it gives us a bad reputation”, he says.
His income varies a lot from one day to another, but he has enough now that his seven children are old enough to take care of themselves.If he gets lucky during the morning, he usually gives back the cyclo to his company and rests in the afternoon. But sometimes, they hours just go by and no tourist is interested in hiring him. He is still willing to learn new things, he just got his car driving license in order to switch to car driving in the near future. Life is not easy, but not as hard as it used to be for him. Now, he is happy to see how his country improved and how his children can have an easier life than his.