Pedalling slowly on his rented bicycle, Jerome Gastel, a visitor from Switzerland , enjoys the fascinating architecture of Hanoi 's Old Quarter.

Vietnam was a strange country to the 28-year-old some months ago but he has no regrets about visiting the country after a letter from his friend advised him to do so.

In the letter, his friend wrote about a peaceful nation, steeped in history.

Gastel did not hesitate in booking his flights and decided that the best way to see Vietnam was by bicycle.

"I have visited HCM City , Nha Trang, Da Nang , Hue and finally Hanoi , which is my favourite destination so far," Gastel says.
" Hanoi is not only a modern city but also one where I can admire vast green rice fields, shady rows of bamboo where people gather and chat, the old Co Loa Royal Citadel, and most of all, the Old Quarter."

Gastel rents a bike for 30,000 VND (1.7 USD) per day to enjoy the city's sites which according to him, makes it easier to see typical aspects of Hanoi such as vendors shouldering baskets, tea shops hidden down narrow alleys and pagodas.

"While I ride around the city, I also get the chance to visit souvenir shops and galleries."

Robert Martines, a sportsman from Melbourne , shares Gastel's feelings on his second visit to the city.

"Viewing the city by bicycle is a pleasure. Here I feel more relaxed in contrast to HCM City and cities in my country," he says.
" Hanoi is a city of history and culture. I love it and I hope to have a chance to understand it more."

Demand for bicycles is increasing among both locals and foreigners, especially young people who have gradually grown to recognise the environmental benefits of the simple vehicle.

"My customers are mostly foreigners but some of them are students that study here. I'm also starting to welcome more and more Vietnamese customers," says Huong Giang from Diep Tran Tourism Company on Hang Bac street .

Giang says her customers sometimes rent bicycles for up to a month. These people usually have little knowledge of the city to start with but despite the language barrier and the foreign customs and roads, in some ways they grow to know Hanoi better than the locals who were born and grew up here.
One of the difficulties for people touring the city is the chaotic traffic but that problem cannot quench their thirst for discovery.

Gastel says he was a little afraid of the city's traffic to start with but now he knows how to overcome the challenges of riding and how to ensure his safety.
"It was really an obstacle for me in the beginning but now I am okay, I am a good rider."

People can easily find rental bikes in the Old Quarter on Dinh Liet, Hang Bac and Hang Be streets, with a range of prices depending on the quality of the bikes and the season.

Renting a bike is simple. Foreigners leave their passports at the shop, pick up the bike and helmet and enjoy their tour. Maps are also provided.

Apart from people like Gastel and Martines who are keen on life in the Old Quarter, many others love to enjoy the rural areas and traditional handicraft villages of the capital. They visit destinations such as Bat Trang ceramic and pottery village or Van Phuc silk village.

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