Three years of Sunday Bike Ride!

It feels like it was yesterday but it has been already three years since the Sunday Bike Ride started n Ho Chi Minh City  since then we had the chance to welcome riders every Sunday, discover new places in our city, make new friends, enjoy the slow pace cycling and, in short, enjoying. Many of us can no longer understand Sundays without the Sunday Bike Ride and this enthusiasm has allowed us to expand to Nha Trang and Hue and keep expanding the passion for cycling in this country.

3rd-bitrthday-sbrThe ones who joined on Sunday November 6  had the chance to do a 50km round trip ride around the city, before the birthday party in Dong Tao tearoom. We had the chance to cycle through Ben Thanh Market, Phu My Birdge, Dong Van Con, Mai Chi Tho, the Thu Thiem bridge and finsih our ride in front of Dong Tao tearoom, where we had a nice party, enjoyed food, beers and chatting with one another. Events like this remind us that biking is about exercise, it’s about discovering new places and cultures, it’s about moving in a respectful way for the environment but it’s also about developing a special relationship with your fellow riders. Cycling is often pictured as an individualistic sports, as opposed to collective sports such as football or basketball, but as much as this can be true, it is also a great way of making friends. Only those who have discovered new places with fellow riders, who helped or were helped when they had any problem on the road, who know that experiences on the bike often become better when you are with the right people will understand this. Cycling is a sports, but more than that, it is a way of life. Happy birthday to the Sunday Bike Ride and hoping for many more years to come.

The miracle of Can Gio

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Our last Sunday Bike Ride took us to spend a day in Can Gio, one of the most overlooked spots around Ho Chi Minh City. it is usually publicized in travel agencies for its Monkey Island, an area where crab eating macaques and tourists have fun together, although you risk to lose your hat if you wear one, those monkeys are fast and sneaky. But the most amazing fact about Can GIo is not the monkeys, but how this are was completely destroyed by chemicals during the war, how a mangrove forrest was turned into a desert of sand and salt and how Vietnamese people were able to reverse the situation and get back the mangrove they had.

This UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Can Gio, part of the Ho Chi Minh City municipality, is located about 30 km away from the city center. The trees of this 40,000-hectare forest with over 700 animal species protect Saigon against the rising sea levels. According toLe Duc Tuan, executive secretary of the Biosphere Reserve of Can Gio, biodiversity now is almost the same as before the war, which would have been hard to believe when he was one of the young volunteers who started the replantation in 1978. These teams replanted 4,000 hectares per year from 1978 to 1981.

DSC_0781It is still possible to visit the remaining os the Viet Cong guerrilla camp that the American Army tried to drive out by spraying the forest with 2.4 million litres of Agent Orange and 1.5 million litres of other defoliants such as Agent White and Agent Blue between 1965 and 1970. “After the war, the local government prioritized the recovery of green areas, and specially Can Gio, which was the most important. We chose a kind of mangrove tree from Ca Mau province (located at the southern tip of Vietnam) that was particularly resistant and could grow easily”, says Le Duc Tuan. They used 2,000 tons of seeds per year.

Since 1981, the pace of replantation went down to 2,000 hectares a year and since 1990, other tree species were introduced to improve biodiversity. In 2000, the replantation was officially completed, the same year that UNESCO recognized Can Gio as a Biosphere Reserve. Now, peop

Life of a cyclo driver

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.

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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.

Urban challenge: Competition and fun

In Vietnambiketours we are usually not so much into competition. The way we ride has more to do with enjoying the scenery, melt yourself with the nature and using the bike as a mean to enjoy all this, not as a purpose in itself. That’s why in our tours and our Sunday Bike Ride we follow a gentle pace (20-25km/h), we stop quite often to have a drink or eat something and try to create a relaxed atmosphere for the riders to be able to socialize and enjoy beyond the pleasure of exercise. That said, a little bit of competition can also be exciting sometimes and this is why we are joining the Cannondale challenge this Sunday in Ho Chi Minh City. You can compete or you can just watch.

