A Glimpse of History of Rickshaw and Cyclo


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Beside exploring the hidden charms of the Old Quarter on foot, our clients love to experience the hustle traffic of the city by riding on a cyclo. Since the activity is included in almost every classic tour for travelers staying in Hanoi, we would like to share a glimpse of history, and the terms, of rickshaw and cyclo in this blog entry.

It all begun with the rickshaw, which is a two-wheeled cart pulled by one person to carry one passenger. The first rickshaw was invented in France in the late 17th century, then it became popular in Japan and other Asian countries from the late 19th century.

After taking Hanoi in 1882, the French begun to built up the ‘Paris of the East’ with many European architectures and large treelined boulevards. They also imported two rickshaws from Japan in 1884, from which they copied to 50 others to use in the city. 

Rickshaw pullar in Hanoi

Rickshaw Puller & French Family in Hanoi

Those first rickshaws surprisingly amazed the local people, who had been moving around on foot, little boats, or horses. From 1900s, many local Vietnamese became rickshaw pullers (to Westerners, coolies) to earn a living, and their customers were mostly French colonials and rich people.

The image of a skinny rickshaw coolie pulling a big European, who was sitting on the cart, became the image of human labor exploitation of the colonials. Therefore, after defeating the French, the Vietnamese government banned rickshaws in the capital city of Hanoi for a period of time.

Rickshaw puller and European in Hanoi

Rickshaw Pullers & an European Rider on a Hanoi Street

In the 1920s, the cycle rickshaw, which is pedaled by one person in the front to give a passenger a ride, became popular in Singapore. Then from the late 1930s, cyclo, that pedals from behind while the passenger is sitting in the front, appeared on the streets in Jakarta, Phnom Penh, and Saigon.

Cycle Rickshaw in Can Tho

A Cycle Rickshaw in Can Tho City, Southern Vietnam.

Cycle Rickshaw in South Vietnam

Cycle Rickshaws in Southern Vietnam

That cyclo then appeared on the streets of Hanoi, mostly in the French Quarter, from the 1940s, and it became very popular during the two Indochina Wars. After the wars, when motorized transport was not yet developed, cyclo and tram-car were two of the major means of transportation in Hanoi.

Rickshaw and Cyclo in Hanoi

Cyclo and Rickshaw on a Street of Hanoi

Cyclo and Tram Car in Hanoi

Tram-car & Cyclo at Dong Xuan Market, Hanoi.

The city developed quickly from the 2000s, and then the slowly moving cyclos became one of the main traffic obstructions, so it was restricted by the city from 2009. Currently, there are less than 300 cyclos licensed to go around to serve tourism.

We’re a big fan of walking, and we believe it’s the best way to investigate the back alleys that made Hanoi. But we think it’s worth taking a cyclo for an hour or so at the beginning of your visit to the city, the ride offers a great perspective and introduction to the streets, plus it’s far easier to look around if you’re not watching where you’re walking the whole time.

Traveler on Cyclo in Hanoi

Our Client on a Cyclo in front of the Metropole Hanoi Hotel in 2022

Our Client on cyclo in Hanoi Old Quarter

Our Client on a Cyclo in Hanoi in 2022

Well, hope this post was informative enough to help you prepare for a wonderful stay in our city. Contact us if you’re interested in a personal street food tour in Hanoi. Also, follow us on Instagram and Facebook to keep updated on what’s new and what’s interesting in Hanoi.


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