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.
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.
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.
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.
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.