Ho Chi Minh City (formally Saigon) has a population of 10 million people, but can you guess the number of motorbikes? Let me tell you, there are a whopping 8 million. 8 million motorbikes cruising the streets and sidewalks of this crazy city. That is just outrageous but somehow it manages to be rather “organised”. Well, at least it seems…
We’ve ridden motorbikes ourselves around Sri Lanka, Thailand and Turkey but we were a little skeptical about doing so in Ho Chi Minh City. Just like any other city, there are stoplights, stop signs, one-way streets and rules put in place but there’s definitely a difference between having the rules and actually obeying them.
We weren’t prepared to tackle the traffic on our own nor did we trust our driving, so without missing out on the fun entirely, we opted for a city tour with Back of the Bike Tours. A pretty simple and fitting concept. Jump on the back of a bike and let the locals do the driving. They know the in’s and out’s of the city, the “rules”, the history and of course have the confidence to ride the motorbikes!
Rush Hour & Coffee
Our city tour began nice and early, just in time for rush hour. Our guides, Thao and Nho, picked us up on their bikes directly from our apartment and we began our tour then and there. Nothing makes us happier than an easy transition to begin a tour. No fart-arsing around with multiple forms of transport before you’ve ever begun your day. First stop: Vietnamese Coffee. Local style.
There are more coffee shops than motorbikes in this city… well not really, but it definitely seems like it! You can’t go 10m down the road without seeing another one. Vietnamese people love their coffee and they love, love their sugar! The coffee we sampled was grounded with butter and then served with condensed milk, and sugar. Jacob loved it (surprise surprise) and I tried a smoothie made from sapodilla, a naturally sweet local fruit that also had condensed milk and sugar added which was way too sweet for my tastebuds! See here for how to make Vietnamese coffee.
Exploring Ho Chi Minh City
Throughout the 4 hours, we weaved our way in and out of traffic all whilst learning about the history and culture of Ho Chi Minh City. Our tour guides were knowledgeable, super-sweet and great drivers! One thing we did notice was a number of children riding in between their parents on the bikes but without any helmets. When we questioned this, our guides told us the reason all the adults have helmets on is to avoid getting a ticket, forget the safety aspect. It is compulsory for adults to wear one, but not the children. A little bizarre, don’t you think?
We carried on our day visiting the local markets to sample different fruits, the flower market, the central post office, mini Notre Dame (as they call it!) & China Town. 4 hours went by faster than we could blink.
Our favourite stop of the day was lunch. A little lady on the side of the road has been selling this dish, Bun Thit Nuong (spicy pork noodles) for the last 40 years! She was amazed at the size of both Jacob and I and she couldn’t stop giggling when we took our picture with her. Note the hand rested on my leg. She loved our skin. Too cute.
Surviving The Chaos
It was completely baffling to us as we maneuvered around the many districts of the city – the traffic is complete chaos, but it seems to work. If you need to cross the street or a busy intersection at that, you don’t wait your turn (it’ll never come), you just nudge your way across one cm at a time until you’ve made it!
There are no lanes or double sided lines, it’s you, your bike and a scene out of Mario Kart! If you’re walking or trying to cross the street, they simply put their hand out and tell those bikes their crossing. They’ll always find a way to dodge you.
One of the only factors that really prevents a million accidents is the relatively slow speed at which the traffic flows. When the roads are clogged with 1000’s of people daily there is little room to “speed” therefore most people have no choice but to go very slowly.
- 4-hour city tour – $50 USD (2 time slots a day 8:00am or 1:00pm)
- Saigon Food Tour – $67 USD (2 times slots a day 1:00pm or 6:00pm)
- Saigon Chef Tour- $130 (once a day 5:00pm -10:00pm) but need to be arranged in the advance by email.
- Private Tours can also be arranged upon request.
To book any of these tours, click here.
When this tour was over we were actually a little bummed. We could have ridden around the city for much longer admiring the day-to-day life of Ho Chi Minh City. I think it’s the only time we ever minded being stuck in traffic! Don’t be scared, jump on the back of the bike, ask all the questions in the world and enjoy a tour you won’t ever forget.
Our tour was made possible in partnership with Back of The Bike Tours. All thoughts & opinions are our own, as always.
Married Days Survived; 823