This article is the latest in Departful’s Shoutout series where we cover the travel resources, blogs, and businesses that we rely on to take our trips to the next level.
Grasshopper Adventures is Asia’s leading cycling tour provider. From half day to multi-week journeys in 16 different countries, these guys are passionate about cycling and showing travellers the often unseen side of the destinations in which they operate. In my seven months in Asia, my total Grasshopper count now sits at eight tours, over twelve days, in four different countries. Apparently I’m a bit of a superuser – or rather have an obsession. And based on all the other repeat cyclists I’ve met along the way, I’m not alone.
My latest Grasshopper Adventures experience was with their Vietnam team based out of Ho Chi Minh City. Though I’ve lived here for over half a year, I’ve always been apprehensive about tours around the city. I refuse to be stuck in a big tacky tour bus. And many Departful readers feel the same way. So in my apprehension about packaged tours, I had not actually been to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels or really seen the Mekong Delta the way I had hoped to.
With one week left in my stint in Southeast Asia, I realized it was now or never. I signed up with Grasshopper and away I went. The ‘Cu Chi Tunnel Bike & Boat‘ and ‘Mekong Delta in a Day‘ tours were booked on successive days. For anyone interested in seeing the real side of southern Vietnam, both one day tours deliver on the promise of 28km cycling off the beaten track. There is also a look at local culture and history, plus an incredible taste of Vietnam with seemingly endless snacks and meals along the way. And best of all – no crowds or large tour buses.
Biking Amidst the Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnel Bike & Boat tour in partnership with Les Rives is a lot more than just the tunnels. The full day begins with a pretty luxe hour and a half boat ride from D1 in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, out to the Cu Chi region. On board the Les Rives luxury speedboats a breakfast including Banh Mi sandwiches, fruit and even fresh coffee is on offer. Cycling through rice paddies and rubber plantations, small villages and visiting rice paper factories were are just part of the story. Given the flat nature of southern Vietnam, cycling is easy, even for those who don’t consider themselves avid cyclists. Amongst the nine fellow travellers on the tour, there were three kids as young as ten who continued to lead the pack for much of the day. If they can do it, you really have no excuse. Though I will admit, the path is at times quite sandy and narrow, with the potential for quite a bit of mud during the May to October rainy season. It’s not ideal for those uncomfortable riding a bike.
Guides eventually lead you to the Cu Chi Tunnels Ben Douc site. Thanks to the 28km of cycling you complete, this site is further from the city than the busier Ben Dinh location. It means substantially fewer crowds as you explore the system of tunnels, bunkers and traps. Another reason why I’ve come to appreciate Grasshopper – they are serious about avoiding tourist hotspots.
Traversing the tunnels is a humbling experience. This is true even if you are not normally claustrophobic and consider yourself reasonably fit. There are various bunkers and tunnels to explore (led by the guide) which are thankfully ventilated, partially lit, and enlarged by as much as 40% versus their original size to accommodate “Western body types”. The longest stretch of which is 50 meters. It’s a drop in the bucket relative to the total 250km tunnel system used by the Viet Cong. Though I assure you, after cycling nearly 30 km, and having to crouch down to fit into the tunnels (often no more than three or four feet high, and less than two feet wide), your thighs feel the burn of hopping through the passageways, and 50 meters might as well feel like 500. As my group discovered, the odd bat also calls the tunnels home. Consider yourself warned.
A video of the Cu Chi Tunnels trip courtesy of Grasshopper Adventures is here.
Cycling The Mekong Delta
In the opposite direction from Ho Chi Minh City as Cu Chi, sits the very edge of the mighty Mekong Delta. After travelling over 4,350km through six countries, the Mekong River empties out into the South China Sea through a series of estuaries and forks in the river. It only takes a few kilometres of cycling to realize the rich agricultural importance of the area and the twelfth longest river in the world. Everything from pineapple, mango, mint, rice, peanuts, cocoa and yes, even rubber plantations, grow in the region. Indeed over 40% of Vietnam’s agricultural industry sits within the fertile Mekong Delta, though it only represents 12% of the nation’s total land mass. Over 95% of the country’s exported rice comes from here. It truly is Vietnam’s ‘bread basket’. Or perhaps ‘rice bowl’ is a more appropriate term.
Tour stops along the route include scenic rice paddies, herb farms, cocoa bean plantation, rug weaving operation and local home that hosts hungry cyclists for lunch. Much like the Cu Chi bike and boat experience, cycling is flat and often under shade cover as one works their way through small villages on narrow paths. However, unlike Grasshopper Adventures’ Cu Chi tour, the vast majority of cycling takes place on paved or concrete roads. Though ‘road’ is a bit of a misnomer suggesting size. They are in fact riverside paths, often no more than three feet wide, just enough room for two scooters to cross by one another. It’s a nice taste of the Mekong, finished off with a local boat ride through the river. The boat’s movement creates a great breeze, a welcome reprieve from the at times oppressive heat and humidity of Southern Vietnam. You’re tired, potentially a bit sunburnt and definitely sweaty when you return to your accommodation around 4 or 5pm.
This video clip from the Grasshopper Adventures’ Ho Chi Minh City team does a great job of capturing the one day Mekong Delta experience:
Ultimately, both Grasshopper Adventures’ Ho Chi Minh tours were just what I needed to see the famed areas outside the city. I experienced knowledgeable local guides, small groups, spectacular views and a great workout away from the regular tourist route, all while still seeing key highlights of the region. The price tag is definitely steep relative to other single day tours at $120-160 USD/pp. They left me wanting more than just a one day taste of the Mekong, and strongly considering the other three day cycling tours offered by their team in the region. If you’re looking for a unique way to actively see the famed Cu Chi Tunnels, Mekong Delta and even enjoy a river cruise or two along the way, this type of day trip may also be perfect for you.
Disclosure, though I was a guest of Grasshopper Adventures for these tours, the thoughts expressed in this article are entirely my own.
Grasshopper Adventures’ Ho Chi Minh City tours photos courtesy of Madeline Burch, slider image from Corinne Taylor, videos from Grasshopper Adventures.
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