I don’t normally like to book tours of any kind. I usually feel that it may limit what I could potentially find in an unfamiliar place if I were to follow the instructions and itinerary provided by someone else. Couchsurfing is one exception for me. I’ve had many positive experiences of being taken someplace off the map and off any tours built for tourists. However, reading positive reviews on TripAdvisor detailing how this tour is unlike any aimed at tourists, I thought I’d give it a go.
Biking Through Ho Chi Minh
Having spent a few days in the city already, the traffic conditions looked alarming. Having gotten used to relatively safe traffic in Japan and the UK, HCM was daunting to say the least. It took me a long while before getting used to crossing the road. Drivers need not obey traffic lights, or any traffic law for that matter. If you step out onto the road, the drivers will find a way around you.
Our drivers were very aware of any concerns we might have with HCM traffic, and took it very easy. In fact, traffic in HCM seemed a lot safer in their hands. Helmets were provided and speed remained at a good pace. Weaving in between other motorcycles and mopeds, we ditched the tourist hotspots at our request and headed straight towards the back alleys and local markets. At a particular market, we were asked if we wanted to walk around but we had to be careful of our belongings. It was incredibly crowded and streaks of sunlight found its way through sheets of tarp hanging overhead. Fruits and vegetables of the familiar and unfamiliar were dotted around everywhere. Some chickens remained locked in cages waiting for their eventual death provided someone paid the price.
They also took us to their friend’s house. It was very clear that they do this every time, but it was interesting nevertheless to see how some local people live. Many people lived in the cramped house we visited, and the view from their window overlooking a river was not quite the view you might expect. Our guide explained that many people in HCM live in similar conditions and that the view of the river in the photograph above was considered clean. HCM may show off wealth in certain areas, but most live in poverty.
A short ride to where big companies and foreign investment conquer the land showed a huge difference. American chains were dotted around everywhere and the style of housing looked like something out of Desperate Housewives. Most roads were marked as private but we rode through them anyway.
The best part was navigating through miles of narrow roads and alleys, getting a short glimpse of day to day life. There were many places I would never have gone through both out of worry and not even finding it on the map. It truly was a great tour, and thankfully nothing like most of the other hotspot tours you’ll find in HCM. Well worth a try if you have the option!
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