After we arrived in Saigon and had knocked around for a day or two we started to look for something with a bit of an edge to it, a way to see something of this large, busy and sprawling city.
There’s no public transport to speak of, and we didn’t want to get stuck with a tour guy or, (god-forbid) a cyclo driver and get dragged around to a bunch of pagodas.
That’s when we came across a pamphlet for the company Vietnam Vespa Adventures.
And before we knew it, we’re picked from the hotel by two guys on vintage Vespa motor scooters and whisked across town through the chaotic nighttime traffic. Not as nerve wracking as you would imagine, they have the ability to merge and flow with their fellow riders like it’s some kind of motorized ballet.
We’re on our way to meet up with fellow Vespa Adventure customers at a small cafe owned by Steve, the guy who runs the show. We also seem to be quite a tourist attraction ourselves, a couple of westerners on the back of these little old bikes.
At the cafe we join two other couples, all from Denmark and meet our guide for the night, a charming and lively young lady who would be showing us the behind the scenes sights of night-time Saigon.
First stop is deep in the heart of the old Chinatown district, the cafe owners have a display of all kinds of shell molluscs out the front to choose from. And one slightly off beat choice, “jumping chicken”.
The jumping chicken didn’t look too pleased with what was about to happen, but he didn’t die in vain, add some chilli and fish sauce and he was delicious.
Some really lovely shell dishes followed on, crab legs with roasted sea salt, some small mussels grilled with herbs and lemon.
And a really stand out dish of grilled baby clams in a spicy soup with crushed lemongrass.
It’s all great food, exactly what we’d hoped for and truly delicious, before long though it’s time to hop back onto the scooters and make our way to the next stop, about 15 minutes away through the chaotic traffic.
Enroute we make our way past some of the highlights of the main city, lots of big old French inspired architecture and some cutting edge contemporary works that have gone up in the booming economy over the past few years.
It’s also great fun being out in the swarming traffic, tooting our way along with all the regulars, we’ve been told there are 8 million residents in Saigon and 5 million scooters, we can believe that.
Next stop is a family run complex of three street side cafes, operated by the same family group since the early 1950’s. Things don’t seem to have changed, the kitchen is on the footpath as we make our way in, the chefs hard at work over charcoal burners.
And in no time flat we’re all served up a feast of Vietnamese pancakes stuffed with prawns, some grilled beef make it yourself rolls, crunchy fried spring rolls and all manner of dipping sauces of fish sauce, chilli and lemon juice, all of this washed down with plenty of the local beers.
We’re starting to struggle by now, so much food and what turns out the following morning to be way too much beer is starting to take it’s toll, and we have to admit defeat and leave the table still full of beautiful food.
But it’s time to hop on the scooters for two more stops, the first, really off the beaten path, down a lane, up some stairs, then up some more stairs, through a curtained off door and into a quiet little wine bar/coffee shop with a trio of musicians performing an acoustic set.
It’s a surprising turn and completely different from the earlier part of the night, the musicians are very talented and offer up a set of both western and Vietnamese covers.
After just three songs we’re rounded up and head off into the night for the final stop. And this again is a 180 degree turn.
A blues club.
So we end the night rocking away to the sounds of a foursome doing some really good classic rock covers. Think Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, The Beatles, these guys are good, but the night is getting on, the riders are looking to wind up the night and we bid farewell to our fellow Vespa adventures and head off for one last time for the trip back to the hotel.
All photos copyright Ross Duncan: firstname.lastname@example.org