Move over automobiles and motorbikes – Saigon’s coolest form of transportation is still on three slow moving wheels. Follow our Vietnam destination expert on a cyclo journey through Saigon’s most historic district.
It isn’t easy to get me on a cyclo or rickshaw. At the sight of one I generally become very English about it all, muttering excuses as to why “I really couldn’t” and “it’s just not my kind of thing”. But recently I had the choice removed – I was required to take a ride for work, and no matter how much I protested I was bound to spend at least one hour aboard the tricycle!
Not for me?
My aversion to cyclos has been growing for quite some time now. It started in India about 15 years ago. Like all good tourists who have ever been to Delhi, I ventured through the crowded alleys of Chandni Chowk aboard a rickety old thing, all along feeling pretty uncomfortable and rather sorry for the old driver who had the misfortune of pedalling me.
Fast forward 15 years, and I have done my best to avoid getting on one again. Living in Hanoi, you generally can’t walk more than 50 metres without an offer of a city tour from an enthusiastic driver, and this does wonders to reinforce the desire not to step foot on one.
So just sitting on a cyclo was a defeat of sorts – but this was to be done in the call of duty. What happened next surprised me – I actually enjoyed it! Our drivers were great – two men around 50 years of age with calves of steel, weaving through the traffic and down increasingly tiny alleyways and through market places.
Cho Lon – literally means “Large market” and considered Saigon’s Chinatown District – is a world away from District 1. Its rich Chinese heritage (a Chinese community has existed here since the mid 18th Century) gives it a feel of a city within a city, and by the looks of things is the place to go if you are looking to shop.
Colourful houses and wicker baskets
The huge Binh Tay Market sits at its heart, but for me it was the sprawling vegetable side markets that really caught the eye. Tiny one up one down houses line the alleyways, painted in bright greens and blues. Most have shrines built into the upstairs balcony and downstairs wicker baskets of fruits and vegetables spill onto the road. Turn a corner and you are into another trade – from used bike parts to cooking utensils, Cho Lon really does have it all.
In the midst of it all are glimpses of temples and old French villas that definitely confirm Cho Lon as a place for further exploration. As I passed through the streets and alleys I was shocked with how many people waved and shouted hello to me – it seems to be a friendly place – if a little rough and ready!
All of this was possible because of the cyclo. I could certainly have explored the backstreets by foot, and I no doubt will when I am next in town, but there was something right about seeing all this from the front of a tricycle!
So if you are like me and naturally opposed to being peddled around town, take a gamble and try a trip around Cho Lon – it might be the start of something special.
Ready to explore the best of Ho Chi Minh City? All city tours in Saigon feature these charming three-wheeled vehicles! Ask our expert travel team how to make a cyclo adventure the highlight of your time in southern Vietnam.