It was the morning after the night before (the night before being Mr LW’s arrival: TaxiGeddon) and precisely 6am. When the alarm clock chimed I screamed internally and – I won’t lie – a little bit of that scream may well have slipped out.
We had planned a full first day in order to force Mr’s body clock into submission; though every fibre of my being was refusing to be awake before the sun (I am NOT a morning person!). Luckily, our hotel offered the breakfast of dreams, so we dragged ourselves downstairs to feast on made to order beef Pho, fresh coconut water (from the actual coconut- it felt so decadent!), dragon fruit and mango. And an omelette. And waffles with chocolate sauce. And cereal and toast and tea and coffee and freshly squeezed vitamin boost smoothies. (I exaggerate slightly, but only because we were short of time and could only fit in one course).
Waiting for us outside the lobby were Xuan and Trang from Back of the Bike Tours. Yep, we were about to seize the day; spending it clenching our bum cheeks as we squealed around the city on the back of a pair of mopeds. Eek! Actually, the ride quickly became less of a white knuckle experience and more a really fun and “local” way to see the city. After a briefing at Back of the Bike HQ, as well as samples of Vietnamese coffee and smoothies, we set off on the Saigon City Tour to see the main sights including the central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral and the local market, taking in numerous different districts over four hours.
Our guides were amazing, providing individual insights into and anecdotes about life for young Vietnamese people, as well as the country in general. There is a certain preconception of Vietnam that is defined by the history books, but the country and culture is so much richer than I ever could have imagined!
We had been slightly disappointed that, due to a domestic flight that evening to Da Nang, we couldn’t book onto the Street Food Tour, but we certainly didn’t go hungry! Whilst walking through the market our guides happily bought us fruits to try- custard apples, longan, durian. Want to know a secret? We love durian! As our guides aptly put it- it smells like Hell, but tastes like Heaven. I looked across to Mr LW to see cheeks full, a smile on his face, and a great big mushy seed pod in each hand. If you ever get the chance I’d recommend you pinch your nose- hard!- and give it a go 🙂
The highlight of the day came in the unassuming form of a middle aged Vietnamese lady bent over an open grill on the side of the road. The tour had reached its final stop- lunch- and we were set to experience the real street food, as the locals eat. We awkwardly crouched on small blue plastic stools and were handed a bowl of noodles tossed with chilli and peanuts and the fresh herbs that, after a week in the country, were becoming comfortingly familiar to me. Atop the nest of noodles sat a mound of grilled pork and deep fried spring rolls. We greedily finished our bowls, and were asked if we wanted more of the tender, flavoursome meat. This lady knew how to judge a crowd- though we later found out she has been in this spot for over 30 years, so it stands to reason! For the second time since his arrival in Ho Chi Minh city, I thought Mr LW was going to cry, though this time they would be tears of pure joy! To give you an idea, this double meat explosion on the taste buds set us back around £1 each (though this was included in the price of the tour).
Practical bits: The tour cost us USD48 for four hours. We booked directly through the website here . Of course it’s not the cheapest way to see the city; you could walk the central districts and haggle with a legitimate taxi driver who would no doubt drive you to those further to reach areas for not much more than our street lunch cost. What we got with the tour, however, was a human experience- a meeting and exchanging of cultures- and, through the powers of Facebook, a couple of new international friends (who are more than welcome to visit us in Oxfordshire at any time!).
Also of note: the team encourage you to leave all valuables and money at the hotel, in order to avoid bag snatching incidents ruining your day. There is a dedicated photographer and your (sometimes very amusing!) snapshots are sent to you within two weeks. The photos in this post were all sent to me before we even landed back on British soil!
I can’t recommend Back of the Bike highly enough; after our catastrophic evening the night before it was nice to jump into the chaos and be part of the pulsing energy in Ho Chi Minh city!
Have you ever done a motorbike tour whilst on holiday?