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 privilege of being picked up by bicycle

As an occasional bike tourer, I used to bring my bike with me in the plane, take it from the luggage belt, check that everything was all right (not always the case) and reassemble what needed to be reassembled. The bike used to be fine, but there was always a tiny minor damage, nothing important, some scratch, or some problem with the gear because of the trip. I remember this as being very tiring and the last thing I wanted to do after a flight. All this trouble was left behind as soon as I finally attached my bags and rode my bike out of the airport. I felt so free to be able to explore a new city or a new country, by bike from the beginning. Not relying on bus or taxis, not having to wait or to find out where to buy a ticket. Just pedal freely.

Vehicles 1

Now, if you want to have that feeling when you travel to Vietnam, you don’t need to bring your own bike and expose it to possible damage on the plane. From September, Vietnambiketours will offer a very unique service: bike pick up at the airport in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Danang, Dalat and Nha Trang. You will feel all the good things of bringing your own bike, the freedom to be on a bike from the beginning and get rid of the tedious bike assembling and repairing process. Our bike with our guide will be ready to pick you up and start pushing the pedals without you having to worry about finding your way. That said, we also bring a van in case you need us to carry your luggage or for travel companions who don’t wish to cycle.

This service can be used by people who plan to do a biking tour in Vietnam but also for those who arrive to a city for a short time and want to maximize the time. Instead of dealing with taxi drivers and waste one hour of their stay inside a taxi, stuck in the traffic, they can enjoy from the beginning and discover these cities from the seatpost, enjoying it thanks to the deep knowledge of our guides. If you get tired, no problem, the van is there to pick you up anytime.

Ride for peace with a Malaysian team in Saigon!

malaysia vietnamIf we talk about cycling in South East Asia, we must talk about Malaysia. There is no other place in the region where our sports is as popular, and where they have as many races and riders. In Vietnam we are improving but we still have a lot to learn from them and we will soon have a chance, next May 31, when the KBRB Reborn cycling club from Malaysia will have their Peace World Cycling Tour in Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City. The venue is on Sunday May 31 at 6:00 AM at the Ho Chi Minh museum, in District 1, and all the riders who want to join will enjoy a 38 km loop around Saigon. malaysian peace world cycling tour This will be a huge event for the cycling lovers in Ho Chi Minh City. We expect that over 100 riders will join them. Sunday Bike Ride and Vietnambiketours will be their host and partners to help them in a foreign country and we will make it easy for everyone who wants to join this city tour: it is free and we provide a bike if you don’t have one. The riders of the malaysian club will join cyclists from the countries they visit in their tour around ASEAN countries:  Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore among them. The goal, aside from cycling, getting to know new places and new people couldn’t be better: to promote harmony and world peace. They will spend two more days in Vietnam, until June 2, before preparing their trip to another ASEAN country. Just knowing why they ride gives us a clue about the kind of people they are and how interesting and fun it must be to join them on their Vietnamese days. Besides, it’s not often that it is possible to have such an experience in Vietnam, sharing the road with so many cyclists. If you want to join just bring your bike to Ho Chi Minh Museum at 6:00AM that day and have fun!

Sunday Bike Ride
Sunday Bike Ride & Vietnam Bike Tours

Ride to Tay Ninh and learn about Cao Dai religion

Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh Author: Herr Klubeisser
Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh Author: Herr Klubeisser

Being in Saigon, one of the most interesting bike rides is the one going to the Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh (done by the Sunday Bike Ride last year), not far from the Cambodian border. Once you get out of the city you can enjoy a road with little traffic and getting there you can admire the temple and the religious rites of this strange and yet popular religion. The full name of the religion is Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ (“The Great Faith for the Third Universal Redemption”) and it mixes elements from three of the main religions or philosophies in Asia: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism but it also adds elements from some of the biggest monotheist religions in the world, as Christianity and Islam. Tay Ninh temple actually holds a statue of Jesus.

Founded in 1926 by Ngô Van Chiêu, a public servant during the French colonial period, this religion has the particularity of including spiritual guides (a rough equivalent to Christian saints) and among them we can find French writer and humanist Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables, Joan of Arc, Louis Pasteur, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Shakespeare and Lenin. The temple in Tay Ninh is the equivalent of the Vatican, but the religion is spread in other countries, specially in the United States, where Vietnamese immigrants built several temples.

Cao Dai temple in Dallas. Author: Pete Unseth
Cao Dai temple in Dallas. Author: Pete Unseth

Ngo Van Chieu claimed that a spirit contacted him during a table moving séance, introduced itself as Cao Dai Tien Ong (Cao Dai means supreme being in Vietnamese) and gave him the main teachings about the new religion. At a time of political turmoil all over the world, the religion grew very popular in Vietnam, specially in the Mekong Delta, and held an important political role during the 1940’s and 1950’s. During the 1930’s they had been gaining a lot of influence and they managed to build their own private army in 1943, during World War II and the Japanese occupation. This times of chaos were advantageous to the Cao Dai rulers, who managed to establish a semi autonomous (sort of) state around Tay Ninh and together with other groups like the BIn Xuyen and the Hoa Hao (other autonomous groups with their own armies) gave more than a headache to the French colonial rulers and to the subsequent South Vietnam government of Ngo Dinh Diem, who disbanded their army in 1956. Since then and during the Vietnam War, they lost influence, but spread all over the world (specially France and the United States) and have been regaining  some popularity in Vietnam in the 1990’s, when their particular faith (with around 5 million followers in the world) and rites became a tourist attraction. Buses full of tourist go to Tay Ninh temple (The Vatican of Caodaism) every day, but we know that readers of this blog won’t miss the chance to take their bikes and pedal there.

