Editor's note:This story narrates a cycling journey from Ho Chi Minh City to the southern coastal city of Vung Tau, and back, by Ray Kuschert, an Australian man who has ridden more than 6,000km around Vietnam in the past four years.
Adventure is the essence of a memorable life and Vietnam is jam-packed with adventure opportunities. One of the opportunities is bicycle adventures and anyone who is a little active, and has a bicycle, could have an adventure on the weekend.
You just need a dream and a plan.
Your first, and simplest, adventure should be to ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau by bicycle.
Before you gasp for air and think “I can never do that," consider the ease at which this can be achieved. For most riders, it is only five to seven hours of riding, plus breaks. It is flat the entire way and the roads are generally good. This makes for a whole day of adventure and there is a comfortable hotel room at the end for you to relax.
Start dreaming of adventure in 2022.
Every fun adventure needs a plan. You need to consider what time to start, what you will take, and where you plan to stop.
What to prepare?
My plan starts with my gear. Apart from a bicycle, there are a few things that will make the trip smoother.
Bicycle clothes will make the day more comfortable. Good padded bicycle pants and a good saddle will make this much better. The sun is the biggest threat to a fun day. Make sure you are covered from head to toe with good fitted clothes. And carry sunscreen for your nose, face and ears, plus sunglasses are essential.
Carrying your clothes on a luggage rack makes it much easier. Carrying a backpack can get uncomfortable. I usually take a shirt, pants and sandals so I can go to the bar when I stay in Vung Tau for the night. Not a lot is needed as most good hotels supply toiletries and other needs.
|A supplied photo shows Ray Kuschert's bicycle and his gear on the way from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau in late January 2022.|
A flat tire is the most common mechanical fault with adventure cycling. Have a spare tube and basic tools to change the tube and tighten nuts and screws. It is a good idea, if you are not experienced, to practice changing a tire at home before you go. Also, a good cheap bicycle pump will get you out of trouble if you have any tire issues.
One important thing to consider is what time you will set off on your adventure. I normally allow myself eight hours in total to get to Vung Tau. The midday hours are rather hot, so you need to avoid 11:00 am to 2:00 pm where possible. Traditionally, most sports and adventure riders leave Ho Chi Minh City around 4:00 am and arrive in Vung Tau between 11:00 am and 12:00 pm. Another good option is leaving Ho Chi Minh City around 2:00 pm and arriving in Vung Tau from 9:00 pm to 10:00 pm, but make sure you have bicycle lights for night riding. If you do find the heat getting too hot, there are plenty of “cafe võng” (rest cafés with hammocks), but only stop at the ones that are open and easy to see from the street. The cafés with trees covering the front door are poorly lit inside and are not for all travelers.
If you would like some support for your first ride, then most local bicycle shops will have advice and groups that do this ride regularly. You can get support or join a group to experience it for the first time. I’m sure that once you do it the first time, it won’t be your last.
Road to Vung Tau
Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau is around 110 kilometers. I work on a 20km rule when riding. That is, I ride 20km and then take a break.
The good part of adventure cycling in Vietnam is that there are shops, cafés, and street food all along the route. You won’t go more than a kilometer or two without having the opportunity to buy refreshments, so there's no need to pack food, and one bottle of water is usually enough because buying drinks is really easy.
The first section of your ride is your home to Cat Lai Ferry. At Cat Lai, you pay one thousand VND to get across the river. It is also a good chance to get off the bike and have your first break. Then there is the Dong Nai stretch to Ben Cam, about 20km. The village on Ben Cam has everything you need to have a break and get refreshments.
From Ben Cam, you get out onto the highway and head south. For ease and safety, I prefer to just stay on the main road but there are many off-road options as you get more familiar with the region. My usual next stop is around Phu My Town in Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province, about 20km further down the main highway. This big town has garden cafés, rice and noodle restaurants, and everything you need all on the main road.
After Phu My, about 60km into the adventure, it's off to Ba Ria City. There are plenty of places to stop on the highway and you might want a good break by this time as you would have completed around 80km. I recall my first ride where I rested in Ba Ria for almost an hour before riding to Vung Tau.
The last stretch into Vung Tau is probably the least populated. The main road has shops and cafés but there is a lot more open space between shops because of the wetlands and aquafarms. This is also the place where you will start to slow down because there is, almost always, a decent headwind to slow you down. But don’t fight it! Just slow down and enjoy the scenery because it’s really beautiful.
As you turn to take the last main road into Vung Tau, you will be reaching 100km. Depending on your starting location, you might still have 5-15km to go. Take a break because it can be a bit warm during the day in this region. Even consider breaking your stops down to 5-10km at this time so you don’t dehydrate or get too hot. There is no rush, so take in the local scenery and the hospitality of the local people.
What is unique about bicycle adventures in Vietnam is there is no need to have a tent or a lot of gear because everything you need is littered along the roadway, unlike other countries that can have 50km between towns with nothing but farmland.
Once you reach Vung Tau, it makes a great adventure to add one or two nights at a local hotel to have time to see the beachside city. Hotels are available upwards of VND500,000 a night, so every budget is catered for in this beautiful city. (US$1 = 22,660)
|A supplied photo shows Ray Kuschert during his cyling trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau in late January 2022.|
The fun thing about riding to Vung Tau is not having to ride home and being able to get the ferry back to Ho Chi Minh City. The Ho Chi Minh City/Vung Tau Ferry Service runs a number of services daily. Tickets are VND200,000-300,000 and for an extra VND100,000, they will put your bicycle at the back of the boat, so you and your bike get back to Ho Chi Minh City safely. Tickets are available online and you pay cash to the ferry master for the bicycle.
Life is about creating memories and this adventure is one that you will never forget. Regardless if you ride alone, like me, or with a small group, the euphoria of arriving in Vung Tau on a bicycle is never forgotten. I am proud to say I have ridden this route more than 15 times over the past four or five years and it never gets boring.
2021 took away our freedom temporarily. Let’s make 2022 the year to take it back. Adventure bicycle riding in Vietnam is a life-changing experience and once you try it, you will be hooked for life.
With my two bicycles, I have ridden more than 6,000km around Vietnam in the past four years from Hue to Da Lat, Phan Thiet, Tay Ninh and the Mekong Delta. Every adventure changes me forever and delivers memories of the real Vietnam that are just not attainable any other way as a tourist or domestic traveler.
Join me in making dreams come true. Join me in traveling Vietnam by bicycle.