FACES OF VIETNAM Edition 3 – A Cyclo Driver in Saigon


Drives a Cyclo!

Cyclo touring has declined in popularity in Ho Chi Minh City over the last several years.  Its reputation has taken a hit because of the many bad experiences from travelers and the government has really limited the reach of cyclo tours in the city.  Actually, we have mentioned in a previous blog the precautions that tourists need to take when hiring cyclos.  Now, there are only certain places around District 1 where a cyclo can tour.  Unfortunately, this really limits the amount of money a cyclo driver can make.  Out of desperation, many cyclo drivers can appear to be very aggressive.

Aggression is clearly not a trait of Mr. Kim’s.  In fact, he is very quiet, unassuming, and mild-mannered.  We found him dozing off under a bridge in Saigon with his shirt off, hiding from the heat.  We may have startled him a bit when we woke him up from his peaceful nap!  Mr. Kim is 60 years old and has been driving a cyclo for over 20 years!  He has seen the tourism industry in Saigon go through many different phases.

Life of a cyclo driver in Ho Chi Minh city

XO:  Tell us about your family, Mr. Kim.
Mr. Kim:  I have 6 brothers but 3 have died already.  I don’t have a wife.

XO:  Why did you choose to do this work?
Mr. Kim:  I don’t speak English.  It’s very cheap to ride a cyclo.  If it breaks, I can fix it easily.  It is easy work.

XO:  If you don’t speak English, do you face any problems with tourists?
Mr. Kim:  Not really.  I write down the price, they tell me where they want to go.  It’s easy.

XO:  When do you start working?
Mr. Kim:  After 6 PM.  I like to sleep during the day because it’s too hot.

XO:  How do you pass your time during the day then?
Mr. Kim:  Well sleeping… Or, the lady across the street with the store asks for my help sometimes to carry things.  I help out some of the other shop owners around here.

XO:  How much do you charge?
Mr. Kim:  Depends.  From 50000-100000 for 1 hour and 200000 if they want to go around the whole city.

XO:  And how much do you make in a day?
Mr. Kim:  Only about 100000.  Sometimes I get no customers so I don’t make anything.

XO:  And whom do you provide for?
Mr. Kim:  No one.  Myself.  I live with my brother and his family but I am usually out all day.

XO:  Oh ok.  And they live close by?
Mr. Kim:  Yes in District 1.  I can go home for lunch sometimes.

XO:  Do you travel around Vietnam to different cities?  Or even outside of Vietnam?
Mr. Kim:  With what money??

XO:  Okay, what about going out for dinner or beer?
Mr. Kim:  With what money??  [We sensed a theme so we ended it here instead of pushing the topic more…]

Talking with Mr. Kim was a very different experience from the people in our other interviews.  Besides the fact that Mr. Kim was a man of few words, the other workers were much more enthusiastic about their profession and their way of life.  We are certain that they recognized that it wasn’t the easiest way to live but they were making the most of their situation.  We aren’t sure that we saw the same drive and passion for work in Mr. Kim.  Perhaps this is because Mr. Kim only has himself to take care of and has very few responsibilities or maybe it is because he is older in age and doesn’t desire as much for himself.  Either way, we can’t say for sure that Mr. Kim loves what he does for a living, yet he has been doing it for more than two decades!

Mr. Kim - a cyclo driver in Ho Chi Minh city
Mr. Kim – a cyclo driver in Ho Chi Minh city

If you see Mr. Kim around the city and recognize him from this blog, ask him to take you out for a spin!  For more Vietnam travel tips and advice, talk to us personally on our many Vietnam tours!



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