Vietnam on Two Wheels

Jan 17, 2013 at 23:59
by Tobias Woggon  
The squeaking, which kept me from sleeping for the last ten hours, is diminishing, and the rocking and resonating is slowing down. It seems as if the journey is coming to an end. While some are still asleep in our cabin, passengers from other cabins are already storming out in the direction of Lao Chai's departure platform. The little village in the hills, in the north of Vietnam.

While pulling aside the curtain with the back of my hand, watching the colourful ado at the departure platform, there's a knock at our door. The porter opens and calls inside that we are there now. Well, that's my guess, because the Vietnamese language is so foreign sounding that I cannot understand a word.

We are getting ready to leave the train. Most passengers are trekking-tourists and only have a rucksack as their luggage. I toss my duffle bag over a shoulder, grab my laptop bag and try to lug my bike bag through the narrow corridors.

As soon as we reach the door of the old iron lady, absolving the nocturnal journey that's been occurring for the last several centuries, taxi and bus-drivers standing in front of the train start grabbing my luggage. I try to explain that we already have a driver, but the language barrier proves difficult to cross.

Finally reaching the station's gate, there are several people standing, holding signs with names on them. From a distance, I can see the edge of a sign with the Asien Special Tours' logo, the travel operator that has helped us to organize this trip. As we get closer we can see our names on the sign.

Now we only have to make it clear to our athletic baggage porter that we still don't need his help. But where in other countries this would have resulted in harsh words and shouting, the friendly man hands us our luggage, nods in our direction and heads off into the crowd. After a 14 hour flight and a 10 hour train, only a one hour bus ride up the hill separates us from our destination, Sapa.

The small village up in the hills, close to the Chinese border and at the foot of the 3143m high Fansipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam, which despite its elevation is populated.

Everywhere there are motor scooters, used as means of transport here. That is why you can see half a pig or 50 headsets hanging across the seat here and there. Numerous residents wearing traditional clothing are running around, trying to sell stuff. At each small house there is a shop, selling delicacies like cobra inside of brandy bottles or half breaded eggs. Another flood of stores is offering, probably "very original,“ outdoor jackets from different famous brands for $30.

Because Philip, the photographer accompanying me, has been staring nervously out of the window during our journey here, searching for trails, our first destination at Sapa is the tourist information center. There we discover that mountain biking in Vietnam is almost unheard of. Not only can the man not give us any information about it, it seems as if biking besides on the paths seems to be impossible. During the 32 years he has been living in Saba, no one has ever ridden a bike on the paths surrounding his village. After his eruption he storms out of his office and let us stay where we were.

Luckily I found Pham, a guide of the region in preparation for our journey. I sent her some pictures and videos and made an appointment. After a short talk it was clear: Pham was our woman and she knew what was going on. The next day at nine o'clock, Pham was waiting with a driver she'd organized, a little excited and impatient at the entrance hall of our hotel. For the first few days we wanted to focus on producing good pictures. Later that week we wanted to go "real" riding.

The first location Pham showed us was a trail leading to a small settlement inside a rice-plantation. The view across the plantations was insane, giving us a good perspective of our surroundings. After barely five minutes, Philip – lying on the ground, trying to catch the right perspective – is surrounded by ten little children with and without pants and running noses. They were all coming out of the small huts, spread throughout the landscape. They had never seen a real mountain bike before.

After getting some good pictures, we head back to our driver, who is helpfully taking my bike. Philip is trying to survive the descent on the muddy ground, while Pham is maliciously laughing. Because our driver has never sat on a carbon 29er, he gives it a try on the asphalt, which ends with a bit of a spill because of a little too much front brake. Looking sheepish, he returns my bike to me.

And so it went for several days. Pham lead us to her village, to the jungle and to markets. Everywhere we appeared, we were the number one topic of conversation and there was barely anyone who did not want to ride around on the bike. Luckily, the one fall remained the only, and so we had a downright great time at a country that still hasn't discovered its potential as a mountain bike destination.


