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Vespa Adventures delivers on food, fun and originality in Saigon

Vespa Adventures delivers on food, fun and originality in Saigon

Stepping out into the scooter-swarmed streets of Saigon feels like a dice with death. The heaving volume of motorbikes weave an elaborate dance; seemingly chaotic but beautifully synchronized. So naturally I jumped at the chance to get the inside perspective and boldly stepped forward to join the riotous mass on a Vespa Adventures tour. This could be considered motorbiking-lite but is thrilling enough to get a decent kick from, especially if you aren’t a regular on two wheels. Vespa Adventures do a variety of tours but our group opted for the foodie night tour of Saigon. It’s rather long (4.5 hours) and not cheap (90 USD) but my word it is worth it.

Vespa Adventures Saigon Night Tout
Vespa Adventures Saigon Night Tour

We were collected from Thao Dien on five restored vintage Vespas by our smiley and reassuringly experienced drivers. One or two of our group went for the Dutch courage approach and swung confidently on board whilst the rest of us clambered on awkwardly, all dignity left at the door. Once we’d made it on, 20 minutes of pure scooter joy ensued until we arrived at the Zoom Cafe in District 1. This first drink at the cafe feels a little ‘tourey’ due to the swathes of other Vespa adventurers, but the groups disband after this, taking different routes so that you are sort of doing your own thing.

Our grinning group were introduced to our guide, Hanh, as we sat down for a drink on the pavement outside and barraged her with questions about how this all works. Hanh explained that the company was started by an American with a passion for Vespas and has now expanded to offering different adventures across several Southeast Asian cities; the Saigon food tour alone consistently taking about 70-120 people per evening.

Enough of that and off we went for another 20 minutes of Vespa exhilaration, complete with a ‘roadie’ beer which I tried very hard not to spill down my drivers back. We whizzed along wide, glittering bridges and snaked through narrow backstreets; swerving hawkers and pavement beer drinkers. Our small legion stuck closely together, taking our place within the mighty throng of motorbikes which pour through Saigon’s streets like blood pulsing through the veins of the city.

Local street food kitchen preparing fresh dishes for our tour
Local street food kitchen preparing fresh dishes on our tour

We arrived in District 3 at a street which Hanh told us was famous for seafood and mafia. At our first street side plastic table we were brought out a range of local, fresh and utterly delicious dishes. Steamed lemongrass clams and mussels were served with fresh rice noodles. The grand finale was ‘jumping chicken’ which Hanh delightedly explained was the Vietnamese way of describing frogs. We tried not to think about how large these Vietnamese toads must be to produce such substantial trotters – if you are adventurous enough to try them then you will be rewarded with succulent meat which tasted just like lightly fried chicken.

Hanh sat with us throughout, helpfully explaining the food and anything else we wanted to know about Saigon. The designated conversationalist of our group took great pleasure in covering a wide range to topics with her, from marriage in Vietnam to her thoughts on Donald Trump. Hanh graciously indulged us.

Vietnamese pancakes and fresh spring rolls
Vietnamese pancakes and fresh spring rolls

Next stop was a back alley open air restaurant famous for its savory pancakes stuffed with pork, prawn and beansprouts. Hanh showed us how to break up and wrap the crispy crepes in various herbs and leaves. These were good but we agreed the least impressive dish on our adventure. Here we also tried deliciously fresh and herby prawn rolls as well as a fragrant beef roll which we compiled from scratch, even wetting the dried discs of rice paper ourselves. All of this was accompanied by lashings of cold beer.

The food was very plentiful and tasty at both stops but we also found ourselves sneakily looking forward to getting back into our Vespas at every stop. Knowing the city, we could see that the routes taken were not the most direct but this is all designed so that you can enjoy scooting round the Saigon’s most famous sights and atmospheric streets.

Our third stop was a tiny candlelit bohemian bar wedged down an alley and up some stairs, with a sense of nostalgia nodding to the French colonial era; it’s the kind of place that’s very hard to find without being taken there. The velvety twinkling room revealed a pianist and singer half way through a dramatic Vietnamese love song. This was surreal and a dramatic change in tempo to the night, but deeply captivating. A couple of local songs gave way to Adele covers, which I’m sure were for the benefit of all the Vespa tourists but were very charming and amusing at the same time.

