There has been one time when the Vietnamese all commuted by cyclos. But then, new means of transports began to dominate. Motorbikes and four-wheel vehicles become popular, leaving cyclos in top-picked tourist attraction as a reminder of an old way of living. Ordinary Vietnamese people no longer use them, however, cyclos are still important in their own way to foreigners and the nostalgic like me.
Traced back to the early 1930s, the French first demonstrated the previous model in Paris featuring Tour de France winners. Still, it was not the same as the one shown in Indochina (as a French colonial at that time). Pierre Coupeaud restored the initial design, creating his own version and launching the first cyclo in Phnom Penh.
Cyclos made their way to Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City) about 10 years later as my great grandfather remembered and told me. They gradually becoming the top-of-mind vehicle to our grandparents as the cost for a ride was affordable. Furthermore, it could not only carry passengers, but the cyclo rider was able to load tons of goods on it.
However, when motorbikes stepped in and people were eager to traveling fast, cyclos lost their position. Nowadays, I see cyclos for transferring cargos and goods only.
But tourism has given them a chance to impress foreign visitors. Passengers can have a leisurely ride around popular tourist sites on cyclos. And if I am holding a camera and taking a photo, there will be no problem thanks to the stably slow pace. The weather won’t have much influence either as the creative owners have made a kind of cover for the seating area to avoid sunlight and raindrop.
Although there are plenty of reports on impatient drivers and overcharge for a single ride, I still think of a sightseeing tour on a cyclo as a distinctive way to explore the long gone parts of Vietnam. It is an excellent way to experience a long-established cultural trait of the Vietnamese, especially in the ancient atmosphere of such cities as Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, where the presence of narrow streets and rustic yellow houses open the doorway to the past. To avoid travel scams, it’s better-off contacting a liable local tour operator to arrange a cyclo ride for us. Another thing I highly recommend is to deal the price and the itinerary with cyclo driver first.
Traveling on cyclo, as for us, the old-fashioned Vietnamese is to take one step back to the history I have been through.