The format is the same as in the last challenge in January: we will form teams of three people, who will have to complete some tasks around the city. After one task is completed, they will move to the next station. The team who gets to the last stage first after completing all the tasks will get win the Canondale Urban challenge. Joining is completely free, but you have to rush, the deadline for joining is today, Friday, at 5pm. You can contact the organizers at the email address cannondale.uc@gmail.com to register your team or get more information. The winners will get 1,500,000 VND, the runners-up 900,000 VND and the third team will get a voucher of 300,000VND to spend at Jett showrooms in the city.

Even if you don’t manage to make a team you can join the Sunday Bike Ride group, some of us will just support the event and cheer all the participants. We will gather as usual at 6:30 in front of Ben Thanh market before going for coffee and breakfast in district 5 and will join the challenge in Tran Phu street at 8:30. We will stay there the whole morning until the awards ceremony and then we will have lunch together.

Here is a video of the first edition held in April last year.

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We have some exciting bike tours coming up in May. 11 days Hanoi to Saigon, with vehicle assistance and cycling tourguide from May 8th. It starts at Hanoi train station at 5 am and the first day will be kjust a tour around Hanoi. The following days, the riders will go to Hue, Hoian, Danang, Buon Ma Thuot, Dalat, Cat Tien and Saigon. The price depends on the number of riders, all included.
The second tour is another classic, Saigon to Angkor Wat, from May 12 to 22. Both are a great chance to explore two countries in an adventurous way but with a certain level of comfort and the peace of mind of having guides who can share their deep knowledge about the route.

The oldest cyclist in Saigon?

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At age 84, Duong Van Ngo may not be the oldest cyclist in Ho Chi Minh City, but there may not be many older than him. Mr Ngo is one of the fascinating characters that Saigon can still offer. He is the last letter writer in the Central Post Office in District 1; if you haven’t seen him, it is worth to drop by and observe him at work, as if he came from a different time. Everyday, his thin legs push the pedals of his bicycle to cover the two kilometers from his house to the Post Office, where he has been doing this job for the last 25 years, since he retired from his previous occupation as a Post Office employee.

“Some call me the last of the mohicans because nobody does this job anymore. I do this because I like it and it allows me to earn some money”, he says in French, the language he learned during his younger years. “Now nobody learns it anymore, but it is good to know both French and English”, he explains. Talented for languages, he learned English from some American pilots during the war, at age 36, and now he offers his services as a translator. Everyday at 8 in the morning he walks to his table and hangs the sign that says “Public writer” in Vietnamese, French and English.

Some tourists, surprised to see someone doing this anachronistic activity, ask him to write a postcard in Vietnamese to impress their relatives back home or they pay him to get a picture with him, but most of his clients are Vietnamese who really need his translation services. They hand him the letter in Vietnamese and he translates it into French or English, depending on the needs. It could be formal letters addressed to companies, such as airlines or travel agencies, or personal love letters, in most cases of women who fell in love with foreigners. “Love letters are the most difficult ones”, he protests.

DSC_0167His eyesight having become poor because of age, he needs to use a magnifying glass to decipher the calligraphy of his clients and to scrutinize his old yellowing dictionaries from French and English to Vietnamese. The pay is not high, but he is happy to do it, “if I stayed at home I would get bored”. At 3 pm, after seven long hours of work, he organizes all his papers and books and rests for a few minutes before taking back his old bike and pedaling back home. His body has been becoming weaker in the last few months and work feels harder, but he doesn’t plan to retire: “People still need me and there is no one to replace me”.

Traditional Vietnamese medicine museum

Sunday Bike Ride members in the Fito museum
Sunday Bike Ride members in the Fito museum

Located in a beautiful building in District 10 (41 Hoang Du Khuong), the Traditional Vietnamese Medicine Museum (Fito Museum) is a hidden gem in Ho Chi Minh City. If your muscles are tired after a tough ride or if you feel sick for any reason, maybe you can learn about the traditional remedies displayed in Fito. But before discovering all these ancient techniques, let’s have a look at the building, which combines traditional and modern architecture, wood and traditional bricks, and is surrounded by all sorts of plants. No matter how bad the traffic is outside or how stressed you are, as you get inside you will feel very relaxed, in the middle of nature. As some of the members of Sunday Bike Ride could recently see during a visit, the building combines the architecture of different parts of Vietnam and even if you have no interest in traditional medicine it’s worth to get in just to admire the fine and creative work. The upper-most floor recreates a temple mixing the Northern and the Cham styles.

