First off, I should probably start by saying I hate cycling. I mean I really, really, really hate cycling. The last time I’d been on a bicycle was a disastrous cycling trip around Richmond Park in London five years earlier. So when I was asked if I fancied spending the morning cycling around the countryside near Hue, I hesitatingly agreed. I was promised quiet, empty, flat roads, which didn’t sound too daunting.
Fast forward to the cycling trip, when it soon became clear we were setting off from our hotel. In the middle of Hue. Which meant I’d have to navigate the insane Vietnamese traffic before I even got to the countryside. I panicked, but decided to give it a go anyway.
I got kitted out, faffed around with my bike seat, put my helmet on and was ready to go. I had just one goal – staying alive. I gingerly began cycling, trusting that the Vietnamese would do their usual trick of weaving around me, and kept going. Luckily, the Vietnamese did just that and the only time I came to a stop was when a truck pulled out unexpectedly before me, forcing me to slam on my brakes. I was still upright though, so I cursed him, waited patiently for him to reverse out my way and carried on.
Soon we left the bustling city behind and were in the countryside. Amazed I’d navigated the city unharmed, I was feeling a little more confident, and while I was still petrified, I began to relax and enjoy myself. Thankfully, the country roads were long, flat and quiet as promised; they were also in reasonably good condition. The countryside was peaceful and we cycled past lots of fields and streams. At one point we came across a man ploughing his field with a couple of oxen (above).
We also came upon a long, narrow road bordered on either side by rice paddies (above). The paddies stretched out as far as the eye could see and weren’t at all what I was expecting. Whenever I’d seen rice paddies in photos or on the television they were always on stepped hillsides, but these paddies were enormous fields submerged underwater.
We carried on cycling until we reached a village where we decided to park our bikes and have a look around. There was a stream running through the village with a pretty wooden bridge with a tiled roof connecting the two sides. The Vestige of Thanh Toan bridge was built in 1776 and inside houses a shrine dedicated to the wife of a high-ranking mandarin in the Thuan Hoa region who helped pay for its construction. It was a charming structure and is recognised as a national heritage monument in Vietnam.
On the other side of the river there was a covered market, which was filled with people, mostly women, sitting cross-legged on the floor, preparing and selling their goods. They sold all sorts of things, from fruits and vegetables to meat, fish, and disturbingly, hens cooped up in cages. I was fascinated by the market and how make-shift it was, although I was a little put off by the many flies buzzing around the meat and fish stalls. Having visited one of the big, bustling markets in Hanoi, it was interesting to see how much it contrasted with the simple, rural market.
After a look around the market and a quick snack, we were back on our bikes and cycling back towards the big city. I was quite enjoying the cycling by now, it wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated – although I was dreading hitting Hue’s busy roads again. We came across a striking decorative shrine at one point and hopped off our bikes to take a quick photo (above), before carrying on. Once we hit the outskirts of the city, the traffic became increasingly busy but I continued without stopping and didn’t get run over or cause an accident, which I considered a resounding success.
My cycling trip was more terrifying and eventful than I’d anticipated, but I was glad I gave it a go. It was really nice to see the Vietnamese countryside, which was quiet and peaceful, and so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the cities. I was also interested by the more traditional practices I came across, such as the man with his oxen and the relaxed market, as it offered a contrasting perspective to what I’d seen so far in the cities and in Halong Bay. More importantly, the trip hasn’t put me off cycling – in fact, I’d be up for doing it again!