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Bicycles in Vietnam: More than Simple Transport

  • Tuan Truong
  • 25 August 2011

When speaking of local transport in Vietnam, no discussion goes on for too long without mention of the bicycle and its role in Vietnamese daily life. In Western countries, most people enjoy bicycles as a kind of sport or a healthy way to commute. For us in Saigon, though, bicycles are a tradition and a livelihood.

vietnam transport flower bicycle

On one small Vietnamese bicycle a thousand flowers can bloom. Photo courtesy of flickr/Rosino

For generations, bicycles have been used not only as transport but also as a way of generating income for working-class families. A lot of people’s lives are closely connected to this rudimentary conveyance because they can earn their living right on two wheels.

Then and Now

Times are changing in big cities like Saigon. A few years ago in this city, you might spot women wearing the iconic palm-leaf conical hats and selling sticky rice, corn, bread, vegetables, steamed cake, noodles and other Vietnamese specialties directly from their bicycles. The products would be piled in big baskets and fastened to the saddles of their bicycles with rope.

vietnam transport plant vendor

The bicycle is still the best way to transport plants for this vendor in the city of Saigon, Vietnam. For some, bicycle traditions still run strong. Photo courtesy of flickr/zrim

On bicycles, they could ride down winding roads to new neighbourhoods to sell their produce, sometimes advertising their wares by calling out. If they found a hot spot of customers, they would park their bicycles and sell for a few hours, stationary. For a long time, this was the way of life for the working class in Vietnam; many of today’s successful and talented people were nurtured by their mothers’ loads of food on bicycles.

Nowadays, bicycle vendors are rarely seen in a metropolis like Saigon. Maybe that’s because the standard of living has been raised. More people have ‘innovated’ their little enterprises, switching to businesses in shops, food stalls or even large malls. But if you follow some winding roads yourself and head for the countryside, you might still hear the cries of women (or even men) selling their local produce from the seats of their bicycles. They’ll likely be selling some fruit you can buy.

vietnam transport bicycle romance

In Vietnam, a bicycle ride for two is considered a romantic and sweet first date. Photo courtesy of flickr/vincent0849

Bicycle Romance

The image of bicycles in Vietnam has nevertheless remained iconic in Vietnamese poems and songs that praise the beauty of love on bicycles. A bike with no motor is inexpensive transport and has actually become a symbol of pure and nostalgic love from a time when speed and wealth were less important.

Today, bicycles are still used as practical and affordable transport for a lot of people, especially students. Boys often give girls bike rides to high school or university and then back home. Day in and day out, rain or shine, stormy or calm, young hearts are stirred by a first date on a bicycle, which may sweep them away into new love. For us in Vietnam, love and bicycles go together in a way that is beautiful, innocent and simple.

vietnam transport basket vendor

How much is too much for a bicycle? This basket vendor in Vietnam is used to testing the limits. Photo courtesy of flickr/dominqueb

The rare few who also still use their bicycles to sell their wares help to maintain this cultural image. But it’s more than that. It’s a way of life, beautiful for its rich tradition.

Try It Yourself

Travelling by bicycle can be one of the most rewarding ways to experience Vietnam. Just imagine pedalling along a road on the coast of Nha Trang, breathing the fresh air and enjoying the gentle wind in your hair, the salty taste of the sea on your tongue, all while giving your thighs and calves a good workout.

vietnam transport bicycle vendor

A vendor in Vietnam uses his bike to transport heavy loads. This is his business on wheels. Photo courtesy of flickr/Herr_Bert

You can find the winding roads that the bicycle vendors would use to seek new markets for their wares. And maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll even cross paths with a vendor offering you flowers and a glimpse of the past.

Are you planning some time on two wheels in Vietnam? Contact the country’s whl.travel local connections.

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5 Responses to “Bicycles in Vietnam: More than Simple Transport”

  1. very good blog and cycling in vietnam are best place with a lot of backroad

  2. Teamworkz says:

    I love seeing what people manage to transport on bicycles in this part of the world, it never ceases to amaze.

  3. Very unique bicycle blog. Thanks for sharing this blog with us.

  4. Tuan Truong says:

    Thanks Maureen. Some of my friends from America were also amazed when they saw corns sold right from the bicycle saddle. They thought it was a great thing to see.

  5. Maureen says:

    Thanks for the great article Tuan! I am always amazed to see the amount of things piled onto bicycles here in Vietnam.

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