Because we had read of tourists being fleeced by cyclo riders in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), we were extra careful when we decided to take the cyclo to save us some walking from Ben Thanh market to the Bitexco Financial Tower which is a distance you can cover on foot in 10 minutes.
The riders told us 15,000 dong per person and to avoid any ambiguity, I made it clear with them it was 15,000 and not 50,000 per person. After that was ascertained we were cycled to our destination, a journey which took barely 5 mins. When we reached the point, and as i was searching for a 50,000 note in my wallet to give them, one of them wanted to help me find the note in my wallet. I refused to let him touch or look into my wallet. After finally pulling out a 50,000 note to give them, they suddenly insisted it was 1.5million dong and not 15,000 dong. Fortunately we were not in a secluded area so they couldn't threaten us. Still they insisted on 500,000 for each person. I stood firm though i was feeling intimidated. In the end, i gave them a 100,000 note and walked away. They didn't pursue the matter after that.
There is no point in trying to prevent yourself from being cheated by clarifying the fare beforehand. It won't work. The cyclo riders would simply refuse to acknowledge that the fare that was agreed on was the correct fare. They would insist that the fare they are demanding from you is the fare you must pay them and try to intimidate you into giving in to their demands.
I'm inclined to believe that this is not just a case of a few bad apples. I believe that CYCLO RIDERS MAKE A LIVING FROM CHEATING TOURISTS and CANNOT BE TRUSTED. AVOID THEM TOTALLY!
My girlfriend and I hired cyclos to give us a tour of the city on the first morning of our stay in Ho Chi Minh City in May 2013.
We had only landed in the country at 7:00am that morning and were killing time before we could check into our hotel at 1:00pm. We were tired, a little jet-lagged and trying to acclimatise to the intense heat and humidity.
We were approached by a couple of cyclo riders while wandering around the backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao. At first we tried to ward them off, but then we decided that a cyclo ride might be a good way of getting our bearings and getting used to the city's manic traffic. If nothing else, we could sit back and relax as we were pedalled around the city streets.
I knew that the cyclo riders of Ho Chi Minh City had a reputation for being unscrupulous and I had read of various scams; the most common appearing to be ambiguity over the agreed fare. The riders showed us a map of the city and a list of numbered sights that they would take us to. A price of 500,000 VND (ca. £17) was displayed on the bottom of the map. I knew this was ridiculously overstated and so we began to barter. We were quoted prices per hour and prices for one way trips to the War Remnants Museum. After much haggling, and us threatening to walk away on several occasions, we agreed on a price of 120,000 VND (ca. £4) per hour. To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure whether our agreed price was per cyclo or for both of the cyclos, but either way it seemed reasonable.
We set off into the frantic traffic. Motorcycles, taxis and buses sped past us and we were suddenly very aware of our vulnerability. It was a similar sort of feeling to the one I had when taking a tuk-tuk ride around Bangkok. I just kept telling myself that these were experienced cyclo riders and they hadn't been wiped out by a passing vehicle so far, so we'd probably be ok. The fact that we often found ourselves on the wrong side of the road being pedalled into oncoming traffic was just a minor concern!
About 10 minutes into the ride we stopped off outside Tao Dan Park where families were picnicking and groups of scouts were singing and dancing. We were invited to get out of our cyclos and take photographs. In truth, I suspect the stop was as much for their benefit as it was for ours; they were both dripping with sweat – not surprising considering they were pedalling tourists around in 100 degree heat!
I was enjoying seeing the sights from the front seat of the cyclo. My rider was pointing out various sights and telling me about the city. We passed the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre next, before coming to a stop outside the War Remnants Museum. Our riders invited us to take a look inside the museum while they waited. I'm sure they'd have been happy had we done so; they could have sat in the sunshine relaxing while our fare mounted up! We declined to go inside. We already had plans to visit the museum at a later date when we could enjoy it at a leisurely pace with no cyclo riders waiting outside for us.
Our next stop was in the area close to Notre Dame Cathedral. The cyclos were parked up in a safe place and one of the riders walked us safely across the road so that we could visit the cathedral and the nearby Saigon Central Post Office. This time we did give our riders a bit of a rest; we spent 25 minutes or so exploring the post office, photographing Notre Dame and (in Emma's case!) purchasing souvenirs.
By this point our initial hour was up. We decided to carry on with the tour. We were enjoying seeing the sights and we'd simply pay for two hours at the agreed price.
The next stop was the Jade Emperor Pagoda; an impressive Chinese temple close to the Saigon River. We spent around 10 minutes exploring the pagoda and its surrounding water features. We watched as small children threw bags of tiny fish into a pond where they were promptly swallowed by larger fish. We admired the hundreds of tortoises in a large pond beside the pagoda's entrance.
