The cyclos remains a popular tourist attraction not only in the capital of Hanoi, but also in other cities such as Hoi An city in Quang Nam province and Hue city in Thua Thien – Hue province. Cyclotouring is the best way to get up close and personal with the vibrant life in Vietnam’s major cities.
According to Vietnam News Agency, cyclo is a three-wheeled pedicab that appeared in Vietnam in the early 20th century. A double seat is supported by the two front wheels with the driver behind it.
Cyclotransport was very popular until the early 1990s because it could carry two people plus goods. It was relatively cost effective through Vietnam’s narrow streets and alleyways. As people had to travel farther and faster motorcycles became widespread, more locals stopped using cyclo and they became a good choice for tourists instead.
It feels safe in the heavy traffic of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and is much better for the environment than motorbikes or taxis. For these reasons, it is now very popular among travelers to explore Vietnam by cyclos.
A History of Cyclos in Vietnam
Cyclos once dominated the streets of Vietnam, but now they’re all clustered around tourist areas, filled with foreigners in large groups. From nearly ubiquitous to the brink of extinction, here’s the fascinating history of Vietnam’s cyclos.
Before the cyclos arrived in Vietnam, there was the rickshaw, a rough and cruel means of transport that even the French authorities found inhumane. So the French Ministry of Public Works began trials on three-wheel replacements in the early 1930s, presenting their new designs in Paris with much publicity shows featuring Tour de France winners in the Bois de Boulogne. Two years after those first prototypes, a man named Pierre Coupeaud designed and built his own version to bring to French Indochina.
Pierre Coupeaud was in an ideal position at that time. He had lived in Indochina since the early 1920s and owned the ‘Établissements Pierre Coupeaud et Cie’, a bicycle company in Phnom Penh. After returning to Cambodia with his prototype, Pierre Coupeaud was contracted by the local government to build a fleet of his new “vélo-pousse”, as the cyclo was called at the time. He tried to do the same in Saigon, but the authorities there were not interested and declared that this new invention was too revolutionary. Then he had a brilliant marketing idea: a time trial.