My BikeI picked a 3-speed brake hub (German Fichtel & Sachs, similar to the English Sturmey Archer) from my local scrap yard and reworked it. I added some bike spare parts, tools, a pump, a chain lock to my luggage and flew to Hanoi. All my luggage apart from the hub was a 7kg rucksack.
In Hanoi I met up with a friend and he helped me buy a good Vietnamese bike. I wanted the best one with 26" wheels. It cost me US$50 while cheap bikes are available from $25. We then brought the bike to a repairman who took apart the original rear wheel and fitted my 3-speed hub. It cost 1$ for a half-day job. We sent my bike home by rickshaw where I fitted the wheel, some levers and cables myself. The bike had now 3 brakes: Front and rear rim brakes plus the coaster brake of the rear hub.
Next day I went out to find a longer seat post that would allow me to have the saddle a bit higher. Not available. My friend figured out I could use 22mm piping used for water installation and this worked fine. The bike had no light, but I didn't intend to use it at night.
Benefits of a BikeWithout a bike, people stare at you in Hanoi. When you sit on a bike they ignore you just as if you were one of the many Vietnamese !
Now mobile, I moved around town independently. I got familiar with the Hanoi map and traffic rules quickly and I discovered many interesting things (many bakers, butchers, haircutters, ... speak German !). What a difference to the times when others decided where I best go !
From Hanoi, I used the train to travel southwards. No problems bringing a bike on the train, there are special bike tickets and bike cars were I never had the slightest damage done to my bike. I could now get around the nasty rickshaw drivers who often overcharge tourists by factor 10 or 100 !
With the bike, I picked my hotel AFTER I had a quick look around what's available in a town. I went to restaurants and markets by bike. Crowded places like markets have their own bike parking lots. Bicycle theft is not a big problem in Vietnam; motorbikes are more popular amongst thiefs.
In Hue, I did all my visits to tombs and pagodas by bike. It's great not to arrive in a tourist crowd. With friends in Nha Trang, I went out to rock and karaoke caf‚s in the evening (by bike, of course). Once, they asked me why all the tourists like to carry heavy rucksacks on their backs instead of putting them onto bikes. They think that tourists are perfectly stupid... and now I can perfectly understand them.
Often I had a passenger on the carrier. In a Saigon bookshop, I once asked for a specific book and the owner told me there'd be one copy in his second shop, 3 km north. I packed the old man on my carrier and off we went. Perfectly normal (for him) !
Recommendations on riding in VietnamAll I could find out from the guy who sold me the bike is that I have to go on the right side and when I happen to come to one of the rare traffic lights, I can turn right though it is red. Later I found out other things, some through accidents:
ConclusionMy parents said they hadn't raised me so that I would go to Vietnam. They expected that it's a wild place from where people don't return, not a place where one would want to be outside a safe hotel or tour bus. Definitely not a place to ride a bicycle - this is what they thought. Well, all rubbish. Vietnam is a true cyclist's country. When you can handle a major European city, then don't be afraid. Just be extra-cautious during the first days.
Non-Bike, VietnamI travelled by rail 4 times, I ate the food served on old "Vietnam Air" trays 4 times and I ended up with diarrhoea 4 times.
Better today ?