Our riders suggested that they drive us along the banks of the Saigon River on our way back to Ben Thanh Market in the centre of the city. A short while later, after some frantic pedalling along busy carriageways, they delivered us to a picturesque garden on the banks of the river. We spent a few minutes taking photographs and then our riders beckoned us over to sit on a wall with them and to hand over our payment before they took us back to Ben Thanh Market.
Perhaps they thought that they were in a stronger bargaining position here. Perhaps we'd give in to their demands rather than face a walk back to Ben Thanh Market. That would explain why they tried to charge us 1,000,000 VND (ca. £34) each!!! Apparently, our "agreed" fare of 120,000 VND was not a per hour charge but a one-way charge to the War Remnants Museum. When we decided not to go into the museum, this seemingly implied that we were agreeing to pay the 500,000 VND per hour charge instead. 2 hours at 500,000 VND = 1,000,000 VND each. Ah, that old scam!!
Being aware of the scam, we stood our ground and resolutely refused to pay any more than the agreed fare. Our riders agreed to reduce the fare to 750,000 VND each, then 500,000 VND each, then 300,000 VND each....but we continually made it clear that we would be paying no more than the agreed fare of 240,000 VND each (2 hours at 120,000 VND per hour). Despite their protestations ("Come on, we agree a price that makes us both happy"), we handed over the agreed fare and they pedalled us back to Ben Thanh Market.
In truth, I'm not sure whether we overpaid or not. However, the fare of 240,000 VND (ca. £8) each for a 2 hour cyclo tour of the city, including stops at many of the major sights, was good value for money. I got the impression that our riders (despite trying their luck) weren't too disappointed with the fare either!
Despite the many warnings online about getting into cyclos on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, we thoroughly enjoyed our tour and would recommend it to others.
the Cyclo is a tricycle taxi similar to rickshaws and tuktuks and can be found around saigon but the motorcycle taxi sevice are more numerous than the cyclos. It is a fun and sometimes, adventurous way to tour Saigon but Saigon has a strict rule on which routes the cyclos can go because they can cause traffic congestion. Rates start from around 1 USD for a short trip (about 10 minutes) Thus, before you get on a cyclo, make sure you and the cyclo driver agree on the same price. Hold on to your belongings when travelling in a cyclo as passing motorists and the like have been known to grab these as they pass.
You can also rent one of this cyclos and ask him to take you on a city tour. Note that cyclo drivers come from the countryside. Do not expect them to speak perfect English. Some of them will be able to tell you some things about the visited places, but some others will only take you around.
I usually walk everywhere when I'm out and about in cities and sometimes here in Saigon and also other Vietnamese cities I "catch a cyclo" because it is really hard crossing the road here as you will encounter. Now, before you get in ..make sure that the cost of the hire has been established for the hour or for the day or trip..!!..of course bargain.. but not too hard !!...these guys do it tuff..The drivers of these cyclos are usually ex south vietnamese military that were captured by northern soldiers after the fall of Saigon and other cities...This is the only job that they are ever allowed to have..so don't be too hard when hiring them ..if you think they have been good give them something extra...I do...
For a relaxed afternoon, I hired a cyclo driver for two hours. This is a great way to see the city up close. I bargained with the driver and agreed on a fare of about $4.00 for 2 hours. More experienced travelers said I was ripped of -- I felt I got a bargain
After checking into the New World Hotel I set out to the Ben Thanh market, but about five metres outside the hotel I bumped into Vinh who was eager to show me sights. Vinh was a good guy, (see bpackers tips for the bad ones!), and I had a night time tour of the town centre. Not very interesting, apart from negotiating the streets with other motor-vehicles on a cyclo. We did finish off the night with a few beers and cigarettes at a street side stall nearby. This was a very economic way to wind down after all my travelling.
Vinh works as a cyclo outside the New World Hotel, be sure to say Hi as he knows the town, eg. good local restaurants, taxi cabs etc. So you will save money.
Bear in mind though, that he needs to make a living too!
WHEN IN SAIGON ONE THING THAT I THINK YOU SHOULD DO AT LEAST ONCE IS TAKE A CYCLO RIDE. THIS MODE OF TRANSPORT IS SADLY A DYING TRADE.
GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS ON WHICH STREETS CYCLO DRIVERS CAN TAKE YOU ARE NOW WELL IN FORCE.