The oldest cyclist in Saigon?

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.

New manager for a brighter future

DSC_0621Nguyen Van Lang is the new manager of Vietnam Bike Tours and he knows his business. This mild- mannered man has 22 years of experience as a deputy general manager  in Exotissimo, a foreign tourist agency that came to Vietnam as early as 1993. He has seen it evolve from a small office with three workers to a firm that has expanded to other countries in South East Asia. Being 56 years old, he could have started to think of retirement, or let himself go a few more years in a comfortable position, but Mr Lang likes challenges. And that’s why he accepted the offer to become the general manager of Vietnambiketours.

“After 22 years, I wanted to try in a Vietnamese company. It’s still a small company but I think it has the potential to become big. I moved because of this and also because of patriotism. It is challenging to try to grow with a Vietnamese company. With my experience, I can improve the management, I have experience in finance and accountancy”, he says firmly.

Mr Lang doesn’t want to reveal much about his plans, partly because he has to develop then more after deep observation. “I can’t say yet what is the growth potential of the company. I have many plans, now we are reorganizing the structure of the company. After that, I want to give priority to our presence in international tourism fairs to publicize our activity in the world. Another important goal is to hire the best workers and we will stimulate productivity according to the salary level. But I shouldn’t tell much more”, he explains.

Now focused on biking tours, Mr Lang wants to keep strengthening that part of the business, but he also wants to improve the service for package tours for international tourists who don’t necessarily want to cycle. Australians, Americans, Europeans would be the main target but he needs to reach them and that is a big part of his challenge.

“We sell our tours online but we don’t reach many tourists yet. That’s why we want to participate in the fairs, and we also want to show our presence in other media, like the magazines specialized in tourism, where we want to show our activities, pictures of our tours”. If things go well he is confident that new offices could be opened in other cities like Can Tho or Hue, as it already happened in Nha Trang recently.

After a few minutes of conversation with a coffee near the office of Vietnambiketours in De Tham street, Mr Lang looks at his watch and excuses himself. “I am sorry but I can’t stay longer. I have to go. We have so much work to do”.

Family Biking in Phu My Hung, Ho Chi Minh city

Weekends are the best time to hop on the bikes and get that much needed exercise. If you have kids in tow, a terrific place to do biking is in Phu My Hung in District 7. If it’s a relaxing bike ride you’re seeking, this may just be what you need.
The best route is from Nguyen Van Linh St., turn right to Nguyen Duc Canh St. then when you hit, Nguyen Luong Bang St., let your bikes take you to the end to Phu My Apartments (Khu Can Ho Phu My). Return back and turn right to My Vien. Enjoy the park in the middle of the Canh Vien area. Stop awhile to breathe and let the kids play by the park. Terrific place for a photo shoot so don’t be surprised to see couples garbed in their wedding dress with a photographers following them for a photo session.
You can then go back to Nguyen Duc Canh St., and pedal to the Crescent area at Ton Dat Tien or cross the Cau Anh Sau to Cong Vien Ho ban Nguyet. Kids can climb the hilly park and bike around the area as well.
While the kids are enjoying the park, the adults can snuck out and bike to the Phu My Bridge. There might not be enough challenge in terms of terrain in Phu My Hung but this 2.1 kilometer-long bridge may be all you need. While on top, stop for a bit and take in the view of the Saigon River.
Phu My Hung may lack choices for biking terrain but for a family biking weekend, it is an excellent option. What’s more is that you’ll never lack of places to grab a bite:
C2-C5 Nam Thien 1, PMH, D7
This locally owned eatery is housed in a villa. If a Vietnamese menus is what you are currently craving, Mimi has a very lean menu but just as filling after a morning of biking. Try their Sticky Rice with Chicken, Rice Noodles Soup, and of course their Banh Mi. Down your food with ca phe sua da.
Master’s Cup
B -08 Nam Đô, PMH D7
If you’re up for an American breakfast, some sandwiches, coffee, and cake, Master’s Cup at Canh Vien area is for you. Their apple pie and cheesecake are must try!
Awesome Coffee
D2-21 My Toan 3, PMH, D7
If you’re on your way back to downtown District 1, you can make a pit stop at Awesome Coffee. They serve coffee (of course!), green tea, matcha tea, measil, and lemonade. Partner it with their tiramisu cake or cotto sandwiches, and you’re golden.
Scott and Binh’s
15-17 Cao Trieu Phat St., Hung Phuoc 1, PMH, D7
If you’re looking for a proper English Breakfast or American Breakfast, better drop by Scott and Binh’s. Enjoy bacon, hash brown, sausages, and scrambled eggs.
Oh and donut giant, Dunkin Donuts is currently constructing its first store in Phu My Hung — the first in Vietnam. That might be something worth looking forward to.