Jo Kennedy from Kennedy & Turner Travel Associates recently enjoyed a bike tour around Vietnam with 12 intrepid travellers from Australia and around the world. As the thirteen women met and became acquainted in the hotel lobby of their Vietnam hotel, little did they know they’d be in for one of the most memorable journeys of their lives.
Biking through such notable destinations as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, the group was ready for the thrill of adventure and happiness of discovery. Grey, drizzly skies added to the lush, tropical atmosphere while riding through the Mekong Delta, while sun drenched ocean front resorts dazzled even the most ardent of Aussie beach goers. From the historic landmarks of the bustling cities to the enticing markets and shops, the adventure seeking ladies relished in the flavours of Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City
The Vietnamese adventure began in Ho Chi Minh City. Stepping out of the luxuriously appointed Renaissance Riverside Hotel, the group got acquainted with their knowledgeable guide from Travel IndoChina who indoctrinated the newcomers to the delights of Vietnam.
One of the first stops though was to sample the delicious Vietnamese cuisine, and Jo knew just the place – Hoa Tuc, one of the city’s most popular restaurants. It didn’t take long for the group to discover the restaurant’s signature dish - home-made tofu. This tasty delicacy is pan-fried in light batter with fresh mint, salt, pepper and lime, and the ladies were left wanting more. “The pan-fried tofu was delicious!” said Jo. “No matter how much we tried to recreate this dish at home, we just couldn’t capture the beautiful flavours or wonderful textures that were so artfully displayed in the dish at Hoa Tuc.” Mouth watering Saigon-style spring rolls with pork and taro tantalised the palate further and the main meals of lemongrass beef and BBQ filet of Vietnamese Snapper completed the feast.
A trip to Vietnam wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the revered historical landmarks such as the French inspired Saigon Opera House with its massive columns and arched entryway, and the ornate Notre Dame Cathedral, both symbols of Vietnam’s architecturally elegant French influences.
Pointy Hats to the Rescue in the Mekong Delta
From Ho Chi Minh City, the tour proceeded with a day trip to the Mekong Delta region. Here the mighty river, placid tributaries and sultry climate combine to create the perfect growing conditions for one of Vietnam’s most vital crops – rice. More than 50 percent of the region’s agricultural output comes from rice, and the watery fields sprout up all over the region. Naturally, the biking group got an up-close look at some of these plentiful fields and paddies – and what better time to model one of the Mekong Delta’s most ubiquitous fashion accessories - the pointy, rice-paddy bamboo hat. The ladies looked fetching as they toured the bountiful fields in their locally inspired headgear.
The bike tour continued, and in typical Mekong Delta fashion, the skies opened up and the rains poured down, drenching the determined bikers as they pedalled their way across the remote countryside. The pointy bamboo hats quickly reappeared, replacing bike helmets for some much needed protection from the elements. As it turns out, this uncomfortable looking accessory can be functional too!
Baskets and Beaches of Nha Trang
From Ho Chi Minh City the ladies boarded a luxury coach for the relaxing ride up to the idyllic ocean side city of Nha Trang. With two nights to savour the warm, tropical setting and lounge in the deluxe accommodation, Jo and her fellow explorers settled into the luxurious Mia Nha Trang Resort. This stunning retreat, situated on the white-sand beaches on the South China Sea provides five-star accommodation with award winning restaurants, spas and stylish beach side residences.
From pointy bamboo hats in the Mekong Delta to bamboo basket rafts in the Nha Trang, the ladies traded their bikes for the tiny circular water pontoons for a taste of local ‘mass transit.’ These lightweight circular baskets float seamlessly on the water, displacing little water and can be easily paddled over shallow waters. From their floating baskets, the ladies witnessed the daily lives of locals who use the tiny bamboo rafts for fishing or to transport goods across the water. While not particularly speedy or agile, the boats nevertheless provided a wonderful cultural experience in a typical Vietnamese setting.
China Beach and the French Quarter
Having thoroughly enjoyed the pampering attention at Nha Trang, the group was nevertheless eager to get back on their bikes and take in more of the picturesque landscape. Peaceful days pedalling through the lush countryside near the village of Hoi An turned out to be one of the best areas for biking. Green fields of rice and vegetables provided a unique look at what is still a predominantly rural country. “One of my favourite bike rides of the trip was around Hoi An where we saw market gardens, rice being harvested, homes, schools, fish farms and even some buffalo,” said Michelle.
Just outside the scenic village, another beautiful resort awaited - Fusion Maia. Located on China Beach, one of the country’s finest sea side retreat areas, the days passed in blissful reverie, where the gentle ocean waves caressed and cooled the skin. Having enjoyed her time at the idyllic beach, oasis, Michelle gleefully proclaimed her love for the place. “Fusion Mia and China Beach are spectacular!”
For some, shopping was the highlight. “Many of us had clothes, jewellery and bags made,” said Jo. “The shopping in Hoi An is fantastic! We all wished we had more time there and vowed to return.” Sue, an avid traveller and bicyclist reiterated the desire to return. “Every place we visited had its own character and charm, but Hoi An’s French quarter had an especially great feel. I loved the food, loved the people and will definitely go back.”
A Capital View
Soon Hanoi, Vietnam’s thriving capital city came into view, where the group was thrust into the hustle and bustle of the busy city streets. Hundreds of bicyclists weave their way down the broad city streets as they dodge the determined pedestrians darting in and out of the bustling two-wheeled traffic. Attempting to cross the streets can sometimes be a harrowing experience as Jo explained. “Our guide would instruct us to hold hands and shout out loudly ‘ONE LINE NO FEAR’ as all thirteen of us navigated the busy roads and round-a-bouts. We would all shout for joy and punch our fists in the air, a feeling of accomplishment having made it to the other side.”
The hotel in Hanoi was a true oasis however, an elegant setting in the midst of the urban frenzy. “The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi is a truly gorgeous hotel,” said Jo. “The hotel’s timeless French heritage is evident in the historic 1901 building. It all feels so grand with the traditional uniforms and the rich history. They even offer a guided tour every night at 5pm.”
Equally impressed, Sue said, “All the accommodation was spectacular, but the Metropole was my favourite. It was historical and the lovely staff uniforms added to the atmosphere.” Not surprisingly, the world class hotel was a hit with everyone in the group. “We definitely finished the trip in style,” said Nielma. “The Metropole has a timeless elegance with its history and classic white facade and wrought iron adornments,” before continuing with a laugh, “Of course, the Aussie girls made it a fun location as well!”
One last bike ride took the group through the city, over the Red River and across the historic cantilever style Long Bien Bridge. Built between 1899 and 1901, Long Bien Bridge became a fitting symbol for the group’s far-flung journey of discovery; a journey which this close-knit group attacked with relish together, bonding as new friends and coming across the other side richer, indeed worldlier for the experience of having trekked through what it undoubtedly one of the most fascinating places in the world.
Let Jo Kennedy organise your next holiday
Jo Kennedy at Kennedy & Turner Travel Associates should be your first call for those who are interested in a bike tour through Vietnam. Having experienced the thrill of pedalling through this beautiful country, Jo has special insights into what makes the journey especially enjoyable. Call Jo today and start planning your own journey of discovery.