For many travellers, Saigon is a short stop on a long itinerary with many stops in Vietnam. While you can walk around, or hire a cyclo to cruise you about, it’s hard to see the city without a little help. Many companies offer short tours of the city, including Vietnam Vespa Adventures, which takes guests off the beaten path and shows them, I think, a more authentic side of the city with their Saigon After Dark tour. And with Vespa Adventures you get to see Saigon in style, from the back of restored, late 1960s-early 1970s Vespas.
This is a foodie tour, so make sure you come hungry. The tours starts wherever you are staying, as they pick you up at the door and then take you to their headquarters at Zoom Café, which doubles as a nice spot for drinks in Pham Ngu Lao. The first stop of the night is a street seafood restaurant in a quiet residential area of District 4. Here you get to try a sampler of Vietnamese dishes, including crab, scallops and, for the adventurous eater, snails. Since the restaurant is on a quiet street, this is a good place to meet your fellow travellers on the tour and have your guide give you info about Vietnam and Vespa history. The food here is delicious but don’t eat too much — the next stop is more food.
A 15-minute Vespa ride through downtown District 1, past some of the better known sights of the city, takes you to 46 Banh Xeo in District 3. This is the place to go in Ho Chi Minh City if you want to try the Southern Vietnamese specialty of the restaurant’s namesake banh xeo. The dish consists of a large, thin crepe that is packed with various fillings, but usually sprouts and shrimp. If you still have room, try some summer rolls and fried spring rolls.
After dinner the tour turns it down a notch, taking you to a small Vietnamese café that hosts nightly acoustic music. Here relax in the candlelight, coffee in hand, as you listen to Vietnamese crooners sing with piano accompaniment. The coffee is particularly good at waking you up from your food coma just in time to get you to the tour’s final stop, a Vietnamese nightclub. At the club, which also features live music,have a cocktail to cap off your evening.
The back of a motorbike is the best way to experience Saigon, and vintage pre-war motorbikes are an extra plus. Vespa Adventures may seem highly priced compared to other tours in the city (this tour is US$63, for four hours), but food and drink is included in the tour price — with that factored in it is much more reasonable. I loved the tour; it took me to places so far off the beaten path that I hadn’t even heard of them. So, if you’re coming to town, or you’ve been here awhile, and you want a fun night out where you can experience “the real Saigon”, give it a try!