  • 34 1
 Hey all! I live in Vietnam. I moved from Canada 4 years ago. I am super excited that there is interest in riding here. I live in the city of DaNang and have been exploring with a couple of expat buddies of mine.MANY EPIC RIDES HERE. I have replaced almost every part on my cube hard tail but cant afford a much better bike. I live with my family and we are volunteer teachers. We are really trying to promote riding here. There are direct flights to this city from Korean airlines. If you are interested I could probably set some rides up for people. I would suggest bringing a bike though. Not much available here.
  • 3 0
 If I had the time and money to go , I would definitely do so.
  • 5 0
 Cuberider, good on ya! All the best on your future rides and exploits!
  • 5 1
 That sounded awsomely Canadian
  • 13 0
 I absolutely love reading articles about riding in all the places that aren't showcased all the time like whistler is (not that thats a bad thing but its nice to see something different).I always end up trying to work out a way I can save up a load of cash to travel, but then I realise that its highly unlikely that I will ever be able to afford it Frown
  • 7 0
 I agree with you, but at least those articles, in a certain way, makes me travel !
  • 4 0
 Very cool! Went through Sapa last winter and was wishing I had my bike the whole time, tons of trails heading out to villages all over the hills.
  • 5 0
 Anyone wanna be heli dropped?
  • 2 1
 "There we discover that mountain biking in Vietnam is almost unheard of. Not only can the man not give us any information about it, it seems as if biking besides on the paths seems to be impossible. During the 32 years he has been living in Saba, no one has ever ridden a bike on the paths surrounding his village. After his eruption he storms out of his office and let us stay where we were."

