Ho Chi Minh city (aka Saigon) was at the very bottom of our list of places to visit in Vietnam; the only reason we went there was the availability of good bicycle shops, and the opportunity to request a Thai visa. Indeed, everyone describes this city as noisy, crowded and polluted, thus being a hell for cyclists; as many places in Vietnam were already unpleasant to cycle, we dreaded arriving in this megalopolis and prepared for the worst. Let’s find out if we were right to be pessimistic about this huge city !
Cycling from Da Lat to Ho Chi Minh city
Overall, this part of the central highland was where we least enjoyed cycling. The boring scenery and very unpleasant cities made this part of the trip rather uninteresting, and we really regretted our choice not to follow the coast to reach Ho Chi Minh city !
Da Lat / Lam Ha
Exiting Da Lat took some time, but after a few kilometers the road started going down in a pleasantly sinuous way. The road surface was great, making it a very nice downhill ride ! The road surface deteriorated once we reached the plateau, and so did the scenery; once again, the forests were replaced by coffee everywhere.
We stayed in a place called My gardens homestay. I’ll admit that we were a bit concerned at first; we were asked if we wanted a room by the hour, and our room featured a mirror along the bed. However, the room was clean and we could sleep well. My gardens is actually a rather large place, featuring a restaurant/karaoke and a nice café alongside a river.
Lam Ha / Di Linh
Dare I say this was one of the worst cycling days we had in Vietnam ? For some reason Openrunner couldn’t compute the elevation profile, and I naively expected it to be mostly flat. How mistaken I was… There were many 8% climbs, which would usually have been okay, but the very high temperature made cycling them very hard. To make things worse, there was absolutely no shadow and the scenery was depressing, as the only sight was once again coffee.
To be fair, there was one nice great downhill followed by a nice-looking sinuous road, but that was all…
We spent the night in an equally depressing motel along the QL in Di Linh.
Keyword for the day depressing.
Di Linh / Bao Loc
This was a quick and boring ride on the QL. I really didn’t feel good so we stayed two days in Bao Loc so I could get some rest. I suppose I suffered from the crazy heat from the previous day.
Bao Loc was very noisy, as the QL goes straight through it; it was also surprisingly hard to find food.
Our motel was rather new and comfortable. However, on our first evening there, some other guests having a very loud conversation, thus preventing us from sleeping. As it was well after 10pm, it really drove me crazy and after locating the suckers’ room, I banged at their door as hard as possible, then just ordered them to be silent. While they didn’t understand English, my angry face helped them understand what I meant and we didn’t hear the again.
Honestly, at this point, all we wanted was to leave Vietnam as soon as possible !
Bao Loc / Vo Xu
After we left Bao Loc without any regret, there was a long and nice downhill. Unfortunately the lack of shoulder lane and the surprisingly bumpy road made it a bit stressing to cycle. We then left the QL to switch to a small road, where the surface deteriorated badly right after entering new province. There was a last downhill with a few crazy turns on a nearly destroyed road, and we reached the plain where the scenery changed to rice fields, a very welcome change from coffee !
We spent the night in an excellent motel : it was extremely quiet, the rooms were large and very comfortable, the bathroom was absolutely clean and the staff was very friendly. It was as close to perfection as it can be in Vietnam. The only drawback was that it was at the edge of the city so there was no food available nearby, however we asked the staff for some instant noodles.
Nhà nghỉ Hoàng Lộc, 172, Tôn Đức Thắng, Võ Xu, Đức Linh, Bình Thuận, Vietnam
Vo Xu / Long Khanh
Most of the cycling took place on a rather boring DT road, but it became pleasant when we switched to a back road alongside the railway.
The staff at the motel where we stayed in Long Khanh was totally weird. After asking if we wanted a room by the hour, they asked us what time it was and at what time we planned to leave. Then they assigned us to the room VIP 5, hmmm, no, wait, 4, oh no, sorry, 3, oh, finally it will be number 2. This VIP room had no window but there were complimentary condoms; how could we feel more important ? (insert crying emoticon)
A few steps away from the motel, we stopped at a café whose owner was extremely nice. She spent a lot of time chatting with Thanh and then took us to some place where we could have dinner. The food was so-so, but we had excellent smoothies for desert.
Long Khanh / Long Thanh
After a small and extremely unpleasant ride on the QL, we had an incredibly quiet cycling day. The road where we cycled was nearly empty; the first part of it was shiny new, and it passed small villages later. There were rubber trees planted in several places; however they were much larger than usual, making them look much more pleasant than the skinny, extremely regular trees we’re used to seeing.
Both our motel and the food i Long Thanh were deceiving; the city is a very unpleasant place to walk and the people drive even worse than elsewhere.
Long Thanh / Ho Chi Minh city
We expected the worst of the worst for that day. First we cycled to reach a ferry in Cat Lac, close to Saigon; the traffic was a bit busy but there was no truck after leaving Long Thanh so it was okay. After crossing the river on the ferry, we cycled on a large road where our lane was separated from cars and trucks by concrete blocks, making it safe and rather quiet. A few kilometers away from Saigon, the scenery still felt “countryside-ish”.
