A girl on a Bike in Hanoi

Can you survive Hanoi on a bike? And is it worth the benefits of cycling? My experiences after a year…

 

When I told people in Hanoi that I cycled around the city I would receive some very confused expressions. Many people thought it was I was pretty crazy.

Hanoi is one of most congested cities in the world. The sheer amount of traffic and pollution can only be understood after seeing it firsthand. For the majority of the day the roads pulse with motorcycles, cars and buses all in a mad panic to get to their destination in the quickest means possible.

This is a land where the highway-code is a mere suggestion, a place where when there is no room left to shove on the road vehicles switch to the pavements instead. Often described as ‘organised chaos’, the sea of vehicles swerve, dodge, overtake and hand-break turn, with larger vehicles always having priority. This means for smaller vehicles a completed journey should be considered a miraculous achievement.

At the bottom of the food-chain bicycles are a rare sight on the streets. Navigating the roads is difficult enough in an armoured vehicle, on a bicycle you really are at the mercy of the thousands of people weaving around you. This is why people would think I’m mad, a foreign girl on a bike cycling in Hanoi. To me though, the benefits of cycling outweigh the odd looks I get and the occasional games of chicken played with motorists.  

 

Girl cycling on bike in farmers field
Greener times cycling in the rolling countryside of East Anglia. Not a car or motorbike in sight

 

Cycling has always been my favourite mode of transport. It’s the quickest, greenest, healthiest and cheapest option (besides walking). Cycling benefits your mind, body, soul and the world. I decided I wasn’t going to let a change of address stop me peddling from place to place. The locals cycled (sometimes) so why couldn’t I?

Shortly after arriving to Hanoi it became apparent I’d need something to get me from A to B for work. J had bought a motorcycle which we use when we were together but I needed to travel up to 10 km to teach my English classes. Buses and taxis where incredibly slow because of the traffic and were also pretty costly – not an option. Despite the chaos I’d seen on the roads, and the warnings from locals, I went with my gut and bought a second-hand bike. She was in great condition, had a basket and lock with it: everything I needed. She was beautiful and I called her Blue Bell. Off I went into the world as a cyclist on the streets of Hanoi!

Fast forward over a year from the first day Bluebell and myself hit the road to the time of writing this and I’m still alive! The experience has been character building to say the least and I’m proud of sticking to my guns by taking the greener option. If a foreign girl can cycle the mean streets of Hanoi then there is nothing stopping YOU from taking the greener option too. No matter where you are, you’ve got no excuse (If you live in the Arctic or mountainous regions we might let you off).

Here are just some of the benefits of cycling and why you need to ditch those petrol polluting vehicles and find yourself a Bluebell!

 

Cycling is much greener

Most importantly for me is the fact that cycling is the greener option. This applies wherever you are in the world but in Hanoi the negative effects we’re having on our planet are very visible. Whilst in Hanoi we used an app called Plume to show the pollution level in the city. To give you an idea of how bad the situation is, on the day of writing this the air pollution in London was at 18, in Hanoi it was 166. 166! And, unfortunately that’s not that bad for Hanoi, sometimes it exceeded 300…

To be honest you didn’t need an app to tell you how bad the pollution was. Some days you would struggle to see buildings 100 metres away, half the population live in pollution masks and most disturbingly your face and clothes would be filthy after a 10 minute journey across town.

Although a lot of industrial areas of western China impact the air quality in Hanoi, the main culprit is vehicle emissions. I was sad to discover, no matter the distance, the people of Hanoi would jump on their motorbikes to get around. Footpaths were just extensions of the road and sadly walking was not seen as an option.

In a city so consumed with pollution my desire to protect the planet was even stronger. With a population of 7.5 million inhabitants, if more people chose to cycle pollution levels could decrease significantly. People would be able to go outside without a mask and breathe fresh air. Perhaps the some animals would return to Hanoi, a city very obviously lacking natural life. 

Being outdoors is meant to be healthy but when you have to wear an anti-pollution gas mask wherever you go the last thing you feel is healthy. We all need to take it upon ourselves and do something about this – remember one of the benefits of cycling is that is has no emissions at all.

Travelling to Vietnam? Here’s all the info and tips you need on how to get a visa for Vietnam

 

A busy market street in Hanoi filled with mopeds
A busy market in Hanoi

 

Typical street in Hanoi
Those leaves are about all the green you’ll see in Hanoi

And much healthier

Not only is it better for the environment, cycling benefits your heart and circulation. Finding the time to exercise can be difficult so being able to commute and do some cardio at the same time is surely a winner? Each week most of us spend huge amounts of time travelling and if we did this by bike think of all the exercise we’d be getting!

