Ho Chi Minh City is awash with energy; its motorbikes and foodie culture playing a significant role in the buzz that guests experience when visiting Vietnam’s most populous city.
It almost goes without saying then that one of the best ways to really experience Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) as a traveller is to jump on the back of a Vietnamese bike and get amongst the hustle and bustle on an XO Foodie Tour.
Even better? Make your ride with the first company in Vietnam to employ only female tour guides, ensuring that young Vietnamese woman are given the opportunities and independence they so rightly deserve.
Oh, and did we mention there’s lots of food on these tours? Seriously, tonnes of it!
With one fabulous driver each, we raced through these varied neighbourhoods, sampling the incredible food that Vietnam is so well known for whilst learning about the history of this intriguing city.
Through in a great deal of laughter, a chopstick challenge or two, motorbike fun and some Vietnamese-language-learning and you’ve got a recipe for a great night out!
Starting in District 1, the area that generally plays home-away-from-home for tourists, we ventured through District 5, 6, 8, 7 and finally 4, all the while gaining insight into the vibrant parts of the city that are all too often overlooked by visitors. From what used to be one of the largest Chinatowns in the world to an entire district that perpetually carries the smell of delicious BBQ; from a modern cityscape (notably missing the tangle of wiring found elsewhere in the city) to district 4 – the area that even locals used to be afraid of visiting.
XO Tours take guests practically everywhere, and with their security detail, you won’t have to worry about your security even for a second (not that we did at any stage of our time in Saigon).
The Girls, Guides and Motorbikes of XO Tours
One of the real highlights of our night out in HCMC was getting to know each of our fabulous motorbike drivers – Quynh, Tam, Chai and Thao as they all skillfully and safely navigated the hectic Vietnamese city traffic throughout the evening.
Historically, women in Vietnam have not had a strong foothold in structured employment but XO Tours have worked hard to change this, employing approximately 100 female drivers. Having spoken with all of the girls over the course of the evening, it was clear that they’ve each found their calling within the tourism industry. Well educated, fluent in English (and Vietnamese and often French too), engaged and friendly, you could not ask for better ambassadors for this beautiful country.
Also accompanying us was Loc, our knowledgeable group guide for the night. We stopped on a number of occasions for him to address the group at designated sight-seeing spots. Sharp-witted, he always had a fabulous joke or valuable insight to add.
Though the food was delicious, it really was the people and the bikes that made this tour one to remember.
Street Food = Local Flavours
In a country known for its food, it’s unsurprising that there were countless delicious dishes on offer.
The night started with an opportunity to fill up on some of Vietnam’s infamous rice noodle soup before we continued into the night, stopping at a total of three locations to sample a range of Vietnamese delicacies.
With a focus on barbeque and seafood respectively, we enjoyed sitting amongst the locals, eating as they would, where they would.
For the more adventurous palette, there was ‘jumping KFC’ (frog, served two ways), hột vịt lộn/trứng vịt lộn/balut (in reality, duck embryo), barbequed goat and quail.
There’s no need to worry though – everything is offered with a smile but there’s never any pressure to eat anything you’re not comfortable with. Quite the opposite in fact.
Anyone that knows me well knows that I’m one of the fussiest eaters around, but the girls did such a great job of reassuring me that I really pushed my boundaries and tried things I’d never ever dreamed of trying. Truth be told, they’d been more like nightmares for me in the past.
When I touched down in Vietnam, I never thought I’d be muching on frog legs but there you have it!
We’ve been on a number of food tours in the past but we absolutely adored the personal touch of having our own driver each and relished the chance to get to know each of them over the course of the evening. If you’re in HCMC, we’d consider zipping in and out of traffic on an XO Tour to be an absolute must-do!
In the words of my lovely Mum (who obviously accompanied us on this trip)…
It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I just loved it! The girls were attentive to my needs which made it such a memorable experience and one I’d recommend to everybody.
And there you have it. What are you waiting for?
Thank you to XO Tours for having Nathan and I on their Foodie Tour for the purpose of this review. As always, all thoughts are our own.