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Saturday 14 April 2012

Scooting Around Saigon: Vietnam Vespa Adventures

Vietnam's capital, Ho Chi Minh City, is home to approximately 9 million people.

It's also home to somewhere between 4 and 6 million motorbikes.

It sounds like a ridiculous statistic, but anyone who's ever been to Ho Chi Minh won't be shocked.  The city swarms with motorbikes.  Crossing the road is life threatening.  One of my favourite moments of a recent trip to Ho Chi Minh was watching the packs of motorbikes whizzing through the streets from the rooftop bar at the Rex Hotel.

View from the Rex Hotel

So what better way to see the city than from a moped?  This may sound like a death wish, but what if that moped was driven by a local experienced in navigating the Saigon streets?  What if you'd be riding pillion on a vintage Vespa?  What if you were going to be steered around Saigon by an English speaking guide who knows Ho Chi Minh inside out and back to front?  What if between scooting around the city you'll be stopping off at the guide's favourite spots which aren't the tired old guidebook favourites?  Suddenly sounding less scary, more must-do?  Then Vietnam Vespa Adventures is for you.

I found Vietnam Vespas just a couple of days before we were due to arrive in Ho Chi Minh when I was scouring the internet for recommendations on must-dos in the city.  The tours were being raved about all over the internet by everyone from backpackers to businessmen.  Intrigued and completely unaware of quite how scary the moped clogged roads are, I contacted Vietnam Vespas and booked straight in for the Insider's Saigon Tour.

And so, the day after we arrived, we found ourselves sat int the Zoom Cafe, a little roadside spot also owned by Vietnam Vespa Adventures' founder, Steve Mueller, and the start point for the tours.  Lunch at Zoom was included in the price of the tour so we tucked into burgers (not so Vietnamese but in our defence, Zoom's speciality) and fresh lime sodas before setting off.   

View from the Zoom Cafe

At this point I should highlight that it was the Saturday of Chinese New Year and that Ho Chi Minh goes a little Chinese New Year crazy.  Lots of small hotels, bars and restaurants shut over the period and with a several days of public holiday back-to-back lots of people head out of the city to make the most of the long weekend.  Zoom was a little disorganised in getting us dispatched out on the tour but we were on holiday and already in horizontal mode so we weren't overly bothered and were quite happy watching Saigon whizz by from our roadside perch.  After around an hour, our vespas arrived, geeky helmets were donned and off we zoomed.

Four and a half hours of whizzing around the city ensued peppered with stops to see temples, monuments and markets.  Our guide was a local guy whose English was excellent and who knew everything there was to know about Ho Chi Minh.  The only slight niggle was that just after the tour started we were told that as most of the guides were away we weren't going to be taking the usual Insider's Saigon tour but would be joining another couple and going on an alternative route that mixed the tour we'd booked with the Saigon Wartime Memories tour (the tour that they'd booked).  This meant that around half of the tour was spent visiting war memorial sites which although interesting, were not what we'd booked to be shown.  While I understand that it was holiday season, I would have hoped to have been told this before we set off and given the chance to book in on an alternative day or on an alternative tour.   

Niggles aside, I loved riding amongst the crazy Ho Chi Minh traffic.  I really felt as though we got to see the bones of the city and quite apart from anything else, motoring through the streets with the wind whipping your helmet is a much cooler way to see the sights than sweatily trudging around getting blisters from your flip flops.  

I'd definitely recommend Vietnam Vespas I'd just suggest double checking (especially during holiday periods) that your chosen tour's available before setting off.  Next time I'm in Ho Chi Minh I'll be booking in for the evening tour which by all accounts is a gastronomic adventure sandwiched between hair-raising rides through the nighttime chaos of 6 million motorbike riders getting home for their Pho.  Scary, but when in Saigon...    

1 comment

  1. Yes, this is the most amazing way to really explore Saigon, and you will find yourself a piece in the movie Fast and Furious