Vietnam still has a strong cycling culture, not only that but it has a strong upright cycling culture. The rate of upright cycling is often used as an indicator for whether a culture views cycling as a recreational activity or a viable transportation option.
Bicycles do appear to be a life line for people in Vietnam for everyday utilitarian errands. People are dressed in everyday clothes, not Lycra, and proceed at a casual pace. For more information on upright cycling read this great article from my colleagues Chris Bruntlett and Brent Toderian.
Bicycles come standard awesome in Vietnam! They have all the features that make them a sturdy, reliable, fun and useful ride. Baskets for carrying your daily goods. Full fenders (including skirt guards) for keeping you dry and clean. Self-powered Dynamo headlights for night time visibility. All of the bikes are also gender neutral with step through frames. Kickstands!
Cycling in Hanoi
Oddly it doesn’t feel overly dangerous riding in traffic in the rural areas and smaller villages with lower traffic volumes. This is not to say it is not intimidating, especially in the cities. This could partly be due to the relative slow speed of traffic due to the chaos. Most people driving on the roads are used to having to react to something out of place. People will also give you a courtesy honk letting you know they are there (which admittedly gets old, fast). I am reminded of the numerous studies showing that cycling safety actually comes from high numbers of people cycling. While it may look like chaos, the irrationality and unpredictability of Vietnamese roads forces people to proceed more cautiously to avoid collisions. The most intimidating aspect are the cars which are often driven fast and recklessly as if entitled.
Cycling in Saigon
The best cycling experiences are by far in the rural areas and villages. This is also seen with the higher volumes of people cycling there, especially the uniformed students. Quite often you will see many of the behaviours prominent in Dutch cycling: people doubling up, conversational cycling, large numbers of bicycles parked at schools, and people dressed their best for daily errands.
Cycling Around Hanoi and in Ninh Binh
Cycling in Hoi An
Certainly a strong cycling culture deserves strong cycling infrastructure that provides a safe, comfortable and useful cycling experience.