One of Explore's programme managers, James, tell us of his recent adventure to Vietnam to experience it's vibrant culture, landscapes and most importantly food along the way.
Cycling from Saigon to Hanoi on the CVIE trip allowed me to return to one of my favourite parts of the world. I couldn’t wait to experience cycling through South East Asia and to try as much Vietnamese cuisine as possible.
Our trip started in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) - Vietnam’s most developed and populous city. Saigon escaped significant damage in the war and so retains a lot of its colonial buildings and character.
I took the opportunity to fly out to Vietnam a day before the trip started and if possible I would recommend this option, as it allows you to make the most of your time in this vibrant city. I spent my extra day wandering down the broad tree-lined avenues, through the busy markets, grazing on street food and admiring the city from one of its many sky bars.
On the first day of our cycling trip, we collected our bikes at Cu Chi bus station and took a warm up ride to the historic Cu Chi tunnels. The Cu Chi tunnels are complex and secret network of hand-dug tunnels from where the Viet Cong hid from and fought the Americans. We were joined by a local guide who walked and talked us through the history of the tunnels before driving back to Saigon in preparation for our big cycle ride the next day.
The next morning we drove to the Mekong Delta where our ride began. The route through the Mekong Delta to Binh Duc took us through interesting landscape of waterways, markets, orchards and riverside villages. Our ride finished at the beautifully restored traditional wooden house in Ut Kiet, which we had time to enjoy before heading back into Saigon for a much needed rest.
Departing from Saigon, we headed north into the Central Highlands of Vietnam. On our ride through the hills of the Langbiang Plateau we enjoyed cycling on quieter and undulating roads to the town of Gia Kiem and Bao Loc. After a short drive across stunning forested hills, past tea and coffee plantations, we soon arrived at the lively mountain town of Dalat for our overnight stay.
The next day was my personal favourite part of the trip, as we tackled the Hon Giao Pass. This was a rewarding challenge that took us up into the mists and cool mountain air before a pure descent of 30km, stripping back the layers as we re-entered the tropical heat.
Our next stop on the route was the busy beach resort town of Nha Trang. It was great to have the chance to relax and take in our journey so far!
That night we found a great restaurant on the beach and a table within earshot of the crashing waves, and the next day we took a boat trip out to a nearby island where we enjoyed snorkelling, swimming and relaxing on the boat.
On our free afternoon in Hoi An, seven of us tried our hand at Vietnamese cooking. Our proud and friendly chef, Bup, invited us to the local market to buy all the fresh ingredients. The afternoon flew by as we prepared, cooked and ate all types of delicious local dishes accompanied by a few cold beers.
After a cycle through the paddy fields and villages of Hue we boarded the overnight train to Hanoi. The overnight sleeper train ride took us north of Vietnam aboard the Reunification Express. Disembarking at 5am it felt like another holiday was starting.
We arrived in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and drove to the Gulf of Tonkin to witness the breath-taking scenery of Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site with some of the most visually impressive landscapes in South East Asia. We boarded the Victory Star just in time for a spot of lunch and set sail.The next 24 hours felt very indulgent as we cruised through Halong Bay in great comfort aboard the boat. It was great to have this treat towards the end of the trip and the food on board (all included) was outstanding!
The group I travelled with were marvellous; very upbeat, positive and fun. Our bikes were great and a mechanic accompanied us throughout the whole trip, ensuring our bikes were in the best condition for riding. The cycling, as a whole, was great fun and provided the right level of challenge for a moderate grade trip.
One of my personal highlights was the Vietnamese food and drink, some of the tastiest and healthiest cuisine I’ve experienced, with plenty of spices, herbs and local vegetables. The local brew is a strong drip coffee, typically served with condensed milk and I was immediately hooked. Add ice and it is even more delicious.
As Anthony Bourdain once said “You don’t have to go looking for great food in Vietnam. Great food finds you. It’s everywhere. In restaurants, cafes, little storefronts, in the streets… It’s a country filled with proud cooks – and passionate eaters.”