Q: My family and I will be moving to Hanoi, Vietnam for a period of two years. We are rabid mountain bikers (and hikers) and will be taking our bikes. We want to do some quick day- or weekend-rides, and plan some longer trips (guided or unguided). Any ideas? Thanks!
Night ride: the sun sets over Vietnam's mountains and rice paddies
Burke Fishburn, Atlanta, Georgia
A: Mountain biking isn't a very Vietnamese endeavor, but outfitters of all sorts are starting to pop up in the north, thanks to a major tourist boom in the last several years. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the hill tribes in the Hoang Lien Mountains are now offering fat-tire tours of their local trails.
You can start by hauling your wheels up to Sapa and asking around. If the mountain trails aren't open to bikers (please be respectful and keep your tires of the trails if asked), the road rides around Sapa are the best of all possible consolation prizes. Especially worth riding is the 19-mile road between Sapa and Lao Cai, which takes you past the terraced rice paddies of the so-called 'Tonkinese Alps' toward the Chinese border, where mountains rise up in the distance. If you start the ride in Sapa, prepare for a chilly descent that drops you 4,000 feet into Lao Cai. Doing the ride in reverse is a respectable challenge.
If asking around doesn't work, try scouting out the terrain on foot. Guides in Sapa will take you up 10, 312-foot Mount Fansipan, Vietnam's highest peak.
Also try Qui Ho Lake, where you're sure to find hikes to hill stations, if not some off-road biking routes.
As a last resort, don't underestimate the thrill of a Hanoi urban adventureriding your bike through some of city's busy intersections, where cars, motorcycles, cyclos, and pedestrians are all merging at once, should be enough to satisfy your adrenaline needs.