Vespa Adventures Saigon Night Tour
Vespa Adventures Saigon Night Tour

A short ride away, the final stop was a loud rock bar, clearly aimed at pleasing tipsy adventurers looking to up the tempo. It was again quite a departure in tone from the last stop. It seemed to me that the tour was trying to tick a lot of boxes so that there was something for every taste. On the plus side there was great variation and it felt like a night of many vibes, but if candlelit bars or loud music aren’t your thing then you may feel differently.

The tour is more expensive than other scooter tours but it is incredibly well researched, planned to perfection, and the food is excellent. To top this all off, our intelligent, informative and friendly guide, Hanh, simply made the trip for us. All in all I can’t think of a single person I know who wouldn’t love Vespa adventures foodie night tour. The visitors said that it was the highlight of their trip to Saigon and the thing that they would still be talking about in a year. At the risk of gushing, for me the experience gave me a strong rush of love of the city that is now my home, and provided a huge dose of fun-factor for my guests. The tour is, in my opinion, currently one the most original, exciting and interesting things you can do in Saigon.

www.vespaadventures.com

 

Propaganda – Review by Ho Chi Minx

Propaganda – Review by Ho Chi Minx

Self-proclaimed ‘Vietnamese bistro’, Propaganda, was packed on a rainy Sunday night when we ventured out to try it. Overlooking the park beside the cathedral in District 1, the restaurant is a spacious room with high ceilings, and a pretty terrace at the front if you prefer to sit outside. The walls are plastered with brightly-coloured murals depicting various scenes of harmonious rural Vietnamese life. The decor and the upbeat music make for a fun, friendly and young environment. The punters were mostly foreigners, rather than locals, with the majority seeming to be trendy french expats.

Wall mural at Propaganda
Wall mural at Propaganda

The wine list was good, offering a range of wines and prices, including a few different rose wines to choose from. Propaganda also has an extensive cocktail list, but we stuck to wine, ordering a bottle of Sauvignon Plonk. Our helpful waitress suggested a few dishes to try and in we dived. We were brought some monkey nuts straight away – a touch we appreciated having had a few drinks on an empty stomach.

Propaganda Restaurant Saigon
Propaganda Restaurant Saigon

The menu has a large selection of fresh rolls to share as starters, and we were told these were something of a specialty dish. Coming in 10 bite size pieces the size of sushi rolls, we chose the chicken, avocado, brown rice roll with a spicy peanut dip. The texture was lovely due to the creamy avocado and the peanut dip was delicious, although it wasn’t spicy at all. My dining partner thought the flavour of the rolls was a little bland without the dip, and suggested that the brown rice might be accountable for this. I have a deep appreciation for the subtlety of avocados so they went down well with me.

Fresh Chicken, Avocado, Brown Rice Rolls with Spicy Peanut Dip
Fresh Chicken, Avocado, Brown Rice Rolls with Spicy Peanut Dip

Next we tried the BBQ pork with rice noodles, beansprouts and fried spring rolls. The dish is a warm(ish) noodle salad garnished with the BBQ pork and on a bed of spring rolls. Fish sauce came on the side to dress the noodles. This dish was fantastically fresh and light, as so much of the best Vietnamese food tends to be. The spring rolls at the bottom of the bowl were soft but still crispy – they added variety and substance to the dish.

BBQ Pork with Rice Noodles, Beansprouts and Fried Spring Rolls
BBQ Pork with Rice Noodles, Beansprouts and Fried Spring Rolls

Finally we tried the Vietnamese duck curry – we chose to have rice noodles on the side instead of bread. The curry was quite unlike most Indian-style curries – it was smooth, sweet and very mild. The dish consisted of a large duck leg and chunks of potato, covered in the curry sauce. We found having to tear the meat off the bone a little tiresome, but the duck itself was tender and tasty. On the side we were given chili salt which we were told was to dip pieces of duck into. The rice noodles made a surprisingly good accompaniment to the curry, soaking up the sauce better than expected.

Vietnamese Duck Curry with Rice Noodles
Vietnamese Duck Curry with Rice Noodles

We didn’t have desert, but the banana wrapped in crunchy sticky rice with coconut cream & crushed peanut looked rather dreamy. Instead we took the rest of our wine outside to the front terrace for people-watching.

For me, there wasn’t one item on the menu which didn’t sound appetizing, and my only regret was that we didn’t order more. Its a menu designed for sharing, with plenty of options but not an overwhelming number of dishes.

Propaganda serves up a large dollop of Saigon-cool alongside some pretty tasty food, and is the perfect place for a lively Friday night dinner with friends.

Propaganda
21 Han Thuyen. Q1,
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Tel: 3822 9048

www.propagandasaigon.com

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