When you first arrive in Vietnam you think that the cyclos (pedicabs) are so cute and quaint, but by the time you leave you never want to ride in one of them again. They are everywhere and their calls follow you everywhere ("Cyclo! Cyclo! You go cyclo?"). Even if you are already in a cyclo they still ask you if you want to go in their cyclo. It can be very frustrating and it will drive you crazy.
When you get out of a cyclo to enter your hotel and it is obvious that you are returning to your room, they still ask you if you want a cyclo. If they could ride the cyclo up the stairs to offer you a ride from the bedroom to the bathroom I'm sure they would. If the Viet Cong soldiers had half the tenacity of today's cyclo drivers, it's no wonder that America lost the war in Indochina.
Many cyclo drivers work as a team at night. One of them pedals a prostitute around while the others cyclo follows closely behind. The woman solicits business from the cyclo, and when a client has been procured the second cyclo rushes up to pedal the eager customer to the nearest available hotel.
Most cyclo drivers are veterans of at least one war. Some are veterans of several. Vietnam has fought Japan, France, America, and Cambodia in the past fifty years. Many drivers carry some sort of weapon (knife, crowbar) underneath their seat and they aren't afraid to use it.
One of the few times you'll find a cyclo driver napping
Many make the equivalent of at least US$5 a day, which is good compared to the average factory worker of farmer earning only fifty cents a day.
Many cyclo drivers have to wait long periods of time before they get a fare hence they are not always polite or honest. Some have been known to charge foreigners fifteen or twenty times the rate they charge the local Vietnamese.
Unfortunately, not all the money reaches their families: gambling, booze, cigarettes and prostitutes seem to take large amounts out of their earnings. It's a hard life and there is not much to look forward to. There are very few job prospects in Vietnam and many of them are stuck in a rut with little education and little hope for a better way of life.
The cyclo drivers can spin great yarns. One driver, Tran, aged fifty-three, was convinced that I had fought with him at Chau Doc near the Cambodian border back in sixty-eight. Although I would have only been eight at the time, when the ride was over, he had convinced me that I had indeed been his comrade-in-arms.
Some of the cyclo drivers appear to be babes in arms until you learn of some of the hell and devastation they have lived through. One driver Quan, aged twenty-five, looked like he should still have been in high school but his back and legs were covered with shrapnel wounds, due to his military service in Cambodia. Many of his friends bore similar scars.
Although the average fare is only about 2,000 Vietnamese Dong or twenty cents, it is not uncommon to see foreigners and cyclo drivers in furious arguments about the price of the fare. Many foreigners think that they have been cheated while the Vietnamese counter by saying the foreigners are too cheap.
The cyclo drivers seem to think that foreigners cannot walk from point A to point B unassisted, especially if you have luggage or parcels in your hands. "Why you walk, you din cai dao (crazy) you have beaucoup money I take you everywhere. I take you have good time too," screamed one cyclo driver as I strolled through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. The idea of a foreigner just taking a leisurely walk seemed incomprehensible to him.