Moving the masses
Vietnam Vespa Adventures is wildly popular with travellers, but popularity has its drawbacks, so carefully consider if this tour is for you.
Ho Chi Minh City is often a short layover on a traveller’s Vietnam itinerary so an action-packed tour is a worthy investment. If you like the idea of zipping around on the back of a Vespa, you aren’t alone.
The company is the largest motorbike-based tour companies of Ho Chi Minh City and its main selling point is of course the Vespa. The Italian brand scooter is distinctive and cool, and there’s nothing quite like its purr and acceleration. The pillion passenger seat is extremely comfortable, with padding and a backrest. Here’s your chance to live out an Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday fantasy, Viet-style.
We’d positively reviewed Vespa Adventures “Saigon After Dark” street food adventure a few years ago and it was time to see if and how it has changed. The biggest difference between then and now is that it has skyrocketed in popularity and has become a mass tourism product.
The trip starts at Zoom Cafe, their headquarters in the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker hub. When we first arrived, without even introducing herself to us or saying hello, our guide demanded payment by handing us the bill. It was the low season for tourism, yet our group had six people and we counted six other groups of a similar size. The cafe was loud and crowded and unlike the other three motorbike tours we’ve done where you immediately hop on the bike and go, it was 30 minutes of sitting, eating tortilla chips and drinking (alcoholic beverages are included in tour price). When the guide finally introduced the tour, it was extremely difficult to hear her above the din.
Finally we departed and it was then we realised all groups were going on the same trip at the same time. The itinerary may be “real Saigon” but off the beaten track it is not, especially since everyone arrives to one spot en masse.
The first stop of the night was the famous seafood street Vinh Khanh in District 4, where all groups arrive to a local joint for a seafood dinner with dishes like crab, scallops and snails. It was tasty and filling, but you are dining with 30 other tourists who have taken over one restaurant.
The same goes for the next three stops: Banh Xeo 46A, one of the most famous banh xeo in the city, a speakeasy-type cafe with live Vietnamese acoustic music for a couple of drinks and finally a bar with loud rock music for a couple more drinks. It’s similar to a locust swarm taking over each place, devouring and moving on. In all stops, it was mainly just Vespa Adventures groups there.
The Saigon After Dark tour can be a lively and fun night, and it’s ideal for someone looking to meet other people, have a ride around town on a fancy bike, eat seafood and drink—this particular tour has an emphasis on alcohol. It’s a chaperoned seafood dinner and a pub crawl for the rather steep price of US$93—one of the most expensive motorbike tours in the city. When you could simply take a motorbike taxi to these places, we have high expectations for that price.
It was a pity that our guide offered no explanation or insight. She had a habit of laughing at traveller’s questions and it seemed she was tired of the job. We understand that guides can be a variable—we noticed some of the others seemed more engaged. But this is the drawback of such a large operation. Our guide told us there is a roster of 100 drivers and they have 250 Vespas in Vietnam alone.
Saigon After Dark and Vespa Adventures may appeal to someone who has never travelled Asia or Southeast Asia, someone who doesn’t mind large group tours. A few of our group members really loved it, including one Saigon expat who had done this same tour multiple times. For the traveller who is interested in an intimate, local experience and learning about culture and food, it will fall short.
The Saigon After Dark tour runs from 18:30-22:30. It is US$93 per person, children under 12 receive 30% off. It includes all food, drinks, insurance, a driver and a guide. Due to popularity, book early, especially in high season.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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