The ‘xich lo’ drivers of Hoi An Ancient Town in central Vietnam

The ‘xich lo,’ or pedicab, is a famous form of transport in Hoi An Ancient Town, but not many people know the story behindits riders.

Because of its stable, high income, and the strict qualifications required, locals call ‘xich lo’ driving in Hoi An a ‘VIP’ job.

And it is not easy to be a rider in this small town, located in central Vietnam.

Four generations of ‘xich lo’ driver

Nguyen Tu, 62, a rider in Hoi An, was carrying a Belgian passenger of over 80kg when Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters met him on a muggy midday in April.

The pedicab traveled through many streets before it reached the old town area, with the rider’s green T-shirt already covered in sweat.

Tu smiled, trying to hide his tiredness.

The passenger paid him VND150,000 (US$6.74) for what was a 45-minute tour around the town.

“Thank you. Have an enjoyable, happy holiday in Hoi An. See you again,” Tu responded in English.

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The Belgian tourist, Thomas Conllins, shook Tu’s hands, saying that riders in Hoi An are extremely friendly and offer a professional service.

Tu gives four to five rides every day during holidays or peak seasons, sometimes leaving his body sore and aching.

He is one of 102 riders in Hoi An’s cultural pedicab labor union.

Over the last ten years, riding pedicabs has become the ‘hot’ job in town, providing him with a salary ranging from VND9 to VND10 million (around US$400 to US$500) per month.

Tu started working as a ‘xich lo’ driver 19 years ago.

With the stable income it provides, he has been able to take care of his five children, four of them having already graduated and taking jobs themselves.

Tu said his grandfather, Nguyen Bang, was a rider a long time ago. In 1969, Bang gave the pedicab to Nguyen Phan, Tu’s father, to continue the job.

In 2011, Tu’s son bought another ‘xich lo’ and has also become a rider in Hoi An.

Dedicated riders

Phan Phuoc Tung, head of the cultural pedicab labor union, said there were only around 50 pedicabs in Hoi An before 2002.

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Two foreign children sit on a ‘xich lo' (pedicab) in Hoi An Ancient Town.

At that time, the service was not well-organized and unprofessional, receiving a lot of complaints from passengers.

In 2003, local authorities allowed the establishment of the labor union, under which riders work legally and more efficiently.

About 100 pedicabs are arranged in five pick-up locations in town. Riders work in shifts to assure equality of opportunity.

Bui Thanh, 75, is the oldest member of the union. Like other people, Thanh went through a number of training sessions to learn English and service etiquette.

Riders are required to wear uniforms, including T-shirts, hats, and trousers. They are not allowed to solicit tourists or charge extra money from them.

Besides basic English, riders also need self-defense skills to ensure the safety of passengers.

Tung, who has nearly 14 years of experience in riding his pedicab, said each vehicle is marked with a fixed number, and so is the rider’s T-shirt.

Passengers who forget their personal property during the trip can easily find it later by remembering the number of the pedicab and reporting their loss to the union.

In 1999, Hoi An Ancient Town was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO for being a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port from the 15th to 19th centuries, and for housing buildings with a unique blend of local and foreign influences.

Since then, the culturally rich town has been voted one of the top tourist destinations in the world by several major tourism magazines.

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