Our first day in Hue, we decided to walk from our hotel to the citadel, the old emperor’s castle. After crossing the moat bridge and entering the old walled city, the cyclo-cabs descended like crows surrounding carrion. Several followed us up the street, repeating the “one hour tour,” “very cheap” sales pitch as they pedaled along next to us. Even though we think of ourselves as semi-feral and we’ve spent the last year and some months wandering around the globe, I suppose we do look like an average American family of tourists on vacation: tout and hawker bait. In most cases, a half dozen or so “noes” and they move on. Not our cyclo cab thugs.
Vietnamese bike taxis are different from ours at home. While our pedi-cabs have a seat off the back, on Viet cyclo cabs the customer sits in the front, where the handlebars are attached to a sort of wheelchair that replaces the front wheel, and are the modern equivalent of a rickshaw. The driver is referred to as a “cyclo.”
I’ve read the Vietnamese don’t really like to walk. Their sidewalks reflect this, although they are generally much easier to navigate than Thailand’s, they’re still full of holes and motorbikes. Nobody will choose to walk if they don’t have to, and they don’t really understand why we would walk when other options are available.
Maybe it was because we did not head directly toward the Forbidden Purple City after crossing the moat, but rather turned right into the old sector streets. A little lost, as we often are: our preferred state. Several cyclo cabs began trailing us. Not a direct attack, just following, looking for weakness. A crowd gradually dropping off to just one. The rest left as we went to a little market to buy ice cream for Marlie. This final cyclo followed us as we walked for half an hour, attempting to interrupt our conversation every few minutes to remind us that he would take us through the old city for an hour, very cheap. Every so often, he would point off down a street (often away from the Imperial City) suggesting that was where we should go, we supposed he was thinking the walking and the heat would soon tire us out and we’d want that “one hour tour.”
We dropped into a coffee shop for some water and iced coffee, partly because we were thirsty, and partly to ditch him. He waited outside, and even had a second driver stop and wait with him. We felt a bit like prey, the predator waiting for us to come out of our hole or tree. As we emerged another 45 minutes later, we offered him yet another “no, thank you,” and wandered toward the Imperial City, and he finally gave up and pedaled off. He’d spent more time following us than the tour he was offering.
We did want to try a cyclo cab sometime, and hours later as we turned to head home, our tired feet told us it would be a good time to do so. We found, talking to a cyclo tout (read:cyclo-pimp,) that a cyclo cab was much more expensive than what we would expect to pay a tuk tuk or taxi. We agreed on a price about 40% less than what they first asked for, but still more than other options. We figured it would be worth the experience.
We squeezed in double, two per cyclo cab, the person in back perching on a little plank set across the arm rests. John’s broke during the ride, and wound our way slowly through traffic and over the bridge to our hotel. At the end of the ride, the cylcos angrily insisted we owed them more than the price we agreed on: “far, so very far.” We’d shown the tout (cyclo-pimp) the address, they knew how far it was. Certainly not a “one hour tour.”