From Di’s eyes: This sounds like a first-rate tour, giving cyclists a look at authentic Vietnam. Sign me up! I like Barbara’s vow to leave the country every year, too, as long as Canada counts.
WHO: Barbara Levitov, 60, of Needham, Mass.
WHEN: Two weeks in December.
WHY: “I’ve promised myself for 20 years that I’ll leave the country every year,” Levitov said. “In the last two years I’ve really enjoyed bicycling. What appealed to me about Vietnam was I’d never been in that part of the world, it was more recently opened to tourism, and few companies offer biking trips there.”
MANY GREETINGS: Levitov joined a trip offered by REI Adventures. “We were all Americans, 12 others, and in our 20s to 60.” The group met in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. For the next two weeks they cycled and rode with two Vietnamese cycling guides and two drivers. “Because of the distance, we traveled in a bus from place to place. They’d drop us off and tell us where we were going and then the bus would be at a certain point, and you’d have snacks and water,” Levitov said. “We were always waving to people. Schoolchildren especially would run from their schoolyards yelling and giggling and saying ‘ah-lo, ah-lo.’ They also loved having their picture taken and they laughed so hard when we showed them their pictures.”
VILLAGE WARES: One of Levitov’s favorite stops was Hoi An, one of Asia’s important trading ports in the 16th and 17th centuries. “It was an optional ride, and there were a smaller number of us. We went through all these villages, closer up to the people. In one of them our guide saw these gentlemen and stopped, and we were invited inside where they had a wheel for throwing terra-cotta pottery, like little whistles and vases. And what was the ‘motor’ but another guy standing on the pedal with his foot.”
CRACKER CLASS: “In the same village we saw rice crackers drying outside and the guide stopped and asked if we could see some baking,” she said. “There was one woman in a tiny dirt room in a little cooking area baking one cracker at a time, like pita bread. They dry them on these big wood grids. We also passed a lot of people who had piles of tubers from the earth. Very little children and women were chopping them up to dry them out on tarps.”
NATURE PRESERVED: The most scenic ride was through the Pu Luong Nature Reserve. “That was the day of true mountain biking,” Levitov said. “The road was packed clay and gravel and we were surrounded by limestone hills and rice paddies.” They usually stayed in hotels, but that night the group stayed in a family’s home in a village outside the reserve. “The house was on stilts, like they all were. We all stayed in one room on the floor on mats, in these silk bags and with blankets of traditional patterns.”