Oct 12 2011
In a few weeks, my parents and brother are visiting Saigon, and Vietnam as a whole, for the first time. As I’m being a good daughter and helping with them plan their trip, I thought it would be a good idea for them to go on a tour of the city. Although I found a pretty good night tour, I wanted to give someone else a try on the dayside so I booked a trip with Back of the Bike Tours. A newer tour group, they offer private, food-centric tours of Ho Chi Minh City at an affordable price. Run by Chad, the former head chef at District 1’s Xu Restaurant, and his wife Thuy, the foodie inside of me couldn’t resist a food day out on the town.
From our hotel we were picked up, on motorbikes of course, and whisked away through midday traffic. Chad and Thuy took us for a long ride from District 1 across the Thu Thiem Bridge to District 2. From here we hopped onto the Thu Thiem ferry and cruised back to District 1. I love the Thu Thiem ferry, as it offers a little seen view of the city and is only 3,000 VND for a ride.
After landing safely on the other side we were off to District 4, where we stopped at a local hole-in-the-wall for Vietnamese broken rice, which is made from the pieces of grain that break during harvest.
Little did I know that this restaurant, which I had been unknowingly passing every day on my way home, was going to be an instant favourite. We tried a variety of dishes, including fish, pork and vegetables, that were toppings for the rice and since Chad is a chef, he took time explaining the ingredients and cooking process of each dish.
Once lunch was done we were back on the bike to District 1 for an after-lunch snack of ice cream. Down a tight market alley we found our ice cream shop, which specialises in just three things: coffee ice cream, longan berry ice cream, and deep-fried fish balls. The ice cream, usually served to local school children, was delicious.
Normally I’m not a fan of coffee flavoured ice cream but here they managed to make it taste exactly like Vietnamese café sua da. And, although deep-fried fishballs sound like a poor pairing, I’m astonished to find that they went together well.
We were quickly back on the bikes for a long ride to Ben Thanh district where we eventually stopped at a café on the river. Under the shade of palm trees, we sipped from coconuts and listened to Chad and Thuy talk about how they met and the life of newlyweds. The spot was very relaxing and time quickly melted away as we watched boats pass.
We made the final, and longest, ride of the night through rush hour traffic to a lively restaurant in District 8 known for seafood and cheap, homemade beer. We feasted on several dishes including some amazing salads eaten off large crackers, all the while enjoying our 3,500 VND a glass beer. Again we were given a culinary lesson, making the food that much better. From here we were taken back to our hotel.
I really enjoyed the tour because not only did I get schooled in the intricacies of Vietnamese cuisine, but I also covered quite a bit of ground in visiting eight of the city’s districts. To make things even better, Nomadic Chick’s Jeannie Mark and The Professional Hobo’s Nora Dunn, who had just finished their Ultimate Train Challenge, joined me on the tour and gave me the opportunity to gauge the reactions of some seasoned travellers!
A personalised day tour with Chad and Thuy, who were wonderful hosts, will cost you 1.5 million VND per person and, while they may not have some of the flash or fancy bikes other companies have, they will take you on a great tour. I can’t wait for my family to give them a try — I’ll have to find a way to join them for my second round!
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