|No loud noises: Bike riders from the Emong Group enjoy the scenery while cycling in Bat Xat District's Y Ty Commune in the mountainous province of Lao Cai.
by Lan Dung
Truong Van Phuc has travelled to the northern provinces of Viet Nam by motorbike with his friends many a time. However, a 15-day bicycle trip from Ha Noi to Ca Mau, the southernmost point of the country recently made the 24-year-old fall in love with cycling.
Borrowing a giant bike from a friend he met on Facebook, Phuc replaced the old or broken parts, and prepared the itinerary and expenditure for the journey.
The Thai Binh-born packed two sets of clothes, a repair kit and backup inner tubes on the back of the bicycle, and headed south with his friends.
For him, this journey was an opportunity to see the beauty of the country and meet locals in every place he set foot in. Phuc chose the itinerary based on his personal interests.
"I do not think that trips like these are to conquer nature or something like that. Like Edmund Hillary, who is the first mountaineer to reach Mount Everest, said: ‘It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves,'" he said.
"I used to travel by train and by motorbike but with these two means of transportation, sceneries glide past so quickly that we miss the beautiful moments. Moreover, cycling increases our physical strength as well as challenges our perseverance and skill to solve break-downs on the road."
|Not a race: Truong Van Phuc (right) takes a photo with a German couple who cycled from India to Singapore. — Photo courtesy of Truong Van Phuc
Phuc did not run into trouble on the road, but the inner tube of his friend's touring bike broke a lot because there were small rocks and sharp objects, sometimes even nails, on Vietnamese roads.
However, that was only a tiny part of the trip, and could not diminish the excitement of the bikers. They had received a lot of support from friends and locals who he had just met on Facebook. Phuc still recalled that on numerous occasions they reached home at 11pm, when their parents would be waiting for them to have dinner.
Phuc, who is on an internship with Talisman Energy Inc. in Malaysia, intends to buy a new bike this month and improve his physical strength by cycling on short-distance trips and slopes around Kuala Lumpur. He will travel from the Malaysian capital to HCM City by bike in 20 days in September.
Earlier, in 2008, Nguyen Hoang Long cycled more than 1,700km from HCM City to Ha Noi along with two friends. The Hanoian chose the itinerary because "they would have driving power to pedal from there to get home".
However, he made one big mistake. At the end of the year, the wind blows from north to south, and cyclists have to pedal upwind. This led to him falling off the bike when cycling from Khanh Hoa Province's Nha Trang to Binh Thuan Province's Phan Ri. He received six stitches, and the scar is still on his leg to remind him of the trip.
After the 15-day bike trip, Long decided to join the Emong Group, which has about 50 members, and connect with others who shared his desire of cycling. Since then, he has taken part in various trips with his friends in the group, but has never cycled across Viet Nam again.
Long, who is now an administrator of the Emong Group's forum, said that they only considered the bicycle as a means of transportation and regarded the feeling of bikers on the journey as more important. He urged cyclists not to go beyond their limitations, and relax when they felt very tired.
|Rough riders: Many members of Emong Group are female and as tough as the male members. — Photos courtesy of Emong Group
"Young people often like conquering the challenges. However, this is a trip, not a race. Our objectives are to enjoy cycling and completing the journey," he said.
Long said that people should use mountain bikes for their trips and only need to bring necessary items such as two sets of water-resistant clothes, a bike repair kit and a medical kit. According to him, for those who want to travel by bike, they should cycle every day to help their muscles get used to it.
Asked why a bike is the best choice for trips, Long said, "Cycling does not make loud noises and that helps bikers hear birds and the winds sing. It is not as fast as travelling by motorbike and not as slow as going on foot. With a bike, tourists can pedal and enjoy the beauty of the areas around," he added.
He once took a trip to Tay Con Linh, one of highest mountains in the north of Viet Nam. Although, sometimes they had to carry their bikes and walk through the grass and trees, all the members enjoyed themselves cycling on dirt roads and seeing clouds floating around them.— VNS
Many more cycling clubs
There are now a lot of clubs in Viet Nam with members who are interested in travelling by a bicycle. Emong Group, established in 2009, has 50 to 60 active members and often organises short and long trips. The group will celebrate its sixth birthday by cycling to Kim Boi hot springs in the northern province of Hoa Binh on May 10 and 11. Information on the trip is available on the forum at www.emong.org.
Besides, Couchsurfing Hanoi has held various bike tours to tourist destinations in provinces near the capital to Co Loa Citadel in Ha Noi city's Dong Anh District and Phat Tich Pagoda in Bac Ninh Province. On May 11, they will cycle to Tho Ha pottery village, which is located in Bac Giang Province, 50km from the capital city.