People speak of crossing the road in Vietnam as an almost religious experience. As you step off the kerb, slowly but surely meandering across the road, a sea of motorbikes magically part around you, deftly maneuvering to avoid running you over and suddenly you find yourself on the other side still in one piece. That sense of accomplishment at making it across without the locals having to drag you by the elbow is pretty epic.
This time around thanks to the folk at VietJetAir who flew a bunch of female media up to have a bit of a girl’s getaway in Ho Chi Minh City, I found myself instead as a part of evening traffic, riding pillion on a vintage Vespa as one of a swarm of motorbikes zipping around the busy capital and avoiding other nervous foreigners attempting to cross the road.
Short of actually riding a bike in Vietnam by myself (which is probably never going to happen), this is probably the closest you can get to the local transit experience without risking your life too much. Exploring the city on scooter lets you cover a lot more ground – you become a part of the urban landscape – the feel of the wind blowing on your face, humidity made bearable by cool night air and hearing the sounds of the city whoosh by beats being shepherded around on a tour bus by a mile, no matter how good the air-conditioning on the bus feels.
Our riders from Vespa Adventures were waiting patiently for us at the hotel – I was first in the lobby and got my pick of the scooters. My driver turned out to be a sweet young guy in his early 20s who was polite and helpful throughout the trip, making sure I had my helmet strapped on properly, helping me on and off the bike and not freaking out even when the vintage Vespa decided to take a timeout halfway through our journey (we managed to restart, but for another bike which was having similar problems, they had a replacement bike come around quite quickly)
The excitement all around was palpable, and the photo taking and selfies en route were pretty epic – we had to be reminded not to get too caught up with photographing and fall prey to snatch-thieves, especially because the fact we were tourists is pretty obvious!
Our first stop was at the Vespa Adventures HQ Cafe Zoom, a little cafe cum bar smack in the middle of HCMC’s backpacker zone XX street. After a bit of a briefing and a welcome drink (free flow throughout the tour! But seriously you can only drink so much) where we were initiated into the Vietnamese style of toasting (a lusty Mot Hai Pa Yo!) before we were hustled off to our first food joint.
First stop: Quan An Gia Dinh – 662 Vinh Khanh in District 4 for SEAFOOD! Lots of fresh seafood just waiting for us when we arrived in this little restaurant. We had crab claws, some sort of clam soup, very tasty and well seasoned mussels were super tasty as well as frog (which as the cliches say, really does taste like chicken).
It was at this stop that the Vespa I was on chose to take a time-out, so I ended up lagging quite far behind the group, only catching up to them at our next stop Banh Xeo 46A which is apparently quite an old but famous restaurant that specialises in Banh Xeo, which is a Vietnamese style crispy pancake.
Obviously because I missed the earlier bit where they introduced the food, I didn’t know that the pancake was the main dish, which is why it’s not in any of my pictures and I didn’t eat much of it (it’s full of bean sprouts, which are my #1 hate) >_< Here‘s a pretty good account of what the Banh Xeo experience is like. I still enjoyed the spring rolls though
Then we were brought to a hidden little spot where you wouldn’t think had any sort of nightlife as it looks like an industrial building, but the guide led us behind and up some dodgy little stairs and what do you know – there’s a rather charming chill-out lounge of sorts with an assortment of battered sofas hidden on top.
Cafe Vung Oi is a rather small place but they were prepared for our arrival as we filed in quietly and listened to some Vietnamese singers belt out a mix of Vietnamese and popular English songs. but who’s industrial exterior hid a rather charming chill out space where we were serenaded by some local guides singing a mix of Vietnamese and popular English songs.
We didn’t stay for too long though – after the second singer’s set, we filed out and popped a short distance down the road to The Acoustic Bar where we crowded in for a more hard rocking and loud experience, made all the more jarring after the soothing languid air of the previous spot. They too played some Vietnamese favourites that had locals singing along, and more popular rock songs that got the tourists grooving.
I really enjoyed the tour and I would love to do it again in other cities! I’m usually a big fan of walking around a place to discover, and did that a lot when I was in Hanoi and Central Vietnam, but I think that being on a bike gave it that additional ‘local flavour’ – because it seems like Vietnamese people are born riding motorcycles! All the girls agreed that this was one of the highlights of the entire trip and whether you take the tour alone or with a whole bunch of friends, I think you’ll have a super fun time and an awesome experience!
Check out Vespa Adventures for more about the vespa tours – the company offers tours in Hanoi, Hoi An and Siem Reap as well. The tour we did was the Saigon After Dark which runs from 6pm – 10pm and costs US$89, which covers most of the drinks and food at each of the stops unless you want something really special. If you’re strapped for cash and looking for one fun thing to spend on, do give this some consideration!
This tour was a part of a trip to Ho Chi Minh courtesy of VietJetAir, Vietnam’s budget airline that offers daily flights to this city just 2 hours away from Singapore. Look out for more upcoming posts on my trip to Ho Chi Minh City – we managed quite a lot in our short 3D2N trip there!