Cyclos Vietnam

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I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in 2006 with plans to achieve 3 long-held goals:

1. set up a brilliant ‘teaching English to speakers of other languages’ (TESOL in Vietnam) program;
2. ride a motorbike from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi; and bizarre as it may seem;
3. to take a day trip on a Vietnamese cyclo.

The TESOL in Vietnam goal was achieved a few years ago and I completed a motorbike trip to Hanoi in 2012. It’s the cyclo adventure that has eluded me for the past 8 years – until last weekend!

One of the most original and authentic ways of seeing the spectacular sights in Ho Chi Minh is without doubt, by hiring a cyclo – a three wheeled bicycle that supports a small double seat for passengers at the front and a seat for the rider at the back. Life is great if you’re a cyclo passenger. You just sit and take in the sites. It’s not so great if you’re a cyclo rider who has sole responsibility for peddling the contraption. Riding a cyclo for a living in Ho Chi Minh City is seriously hard work, for very little financial gain. I thought TESOL in Vietnam was tough with the occasional difficult student. There’s no comparison.

It was Mr Duc & his cyclo who were party to me taking time out from running my TESOL in Vietnam project for the long-awaited day trip on a Vietnamese cyclo. It was obvious from the beginning of this adventure that old Duc was a bit of a character. He jovially kept telling me in his broken English that he’s 21 years of age, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t get much change out of 65 very tough years. His few teeth certainly hadn’t seen a dentist for decades.

Despite the hardship that he’d no doubt endured in his lifetime – the war years, famine, a harsh climate – old Duc could still crack a smile and even a half-decent joke. Apparently, this is pretty typical of cyclo riders in Ho Chi Minh City. There are some real characters getting about and old Duc was just one of many. Apart from the 21 years of age thing, he was at pains to tell me his name is Mr Duc, which isn’t pronounced Mr ‘Duck’. What a guy!! Perhaps I should get him involved in my TESOL in Vietnam project to lighten the mood on occasions.

My cyclo experience in Ho Chi Minh City with old Duc delivered the precise adventure that I’d been pining while working hard on my TESOL in Vietnam program. I can’t think of a better way for a foreigner who is involved in TESOL in Vietnam to immerse themself in the hustle and bustle of daily life in Ho Chi Minh City – one of ‘gems’ of south-east Asia. Our route took in the popular sites such as Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh Market, the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker area, Cholon, 4 or 5 of the bigger pagodas, the Ho Chi Minh City Zoo and we even went out to the magnificent Saigon Bridge. Duc and I had lunch together at one of his favorite haunts and a couple of beers with some other cyclo riders at a ‘Bia Hoi’ that you’d never find unless someone took you there.

For almost 5 hours old Duc and I weaved in and out of the Ho Chi Minh City traffic. We travelled down back streets taking in some of the magnificent French architecture from colonial days and up cobblestone, narrow laneways from another era. We successfully negotiated motorbikes, cars, trucks, pedestrians, pot holes and stray animals of different kinds – with one notable exception. Duc never batted an eyelid when he squashed a scrawny looking chicken with the left wheel of his cyclo near the Cholon Market.

During my time with Duc (not Duck) he did his profession proud. I’m very grateful for his effort on my behalf. Would I recommend the experience to tourists and others like me involved in TESOL in Vietnam? For sure! I can’t think of a better way to take in what the real Ho Chi Minh City is all about.

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director of the Teaching English Vietnam Company in Ho Chi Minh City. Peter’s work involves training aspiring English language teachers through an Australian Government accredited TESOL in Vietnam program.

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