Cycling in Vietnam – The Unlikely Adventures of a Black Woman in Asia

Marketplace in Vietnam

By Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick

(Photo at left of Asian Marketplace by Lisa Fitzpatrick.)

A 40-year old black woman cycling through Vietnam? It was a complete fluke that I ended up traveling with complete strangers on a cycling tour through Vietnam. My heart led me to Thailand because of all I had heard about its beauty and hospitality. So when my friend Laurie mentioned cycling through Vietnam, I was only mildly interested until I surfed the net and found VeloAsia. They told a compelling story; I figured it would be an easy hop from Bangkok. Besides, I love to cycle so why not? In short, it was the trip of a lifetime. The journey changed me inside and out.

Americans have many preconceived and mostly untrue notions about Vietnam. Our impressions have been formed by the tragic history between our countries. Some of my friends thought I was off my rocker when I told them I was going to Vietnam. But on that trip, many myths were shattered, beginning with the moment I stepped into the Sofitel Metropole. I have traveled internationally for years and stayed in countless five-star lodgings. That hotel in Vietnam offered some of the best service I have ever enjoyed. Who knew? It was only the beginning of my surprises and delights. Many people called me brave for venturing all the way to Asia alone. They, or I, had no idea of the treasures and eye opening experiences that awaited me. Hopefully, my travel story will be an eye-opener for them as well.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune – there I was, cycling in Vietnam. The tour took us from the North in Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), in the South. Along the way, we stopped in Hue, Hoi An, Quy Nhon, NhaTrang and Dalat. Each city had a unique energy but the common denominator was youthful vibrancy. The smells, colors, variations in the landscape, geography and personalities were a treat to the soul and senses.

asia Cycling in Vietnam – The Unlikely Adventures of a Black Woman in Asia

 “We all smile in the same language.” Photo by Lisa Fitzpatrick.

Throughout the tour I didn’t see anyone who even remotely looked like me, except Tony Cruz, a professional cyclist formerly of the Discovery Team. He was equally as brown and I suspect he received similar attention. When the Vietnamese saw me, particularly the children, the question on their faces was unmistakable: “What planet do you come from?” Then my smile put them at ease and the foreigner quickly became a friend. They in turned smiled for the camera and were delighted by the instant gratification of their digital images. It was a reminder that we all smile in the same language. This was especially rewarding in the rural areas of Vietnam where people were very curious, and seemed happy to see me.

vietnamesechildren Cycling in Vietnam – The Unlikely Adventures of a Black Woman in Asia

Lisa Fitzpatrick and her pre-school friends. Photo by Lisa Fitzpatrick.

When I was cycling toward Dalat, I had to turn back because of an impending landslide. As I was packing up my bike, I heard small, familiar voices calling out “Hello, hello!” I turned around couldn’t contain my joy. Over a dozen pre-school children appeared outside their classroom to see what was happening. We greeted each other in the universal language of laughter. I took more pictures. What an amazing moment! It was such a high the trip could have ended right there and I still would have been happy.

On the way to the next cycling point, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I began to journal, writing and reflecting on why American children are so numb to such experiences. Why don’t we greet each other that way? Why don’t we embrace our differences, especially since there is so much in life that connects us? I decided not to dwell on it. Instead my mind kept flashing back to that simple moment that was the pinnacle of my trip.

One morning in Hanoi, I woke up at 5:30 am to go for a run. The sun wasn’t quite up and I didn’t expect to see too many people out and about. Much to my surprise and delight, as I turned the corner and headed up the road toward the lake, I met hundreds of people who had been up long before me. I saw every kind of exercise class imaginable: T’ai chi, aerobics, running, badminton, competitive weightlifting, and martial arts – the most competitive I’ve ever seen. It was incredible.

I even saw a group of women standing in a perfect circle giving each other percussion massage. After a few minutes, they changed direction and massaged the person on the other side! The sun was coming up over the lake and as I took it all in I wondered how Americans could become more neighborly and health conscious. These folks are enjoying life. To me that is what it’s all about. I felt strangely and completely at home.

This is the Vietnam of today. The place is magical, with all the hurt, pain and suffering largely left behind. The sea of motorbikes throughout the cities is a sight that will stay with me forever. Their youthful vibrancy tells a beautiful story. These bikes are the symbol of generational transformation and renewal. With good reason, the bamboo, with its strength and enduring qualities is a national symbol of Vietnam. Vietnam has recovered and I can attest the country does have the same strength, flexibility and durability.

lisa2 Cycling in Vietnam – The Unlikely Adventures of a Black Woman in Asia

About Lisa Fitzpatrick

Dr. Fitzpatrick is a CDC-trained medical epidemiologist who is interested in global health, travel and photography. She can be contacted at miss

One Response to Cycling in Vietnam – The Unlikely Adventures of a Black Woman in Asia

  1. Severine says:

    Very interesting and enlightening!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>