Plus, all this extra activity means you won’t feel guilty about eating that extra helping of tofu (that I always seemed to indulge in). Even in polluted cities like Hanoi, why not make the best of a bad situation and burn a few calories during your morning commute?

Want to know how we survived a year in Hanoi as Vegans? 

 

Bikes are cheaper and you don’t need to pay for petrol

Besides walking, cycling is the cheapest option – who doesn’t want to save a few pennies, ey? After the initial cost of the bike there is very little else you’ll be paying for. There may be a few maintenance costs such as replacing tyres or break cables but they’re cheap as chips compared to the costs of petrol.

The only other problem I encountered was getting a screw stuck in my tyre miles from home and needing a mechanic to fix it. Despite my lack of Vietnamese I managed to use hand gestures to explain the problem. 15 minutes and 70,000 VND later (£2.30) I was off again. If this had happened to a moped or car think how much more it would have cost.

 

A Vietnamese temple filled with mopeds outside
Seeing moped parking spilling onto the pavements is a very typical sight in Hanoi

 

Cycling is not as dangerous as you’d think…

Safety was the main concern when I told people I was cycling in Hanoi, and I won’t sugar coat it, the roads in Hanoi are horrendous. Daytime hours were bad but during rush hour the roads turned into an avalanche of vehicles emitting a constant stream of fumes into the atmosphere. All accompanied by a deafening amount of tooting and beeping.

As mentioned before the highway-code isn’t much of a consideration and the police have a relaxed attitude towards the law (unless they can get a bribe out of it). For locals and tourists this means road traffic accidents are unfortunately common. There’s a long standing debate in Hanoi about whose driving is worse, the locals or the expats. Regardless of where you stand on this debate there’s no denying the roads are a bloody dangerous place.

The only other people who seem to cycle in Hanoi are elderly men and women selling fruit or flowers. They’d leisurely go about their day merging with the frenzy of traffic. One of the disadvantages of cycling is definitely feeling more exposed, as a newbie to the city this was extremely nerve racking at first. Fortunately it didn’t take long to get used to cycling on the other side of the road, feeling just as comfortable as the locals peddling away. I became accustomed to the organised chaos and began to fit in amongst the madness. This goes to show that although it may seem daunting, as long as you use your initiative, you can master the roads of Hanoi and remain in one piece!

Check out some Vietnam travel tips before planning your trip

A bicycle food seller

A Girl on a Bike in Hanoi: Cycling Benefits in the Big City

Traditional bicycle food sellers in Hanoi

Convenience and independence

Growing up in Cambridge, a place where bicycles have more authority than cars, my main mode of transport has always been a bike. Even living in the hilly peaks of Sheffield for three years I never resorted to public transport. After continuing to cycle around Hanoi I realised it is so much better for convenience and independence. 

The terrible traffic in Hanoi can make travelling during peak hours for motorists almost impossible. People often have to leave twice as early to get to their destination and the constraints of public transport often limit your choices. When driving a moped you’re (supposedly) restricted to the roads and you’ll also find lots of parking limitations.

On a bike things are very different. Cycling benefits you with independence, allowing you to avoid major traffic jams and go wherever you want, whenever you want. It also gives you a great chance to stop and take in your surroundings whenever something catches your eye.

 

Think about safety first!

If you’re thinking of cycling around Hanoi staying safe on the road is the biggest priority. Even if you’re tackling the roads properly you’ll be surrounded by people who aren’t. It’s definitely worth a small investment to say safe on the road. 

  • these bike lights are bright, rechargeable and only cost £10
  • A helmet is invaluable and could be the difference between a few cuts and grazes or a serious accident. On amazon you can find them for surprisingly cheap.
  • Panniers are also a good idea to carry things around safely if you’re commuting to work or picking up shopping

 

A Girl on a Bike in Hanoi
Pin me!

 

A Girl on a Bike in Hanoi: Cycling Benefits in the Big City

The draw of owning a motorbike in Hanoi, being so much cheaper than the West, means a lot of expats and tourists don’t consider greener options and just follow the locals. Just because the majority do one thing doesn’t make it right. 

There are many reasons why I chose to ditch the moped and cycle in Hanoi: it’s cheaper, greener, healthier and far better for the environment all at the same time. With pollution levels in Hanoi rising and the increasing impacts of climate change threatening our planet, it’s time to change our ways! Hop on your bike and experience the greener side of travel and I’ll bet you won’t regret it!

 

If you liked this article then you should check out

The Best Vegan Food in Hanoi

Travelling in Vietnam During Tet

How to Get a Visa for Vietnam 

A Year as a Vegan in Vietnam

A Whole Bunch of Free Things to do in Hanoi 

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I so enjoyed reading this! In our world today we definitely need to be looking at the Greener options.

