Saigon After Dark: seeing HCMC nightlife on the back of a Vespa

April 18, 2012 in Places,Vietnam

The two things I loved most about Saigon: crossing the street and eating. The traffic is just as full-on as the countless food opportunities: both are adventures that require a heady dose of bravery and a willingness to throw caution to the wind.

Christine Amorose and driver on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

The Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures was an incredible way to explore the city’s food-focused nightlife in a truly local way: on the back of a motorbike. As Steve, an American expat who has lived in Saigon for more than 10 years and who owns Vietnam Vespa Adventures, explained: Saigon nightlife involves a lot of “cruising” from spot to spot: it’s essentially a tapas culture where you have a drink and a bite at each stop along the way, visiting several bars or restaurants on each night out.

Saigon After Dark was easily my favorite experience in Ho Chi Minh City: not only did I eat incredibly well, sample a few local beers and meet some awesome people, I also saw more of the city than I ever would have seen on my own. Even if you are part of a tour, you’re still the only non-locals eating in these restaurants: I only wish I would have had more time in the city to go back on my own!

The tour takes you to three different restaurants, two bars and one cafe: I won’t divulge the locations, but I can promise that I would not have found ANY of them on my own and each stop seemed to be better than the last. My tour was led by Josh, an American expat who has learned how to navigate Saigon on his own motorbike, and Thuy, a beautiful Vietnamese woman who manages to get all of your food on the table and still chat effortlessly with you about life in Saigon. Both were brilliant: friendly, knowledgeable and efficient.

HCMC traffic at night on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

As we swerved through Saturday night crowds, I was glad to be on the back of a bike with a Vietnamese driver who was used to Saigon traffic.

HCMC street vendors at night on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

On the side of the roads, vendors sell everything imaginable, from fresh coconuts to hundreds of varieties of rice.

Live frogs on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

In America, you pick your lobster out of the tank at a classy restaurant. In Vietnam, you pick your frog.

Fresh beer on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

The “fresh beer” at the restaurant was a light, refreshing local brew: the perfect accompaniment for spicy, fried seafood.

Chili rubbed crab on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

The chili-rubbed crab was the perfect starter: it got our hands dirty and prepared us for a spicy, delicious meal.

BBQ Mussels with peanut and spring onions on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

The shellfish was incredible: barbecued mussels with peanuts and spring onion was possibly my favorite way I’ve ever eaten mussels, while I ate clams for the very first time–and loved them with ginger, lemongrass and chili.

Singapore noodles on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

These Singapore noodles might look a little boring, but they were the perfect texture and a nice carb-heavy dish to complement the seafood and beer.

Fried frog legs on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

Fried frog legs: we decided they tasted like chicken with the texture of fish. Almost as good as the snails in tamarind sauce. I’ve eaten both frog legs and snails in France, but preferred the Vietnamese spice combinations.

Crispy pancake and spring rolls on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

This crispy pancake ruined me for all other crispy pancakes, and the fresh spring rolls were incredibly plump and flavorful.

Man selling motorbike helmuts on street on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

It’s never too late to buy a new helmet.

Rock band on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

After a stop at a romantic piano bar filled with teenage Vietnamese couples and silky iced coffee, we headed to an awesome bar with a live rock band to end out the night.

Cafe Zoom on Saigon After Dark tour with Vietnam Vespa Adventures

The tour started and ended at Cafe Zoom (also owned by Steve): located in the heart of Saigon’s touristy neighborhood, it’s on the corner of a busy intersection. Perfect for watching the traffic go by!

Note: Vietnam Vespa Adventures graciously offered me a free tour, but all opinions are my own. Super grateful to Edna Zhou for recommending this tour!

  • Ahhhh – wish I had known about this when I was in Saigon!  It sounds right up my alley….

  • Looks like some fun stops! Good thing that they have drivers, I was thinking beer and myself behind a vespa probably wouldn’t be the brightest idea…especially in Saigon’s traffic. 😉

  • So glad you enjoyed!! 

  • Mrsgilly

    That sounds like fun.  Saigon is a crazy place for drivers.  I wonder if he had insurance in case  you get in an accident.  Sorry to burst your bubble.

  • Wow, it looks awesome. Next time I’m in Saigon I’ll give it a go :-) 

  • This looks like SO much fun!!!

  • Pingback: Our night tour with Christine « Vietnam Vespa Adventures()

  • That sounds awesome! I’ve always liked bicycle tours, so I guess this is the next step. :) 

  • Ahhh.. xe om tour! Lol. Saigon by night is my favorite time to see the city. Can’t believe you actually made the helmets look cute. Jealous! Haha

  • camorose

    So awesome! You’ll have to check it out next time :)

  • camorose

    Yes, I was so glad I didn’t even have the option to drive so that I could enjoy my beer guilt-free!

  • camorose

    So glad you sent me that awesome list of recs–I loved it!

  • camorose

    That’s definitely why I travel with travel insurance :)

  • camorose

    Awesome–I had a brilliant time!

  • camorose

    You’d love it! Perfect mix of food and adventure :)

  • camorose

    I don’t feel quite as good about myself when I finish a motorbike tour–I love feeling like I got a good workout on a bicycle tour!

  • camorose

    Haha I wish! This was a pretty awesome way to see the city, I think you guys would love it–the food stops are incredible!

  • Phumzile Zondi

    Christine – this was by far the best tour i had while visiting vietnam earlier this month – thanks for this post…. super appreciate the info. it was worth every penny spent….i can’t explain my delight…

  • camorose

    Awww so awesome! So glad to hear you enjoyed it!

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