Perhaps a bit of literary license there but you didn;t need a tourist information bureau to tell you that Many of the trails are short and linked via roads.
  • 3 1
 Ya. that probably is true. Mountain biking is understood here as riding up a paved road on a mountain. Most people don't explore outside of their cities. This is tragic as there is such good riding in some places. Here in Da Nang we ride around a big dam in the mountains. We ride near Hi Van pass. We ride near villages. We continue to find places to ride because we know the trails are out there and we relentlessly search for them.On google earth just zoom in on the mountains around Danang. You will see trails everywhere. Most trails we come across are off road truck trails. We can ride them for hours.The views are amazing. They have wicked climbs and super fast descents. As a guy who has ridden Whistler, Vedder, Woodlot, ect, trust me. It is epic...
  • 2 0
 Cuberider I'll bring my bike next time I'm in town I just never think about mtb biking since I'm always surfing. My grandparents lives in Hue and I travel back once a year often getting on a moto in Saigon and working my way up the coast stopping at surf spots. I would love to ride some epic trails. It's just beautiful cali has a nice coastline but being on a moto in NAM is out of this world the Hi VAN is dope!!! Sweet article I've never been up North that far but central to south Vietnam is a good time. Cheers to 333 and HUDA!!!
  • 2 0
 Vietnam is no doubt still worth visiting though and I didn't intend to disrespect the fledgling trail systems. The culture and the uniqueness of the people are interesting in and themselves. Cuberider you have a very good perspective and very good taste in trails!
  • 1 0
 @Power5 ya, with this much coastline, it is hard to look inland, but when you do, there stands some of the most amazing and formidable, jungle covered mountains waiting to be explored. The plants are crazy, thorns and spikes everywhere. even razor sharp grass. There is still the UXO out there so you have to stay on the trail, and the heat is mad. For a guy like me, it is such an amazing challenge just to ride, that ladders, wall rides and tabletops never enter my mind.
@leelau me and a buddy are planning to try to link all the mountains around the city into one solid loop. we figure it will be between 50 to 100 km without backtracking. our dream would be to start holding events here such as XC and enduro races. we also want to do this place justice for all the beauty it holds.
  • 1 0
 Intriguing. Sharon and I have been mulling taking bikes to Laos, Southern China/Yunnan area - Vietnam sounds worth a visit
  • 1 0
 @leelau - you should definitely plan a trip to any of those spots, Laos, Yunnan, or Vietnam. I live north of there in Sichuan, which has some pretty good riding as well Smile and have traveled in that area quite a bit over the last couple years. Unfortunately each time I didn't take my bike, but I was wishing I had. Spots that I thought looked like they had great potential were Dali in Yunnan, Luang Nham Tha (spelling?) in Laos, Sapa in Vietnam (this article), and it looks like cuberider could hook you up as well. Go in the winter as it is the dry season and all of the spots I just mentioned are actually pretty dry and cool (not a sweaty jungle like many people think). Just my 2 cents!
  • 1 0
 Loas is an amazin place! i loves it their! sapa was kind of spoiled with the tourists and all the shops and people that follow you forever, idk felt like the true culture had been spoiled, in load it waisnt as much, you could really see the culture and enjoy all the amazing people, everyone was amazing!! I even tried to teach some munks english! they are all very polite and will give you directions or help you with money or ordering something, i highly recomend it, only thing it is HOT!!!!
  • 6 2
 That little kid is totally puffing.
  • 8 1
 That's actually an adult man, the vietnamese are typically short and age well.
  • 2 5
  • 1 0
 It's funny cuz its true Highstreet
  • 1 0
 This is great! I traveled all over vietnam/ cambodia and loa!!! When i was in sapa i was so stunned by all the rice paties! They people where nice but pushy at time! Every time i whent trekking i wish i had my bike !!!
  • 2 0
 Sorry was this through a tour company or solo? If its a tour company, got a link? I'd love to do a bike trip in vietnam.
  • 3 0
 I know Cycleactive in the UK do a tour, but at 11 days fully guided it isn't cheap!
  • 1 0
 Seriously, come and check out Da Nang. The great thing about the riding here is that it is all new, unnamed and quite challenging. But you need to know where to go from the city.
  • 1 0
 I've done a tour with these guys in Thailand - They don't have too many MTB options, but they do rides through most of Asia.
  • 2 0
 I was in Vietnam a few weeks ago, super pissed I didn't bring a bike. Still had a blast though, it's a great country.
  • 1 0
 Just for curiosity is that a Speedfox or a Trailfox, because I got a '11 Speedfox and it's 26", so maybe this could be a more recent Speedfox, I guess
  • 1 0
 Looks like a Fourstroke 29 to me.
  • 1 0
 never knew that vietnam has such MTB trail.maybe someday i will go there for hiking on fansipan,aftarward go ride my bike on the trail
  • 2 0
 looks amazing, would be an incredible experience. Maybe one day.
  • 4 6
 Being married to Vietnamese woman, I think I have all the Vietnam I can handle at home ( lol ). On a different note the high heat and humidity doesn't sound like the ideal place for riding even if the countryside looks inviting. Nice article though! Do people still need to watch out for unexploded oridinance from the war?
  • 2 6
flag zorba73 (Feb 17, 2013 at 9:08) (Below Threshold)
 ..hence the retardo bit of your name.
  • 3 2
 WOW your so original I've NEVER heard that before. I can laugh at myself can you?? Maybe should I attack your comment just because I stated my opinion, whose the TROLL now
  • 1 5
flag zorba73 (Feb 17, 2013 at 10:16) (Below Threshold)
 and again, hence the retardo bit of your name.
  • 3 2
 takes one to know one.... ZORBA that's a great name. Do actually have something relavant to the topic to contribute?
  • 2 0
 Im actually sure there is still a ton of uxo there..
  • 2 0
 Your probably fine as long as youre not the first rider.
  • 2 0
 im often the first MTB rider, but i try to stay on the jeep tracks Smile
  • 2 0
 Chao nguoi anh em cung que huong!
  • 2 0
 Awesome! Hoping there will be a part 2!
  • 1 0
 actually every samll city owns its riding style. Come to China and you will find a different riding experience.
  • 1 0
 Excellent article! It's always nice to read up on some new epics around the world!
  • 1 4
 been there done that, Kambodja is still even more less exploited, swimming with crocs. Kambodja has the most beatiful people. Hope to god its never get exploited. Vietnam is much further in tourism, they know what they want, you money.
  • 2 0
 may be true in HCMC or Hanoi, but you are not representing the real Vietnam...
  • 2 0
 That is so true, vietnam i didnt like as much as cambodia but loa was beatiful and the people where amazing!
  • 1 0
 Just beautiful. Pictures are top notch. Love it!
  • 1 0
 What do "you" mean "you people"?!?!?!
  • 2 0
 My home, I love!
  • 2 5
 Welcome to the rice fields!!!
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