As soon as you get in, before boarding the elegant wooden elevator, a guide (English available) will give a general explanation fito 6 fito 3yo your group and lead you into the 18 exhibition rooms located in the five floors of the building. One of the highlights are the carved wooden pictures that illustrate different types of traditional medicine, which were created by 50 engravers after nearly 3 years of hard work. The guide’s explanations and the objects displayed will help you understand the history of traditional medicine in Vietnam, which started as early as the second century BC. The museum features several experts in this art through Vietnamese history, but the two most important are Tue Tinh (14th century) and Hai Thuong Lang Ong Le Huu Trac (18th century), considered as founders of Vietnam’s Traditional Medicine. Vietnamese relied almost exclusively ion this remedies until the French colonization in the late Nineteenth century, and since then, traditional medicine has been combined with Western medicines. Fito displays some ancient tools used to make the medicines and explains the benefits of dozens of herbs and mixtures that have been used for centuries.

Those who have a greater interest can watch a documentary about this art before getting into the last part of the visit, a relaxing cup of mushroom tea.

Saigon-Paris by bike to raise awareness about climate change

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Scotsman Simon Nelson and his Vietnamese girlfriend Nguyen Kim Ngan think rising awareness about climate change is worth giving one year of their lives. Although the bike trip they just started yesterday from Australian International School (AIS) in Ho Chi Minh City and that will take them to Paris during ten amazing, exciting and extremely difficult months sounds like an enjoyable thing to do. Simon has worked for two years as an English teacher in Saigon and Kim Ngan is a novel writer with already four books published in Vietnamese. Simon has been campaigning to stop climate change for over 20 years, he has chained himself to coal fired power stations, attended raves at road protest sites, participated in critical masses on 3 continents and occupied the offices of fossil fuel companies. Now he realized that the United Nations Climate Meeting to be held in Paris next November is the last chance of survival four the Human Species and for the planet as we know it and he decided to do something big. “Either we do something in Paris or that’s it, we’re done”, he bitterly said before departing.

Before leaving
Before leaving

A dozen cyclists, most of them usual Sunday Bike Ride members (even wearing the SBR shirt) joined him for the first few kilometers to take the Cat Lai ferry into Dong Nai province. After the photo session in front of AIS, they all left the school through the busy road, loudly cheered by the students and the teachers who didn’t want to miss such an event. It was a good chance for the younger generations to realize the grim future we face unless we do something. It was a very encouraging start for a trip that will for sure have its difficult moments. They will head to the north of Vietnam, then cross to China, where they will have to do an intense ride to get out of the country before their visa expires. They will shortly go through the Gobi desert, which promises to be as exciting as challenging, enter Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and get into Europe through Turkey for the last stretch. Roughly 15,000 kilometers through all kinds of weathers and sceneries, meeting all kinds of people. They will experience how our behavior, our addiction to fossil fuels, is destroying our beautiful planet. They will see how the livelihood of the people (usually the poorer ones) is so deeply affected.

Actually, they already had the chance to experience it, since yesterday’s was their second departure. Few days ago they had a ride around the Mekong Delta, one area that is bound to deeply suffer the effects of the sea level rise. “We really wanted to commence our journey from the Mekong delta because i think it’s a powerful symbol of just how big a threat climate change is. The Mekong delta is one of the most climate change threatened regions of the world . Much of the area is less than 2 metres above sea level so the oceans expected to rise by as much as 3 metres this century you can imagine just how serious this situation is. Within a generation or two vast areas could well be uninhabitable. And as it’s home to 20 million people and a half of Vietnam’s agricultural production that’s a big problem for the country as a whole”, he says in their blog.

They will find other areas whose inhabitants will be affected and they will tell them about it, create awareness and keep pedaling for a better world, for the only world that is possible.Whoever wants to take part of the fundraising to help affected communities, can make a donation here. Aside from that, we can only wish them good luck for their amazing journey. Bon voyage!

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You can learn more about their trip in their website, Bike for a future. It’s worth following their blog.