BUT AS WITH A GONDOLA RIDE IN VENICE THIS IS A MUST DO..JUST MAKE SURE YOU NEGOTIATE A PRICE WITH YOUR DRIVER FIRST TO SAVE ANY PROBLEMS AT THE END OF YOUR TRIP...A SHORT TRIP SHOULD COST ABOUT 6,000D WITH A CITY TOUR COSTING 20,000D PER HOUR..THE DRIVERS WE USED HAD A MAP OF THE CITY TOUR THEY COULD TAKE YOU ON. CYCLO DRIVERS NOW TEND TO HANG AROUND THE MAIN TOURIST AREA'S SUCH AS PHAM NGU LAO AND DONG KHOI TO GET FARES.
JUST MAKE SURE IF YOU CHOOSE TO DO A FULL CITY TOUR THAT YOUR DRIVER CAN SPEAK ENGLISH. THIS HELPS WHEN IT COMES TO HIM POINTING OUT THINGS OF INTEREST TO YOU, PLUS A LOT OF OLDER DRIVERS HAVE SOME GREAT WAR STORIES TO TELL.
THE DRIVERS THAT WE GOT SPOKE VERY GOOD ENGLISH AND HAD A VERY GOOD KNOWLEDGE OF THE CITY LANDMARKS.
JUST ONE THING TO LOOK OUT FOR WHILE ON YOUR CYCLO RIDE IS TO HOLD ON TO YOUR VALUABLES.. IT HAS BEEN KNOWN FOR BAGS TO BE GRABBED BY PASSING MOTORBIKE RIDERS. SO ALL IN ALL THIS IS A GREAT WAY TO SEE THE HISTORY OF SAIGON ON WHAT IS A PIECE OF SAIGON HISTORY... ENJOY THE RIDE.
Be careful with cyclo drivers. I usually walk the distance to my hotel, not far. On this occassion, I decided to take a cyclo, agreed price 15,000dong. When I went to pay, he said no, he wanted a 150,000dong, No way, too dear, gave him 30,000dong, as I am a older woman traveller on my own, then quickly walked into the Hotel.
this xichlos/cyclos can fit 2, that is when one sits on the lap of the other.
we negotiated for a short ride and paid a dollar, but since our driver was a sweet old man, and a very jolly one at that, we gave him extra tip!
we rode along the rotonda of the benthan market upto the tax department area for it,
and yes it was kinda scary at first feeling the wind produced my buses and other modes of transpo rushing and honking around you.
but in the end it was all worth a try. a must do when in HCMC.
do it when the sun still up. at night, negotiate well.
Go for a whirlwind ride around the city in a Cyclo, a cross between a trishaw and a tricycle. Experience HCMC like you never before with the traffic coming straight at you! Remember to bargain with the driver before you actually board one less in case you get hookwinked.
Jan 2007 UPDATE: Comments from friends - ..."the cyclos are few in numbers now...they hover around the tourist spots only. Our tour guide said that the government has restricted their use"...
At first it feels a little odd. Its seems like you should be pedalling or something, not just sitting there. Once you relax you get an interesting view of the City. My driver was very chatty and assured me that he could get me "anything" I wanted. But somehow it didn't feel like the Netherlands so I declined.
The trishaw riders are particularly useful when it is quite hot and you want to see a number of sites in a small area. They are quite cheap but offer some interesting insights to the various landmarks.
All over the city there are cyclo drivers touting for your custom. Many of these are illegal citizens of Saigon, who have come in from the coutryside, so at night you will often see them sleeping in their cyclos near a communal shower block. The one I used was named Roy and we stopped off for a tea at his usual cafe after the tour and he showed me where he slept and washed etc.
When you hire one of the cyclos negotiate the fare and you can then let the driver decide on the route. However do make sure you go around the markets in Chinatown.
Cyclos are a neat way of getting around HCMC. It's less stressful than jumping on the back of a motorcycle and you still get some of the rush of cutting through traffic... :)
Know where you're going though, and don't be afraid to negotiate a price with the drivers. Most are pretty reliable but I have had a couple experiences with drivers who brought me somewhere other than where I wanted to go. If this happens, be persistant and polite and they will take you where you want to go.
Oh, and keep hold of your valuables - theifs on motorcycles have been known to snatch bags off unwary cyclo passengers.
Cyclos are a decent way of seeing Saigon at a leasurely pace. They will offer to take you to many places for $1. However, these people work hard and you should pay them a little bit more for their trouble. Many of the drivers will have books with recommendations from other tourists that have used their services. Other drivers will offer to take you to see "a girl" if you would like. If you are smart you will pick one cyclo driver and stick with him. This will build trust and prices will fall accordingly. He will also put in that little extra something to show you a little known part of the local scene that others may not know.
Do not assume that cyclo drivers are stupid. Many of them are former South Vietnamese soldiers, teachers, or even doctors who lost their residence rights in Saigon when the communists took over. They have a keen eye for what is happening around them and they look after each other as they know that very few other people will.