Thanks for sharing your blog. I couldn’t agree with you more. The more I travel, the more concerned I grow for the environment and our sustainability. Smog, plastics ad non-biodegradables impact everyone, and we’re not doing enough to slow their use. Well presented and timely narrative.

Hard to imagine why more people wouldn’t choose to bicycle. Love your writing. Thanks for sharing your adventures!

I love riding bikes while travelling in other cities. I agree that is healthier and better overall for you and the environment. Plus from a traveler perspective you get access to so many places and sights up close and personal. We rode bikes all around Berlin and loved how we just cruised up close to major sights while bus tourist watched from a distance.
How did yo lock your bike in Hanoi? That would be my only concern is leaving it while stopping to see the sights or eating or whatever!

Is it difficult to bike in Hanoi considering that there are many motorbike riding around? I have never tried riding a bicycle overseas before!

Good for you. Your choice to help the environment anyway you can is appreciated. I have seen the crazy video of traffic in Hanoi and been amazed that anyone could navigate the chaos. And you have done it for a year! So sad to hear that pollution is so bad that it is difficult to see structures from a short distance. Here’s to making our world a better and greener place.

I love this! Way to stick to your values 🙂 I’m not a very confident cyclist myself (I was even too scared in Cambridge to ride), but it seems like a great mode of transportation for someplace so congested. Pollution is SUCH a big issue in so many places. We’re lucky to be able to generally forget about it in the west, but we should be making more eco-friendly choices.

We just moved to Orlando and have a similar dilemma. It’s only about 8km to work but some of the interchanges are just plain scary. Plus, there is the daily rain showers I always hear about and no showers at work. I really think I’m going to bite the bullet and start biking once my bike arrives but I’m not 100% sure. When we lived in San Diego I felt the same way. Everyday I biked under I-5 I felt a little uneasy (and I was actually hit by a truck once, but only the mirror). In the end, I… Read more »

I’m so glad you made cycling work for you. There are so many positives for your own health and the environment. High five!

You are so right, cycling is a fantastic way to get around plus environmentally sound. I think I would be nervous though since it is a little crazy around there. I would make sure to be extra careful and aware of my surroundings like you.

Jan Zac

Hello , I saw your tweets and thought I will check your website. Have to say it looks very good! I’m also interested in this topic and have recently started my journey as young entrepreneur. I’m also looking for the ways on how to promote my website. I have tried AdSense and Facebok Ads, however it is getting very expensive. Was thinking about starting using analytics. Do you recommend it? Can you recommend something what works best for you? I also want to improve SEO of my website. Would appreciate, if you can have a quick look at my website… Read more »

What a great idea to use cycling as a means of getting around the city! You’re right..its cheaper, greener, healthier and more convenient. Best of all, you’re on your own and can even squeeze into tiny spaces, where a car can’t.

I can’t bike let alone cycle through a super congested street so props to you for that! I’m originally from Taiwan and honestly it’s the exact same thing. Streets are filled with motorcycles and the air pollution is just terrible. If only people paid more attention to all the green benefits of cycling!!

i was in hanoi during christmas 2 years ago, and i’ve never seen such a terrible traffic like what i saw there in hanoi with the bikes, cars, pedestrian and all that! i thought it would get better overtime, but no.. not really the next day. so hat’s off for you!

In winter 18-19 I plan to visit Vietnam on bike. For me it was a logical way to use a bicycle as it allows me to see a lot more of the country. I will cycle from Hanoi to HCMC (with a jump to the North like Sapa of course) and the passat in the back. 🙂
It was nice reading your blog, gave me definitely the feeling that my assumption is right. Any suggestion where to buy a reasonable used bike?

Sara

The comment about the cockroaches was too funny and true! I’m in Hanoi for the next six months and will have to adjust to living with all the pollution and cockroaches. Any tips for that?

For the traffic in Hanoi this option of riding a motor cycle. You can easily navigate through traffic that way.

Hello there! This is my first comment here, so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects? Thanks.

Hi VEGGIEVAGABONDS,

We will be biking through Hanoi very soon, so your post is very timely for us. Great details and a fabulous guide for us. Nice images too.

Cheers Nathan…

Hello Veggievagabonds, Firstly, thanks for your Article. The post title very friendly and active for any girls! “A Girl on a Bike in Hanoi” I love it. And I want a journey on Bike. The author explained the first time travel of Hanoi. I am excited to read this post. Actuality, people do not know about your purpose so they do not have any idea. So they do not know the importance of that. Lastly, I say this post Biking and cycle most face to you. And I’ll try with my friends. Thank You!!!

Great!