Ride, charity and party before the Lunar new year

The most important celebration of the year is approaching in Vietnam and in Vietnam Bike Tours we celebrate it with a combination of four of our favorite things: cycling, charity and party. The first party happens tonight, for the staff of Vietnam Bike Tours to celebrate the end of a wonderful year and all the good things to come next, with a lot of new projects to make the company bigger and better.

And on Sunday, the usual Sunday Bike Ride will be very special, since some our members will participate in the Cannondale Urban Challenge in Ho Chi Minh City. The groups (teams of 3) who took the time to register will meet as usual at 6:30 at the roundabout in front of Ben Thanh Market and from there go to the race start at 348-350 Tran Phu Street, Ward 7, District 5 . According to the description on Cannondale website, there will be several stations around the city where the participants will have to ride as fast as possible. Once there, they have to complete some tasks and then cycle as quickly as possible to the next stop. The speed on a bike will be important, but also the team spirit and the ability to perform different kinds of tasks under pressure. The team who gets to the last station first will be the winner. And although participation is free, the winners will be awarded with a cash prize of 1.5 million dong. The second prize is 900,000 VND and the third is a 300,000 voucher. After the event we will all cycle to district 12 to do some charity. Both Sunday Bike Ride members who participated and those who didn’t this time are invited to the New Year End celebration that same night (venue not yet decided) and it seems like it’s going to be fun.

life vestDuring the celebration, Vietnam Bike Tours chairman, Ngo Tron Huy, will want to thank everyone and he will surely talk about his amazing plans to cycle from February 2 to February 12 the 1,300 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City to Quang Tri province, in central Vietnam, where his wife, Bui Thi Kim Anh, is from. If the challenge didn’t seem tough enough, they bring their 1,5 year-old daughter Ngo Thien Di. It seems like it’s going to be an amazing adventure, and it will surely make the family life exciting, but that’s not the only purpose of the trip. As we often do in Vietnam Bike Tours, this adventure will also have a charity purpose: give life vest to children from Quang Tri. It is one of the unknown problems of Vietnam, but hundreds of Vietnamese children who live in the countryside die from drowning every year. Many of them have to walk to school and during the rainy season they have to cross some creeks or rivers. Despite the efforts by some government agencies and NGO’s, most of them can’t swim, that’s why we want to give them these life vests. It’s a little effort, 150.000 dong per life vest, and it can save lives.

Those who want to contribute, can do a bank transfer to the account 007-1000-608-534(VND) from VietcomBank in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Or you contact Nhật Bảo 01214514250 for help. Any help, no matter how small, will be meaningful.

Sunday Bike Ride on Tuoi Tre Cuoi Tuan magazine

Sunday Bike Ride on Tuoi Tre newspaperOur Sunday Bike Ride (a community activity of Vietnam Bike Tours) is gaining popularity and it is now catching the attention of several media. Last one was Tuoi Tre Cuoi Tuan, the Weekend magazine of Tuoi Tre, one of the most popular newspapers in Vietnam, specially in Ho Chi Minh City. The article, which made the front page, features the Sunday tour and highlights its singularity, it’s the only touristic tour on a bike offered for free. While there are a dozen of other groups who ride every Sunday, none of them focuses on the places to visit and they rather give importance to physical performance and training.

“The Sunday Bike Ride is very unique. We use the bike as mean of transportation to travel. Other groups they have a different mindset, focused on the sport. Ours is suitable for experienced cyclists and beginners. It’s not only about exercise. Exercise you can do it on your own”, says in the magazine Ngo Trong Huy, creator of the event in November 2013.

Huy also explains that the motivations are different for foreigners and Vietnamese who join the group.”Vietnamese like to do activities with groups, not alone. Joining the group is a motivation for them to encourage to ride longer and faster and they are also happy to meet foreigners, practice English. Also traveling is important for them because normally they are too busy and they have no time to travel”.

Huy thinks this Sunday activity helps build bridges between expats and local people, who often live in completely different universes. “Foreigners come because they want to explore the city and its surroundings and want to have a big connexion with the locals. Some foreigners who live here feel they miss more connection with the locals. It’s a way for them of connecting with the people in the city where they live, they want to learn about them, talk with them. Beside, they also find through us a place to cycle with a suitable group. Other groups in the city they usually go very fast, or they meet only in the mornining. For those who want a different experience, SBR is a god choice” he says.