We passed a long bridge under a blazing sun, and finally reached Ho Chi Minh city’s suburbs. While the traffic was busy, it was mostly motorcycles, and they all drove in the same direction, a nice change from all other cities ! As a result, although we still had to focus on whatever happened in front of us, entering the city really looked like peace of cake compared to many other places; moreover, there was no truck honking, so paradoxically it felt quieter in Ho Chi Minh City than in other cities !
Our Airbnb appartment in Ho Chi Minh city
The place we rented on Airbnb has probably helped us appreciate our stay in Ho Chi Minh city.
Unlike in Da Lat where we only rented a room, this time we choose a whole apartment. For us, the main advantage compared to a single room was the ability to cook a bit. It was well located, at the end of an alley so it was isolated from the noise of the street. There was a lot of light inside, it very clean and well designed, and the bathroom was a pleasure to use. Moreover there was a large terrace where we could enjoy an appetizer after spending a long day exploring the city…
We really felt at home during our stay there, and while the price of 23€ per night was much more expensive than a night in a motel, we didn’t regret staying there at all.
Visiting Ho Chi Minh city
While many visitors only see the large avenues and a few historical monuments, we spent a lot of time just walking around. It’s our favorite way to explore most cities, and in the busy Saigon, getting lost in small streets was a real pleasure !
Wandering around Ho Chi Minh city
In Ho Chi Minh city, where the avenues are usually boring, our aim was to take as many small streets and alleyways as possible. There we found markets, street food, small shops… however, even along the large avenues, we could spot interesting sights !
French vestiges : cathedral, city hall & post office
These three monuments are located in the same area. The cathedral was under restoration while we were there, so we couldn’t visit it. The inside of the post office is beautiful, especially the two large maps of former French colonies painted on the wall.
The front of the old city hall is unfortunately not very visible; it’s located at the end of a large esplanade, but the trees planted there hide most of the view ! The only way to enjoy the view is to stand between these trees and the traffic, where you can see only part of it.
Enjoying French pastries
In Da Lat, we were rather deceived by the pastries we bought. In Ho Chi Minh city, we went to Une journée à Paris. We had French croissants; they were slightly less tasty than the ones we had back home but still good, and chocolate/almonds pastry which was good, although it was a bit dry to my taste. Drinks were a bit expensive but good.
The owner may look a bit grumpy at first but is actually very nice and talkative, and enjoys talking about both pastry and traveling in Asia. He offered us two chouquettes which were excellent – it’s an especially though pastry to bake so kudos to this place for making them so good –
Exploring Cho Lon
Once more we wandered around rather than follow a map. The main market was closed for renovation, but there were still many stalls around. Most surrounding streets were also dedicated to selling every possible kind of good.
Several colonial houses are visible in this area. While the lack of maintenance has damages them, they’re still a welcome change from Vietnamese buildings.
We ended up mostly visiting temples. While the smallest ones had a very spiritual ambiance, the largest ones were used for photo shootings, spoiling the atmosphere.
As often, exploring small passages was very fun. We saw very colorful shops, or places seeing an incredible amount of variations on an item : wheels, buttons, calligraphy… it’s an area where it’s possible to spend an endless amount of time !
Moving around Ho Chi Minh city by bus
There are many bus lines in Sai Gon; they’re a convenient and cheap way to move around. While many buses we boarded were rather worn out, the level of comfort was okay, and the temperature much better than outside ! Most bus trips cost around VND 6 000; there was usually an employee selling tickets inside, although we also sometimes had to leave money in a box besides the driver.
We mostly used Google Maps in order to find our bus itineraries. Locating the bus stop was usually easy, although in some cases there was absolutely no indication of which bus stopped there. The tricky part is knowing when to leave the bus; there was no visual indication of the next stop’s name, so you may either use your phone’s GPS, or try to ask the ticket seller (make sure your write down your destination !).
Taking care of our stuff
We went to the aptly named The Bike Shop; while located rather far from our apartment, they had great reviews. Riding there was rather straightforward, and once again we didn’t understand all the fuss about cycling in HCMC being dangerous. People stating so probably never rode anywhere else in Vietnam, where cycling conditions are much, much worse !
The shop is owned by two English-speaking guys. In spite of the required maintenance being rather straightforward, it required a delay so we left our bicycles there for the day. They sell bicycles as well as common spare parts; however, if your bicycle require something unusual, it probably won’t be available. I wanted to buy a set of Magura brake pads for Thanh’s bicycle, just in case and they didn’t have them. Good thing I brought two sets from France !
The Bike Shop, 250 Nguyễn Văn Hưởng, Thảo Điền, 2, Hồ Chí Minh
My laptop’s screen was messed up because it spent some time playing with soy milk and didn’t really enjoy it; in addition to it, the charging was erratic. I found an electronics repair shop called laptopcare.vn that got great reviews and was located close to our apartment; they charged us around €150 to replace the screen, fix the battery and clean it up entirely.
As a side note, if your operating system supports it, I strongly encourage you to crypt tour hard drive before leaving you home country; while this place seemed trustworthy, you never know what happens when you leave your laptop.
Laptopcare.vn, 17E Hồ Hảo Hớn, P.Cô Giang, Q.1, Hồ Chí Minh, 760000