In this long article, Huy also gives details about the rides and his plans to do 3 short rides and one long ride per month and about the charity rides, which were five last year. He is committed to that part of the tour, but he doesn’t want the riders to feel that they are forced to make a donation, so he tries to find a balance.

Huy shares also some funny experiences, like the surprise of some villagers when they sea the sweaty and muddy members of Sunday Bike Ride and they ask why they don’t simply go by car with aircon or at least by motorbike instead of torturing themselves. Despite these misperceptions from people, he is happy to see that in the last few years the number of riders is rising quickly in the city and he hopes it will keep going on.

One of the benefits of biking in which he insists more is the health improvement in a time when we tend to spend a lot of time seating down in front of a computer. That’s why he thinks the families of the cycling members of Sunday Bike Ride are happy even if sometimes they spend the whole weekend out. Now some of them spend the Saturday with their families and Sunday riding with their friends. And to show the family is happy, specially the couple, he says that “there is one who rides and two who are happy in the couple”.

Sunday Bike Ride
Sunday Bike Ride

5 reasons why you should join the Sunday bike ride

sunday bike ride birthdayWe know it doesn’t sound very credible if we are the ones who encourage you to join Sunday Bike Ride. That’s why in this post, the blogger will abandon the usual corporate tone of previous posts and tell his personal experience during the ride last Sunday, November 2, when we were celebrating our first birthday. It was my first time, and for sure it won’t be the last. Here are a few reasons for you to join with me.

1) Saigon early morning

I admit that waking up at 5:30 AM on a Sunday morning doesn’t sound very attractive to possible new riders, and this is one of the reasons that had kept me from trying Sunday Bike Ride before. There is always someone ready to drink some beers on a Saturday night and discourage you from waking up early to take your bike. But it is really worth it. As I was cycling towards the meeting point in Ben Thanh Market at 6AM I was rediscovering a very quiet Saigon, with a gentle breeze under a clear blue sky, a cleaner air and barely any traffic. Waking up at this time I could still see the picturesque image of people doing their exercise in the park or a surprising group of Vietnamese boy scouts who were just camping with their tent in a middle of a sidewalk in a park. Sure, I could have been sleeping but I’m happy I didn’t.

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2) Meet great people

Since I parked my bike in the roundabout in front of Ben Thanh Market and joined the riders who were waiting there I could feel the relaxed atmosphere, the genuine friendliness of all the members. They’re all ready to greet the newcomers and make sure they are fine. You will meet foreigners and locals, of all ages: the youngest rider, the amazing Khang, was just 13 years old (don’t be fooled by his height, he is a terrific cyclist) and the oldest… well, we are not going to be impolite.

3) Learn about Vietnamese culture

Sunday Bike ride really tries to bring Vietnamese culture closer to foreigners or to whoever is interested. It’s not only about the bike. Last Sunday, for instance,. we took 15 minutes to visit, in a hidden street near the airport, the monument to Phan Chu Trinh, an early 20th century Vietnamese nationalist. He died in 1926, if you want to know more about him click here.

sunday bike ride 34) The actual cycling

This should be obvious but it still needs to be highlighted. Last Sunday was a bit special since we were celebrating the anniversary and we didn’t go very far, but I still ended up doing 62km when I went back home. it is really true that all levels are welcome as long as you know how to ride a bike. We did several stops for pho and for coffee, and we were pedaling at a gentle pace, with occasional sprints for fun if you want to challenge a friend. I liked it that I could see any kind of bicycle, from a very old road bike with the gears levers on the down to modern mountain bikes, cyclo-cross bikes, touring… Most of the ride was on the road so there were no issues with the different kinds of tires.

5) It’s fun!

I think it’s been very clear through this post that it is really fun. If your goal is just to improve your physical condition and train to compete in triathlons, then this is not for you. If what you want is to cycle, meet people, discover unknown things of Vietnam, enjoy the local food and have fun, you shouldn’t wait any longer. Come and join, you won’t regret it!