Vietnam

The Only Tour You Need to Take in Sai Gon: A Motorbike Street Food Tour

A REVIEW OF A MOTORBIKE FOOD TOUR IN SAI GON

Whizzing through city streets.
Whipping around corners.
Beep, beeeeeeep!
Pulling up curbside to a street food stall with locals snaked around the corner.

This will be nearly the exact scene stop after stop on a motorbike street food tour of Sai Gon, Vietnam.

Before heading to Vietnam, I’d read Eating Vietnam. I’d give it a read, even if you haven’t got a trip coming up- it’s a mouthwatering, interesting account of what it’s really like to live and eat as the locals do in two of Vietnam’s biggest cities.

Vegetarian and with food allergies, I’d been a bit nervous about how much actual street food I’d be able to find and try. Giving it a go though was important- for me, food is such a huge part of how I experience a place.

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In Hanoi, I booked a walking street food tour that catered to vegetarians and had a fantastic time.

And, in Sai Gon, when I discovered motorbike food tours were available across the sprawling metropolis, I didn’t hesitate to say, let’s do this.

It’s rare to find a tour so well designed for any kind of traveler, but the motorbike food tours are just that.

As a solo traveler, I was matched with a guide who drove me around the city over the course of four hours, making five food stops in total.

Beyond a chance to try some of the city’s best eats, it’s a chance to talk to the local guides about Vietnam’s culture and cuisine. And, beyond receiving payment, it’s an opportunity for the guides to practice their conversational 1:1 English.

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A Review of a Motorbike Food Tour in Sai Gon

I booked with Sai Gon Adventures– every place we stopped had great hygiene and lines of locals, always a good sign.

There are options for a 1 pm or 6 pm tour- I opted for the latter, because is there anything better than a street food highlight reel for dinner?

Sai Gon Adventures were excellent at catering to my dietary restrictions as well. Usually, these kind of tours offer the vegetarian option at whatever place you visit, which, isn’t always great if they’re known for a meat dish. The places we visited though were considered vegetarian hotspots, different than what you’d see if you ate meat.

The customisable, 1:1 nature of these tours is, in my opinion, the best part. And, if you’re traveling with someone or in a group, you can still customise to the group’s interest.

Having ridden backseat on plenty of motorbikes by this point in my Vietnam travels, this aspect of the tour was less exciting for me than it would be for a novice. It was nice though to just sit back and let someone else navigate everything- the streets, the orders, the timings.

And, you needn’t worry if you’ve never rode on the back of a bike before- there’s a safety explanation before you set off, and the guides take great care to ensure you’re comfortable.

I appreciated visiting districts that I likely wouldn’t have traveled to otherwise. At most, the longest ride between stops was 20-30 minutes.

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On my food tour, we tried the traditional savoury crispy pancake, banh mi, sugarcane juice, kumquat tea, banana chips, noodle and fried wonton-esque dishes, and a tofu boba dessert that was absolutely to-die-for.

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The first stop took us to a popular banh xeo stall, Bánh Xèo Ngọc Sơn. One stop in, and I was elated. I love banh xeo, the salty pancake layered with fresh herbs, wrapped in lettuce and dipped in chili and vinegar. It’s the most intriguing blend of flavours.

Without question, one of my favourite Vietnamese eats.

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Next up: a stop at the Cambodia Market, a night market, for sugar cane juice and banh phong nuong (banana slices baked in thin wafer).

While here, we also perused the 24 hour flower market where the blooms were beautiful and plentiful.

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Onward in our journey, we stopped at Banh Mi 24 for one of the city’s best banh mi.

Vegetarian banh mi is tough to find in Vietnam- most places put a spin on it that disqualifies it from being anything close to actual banh mi (eggs and cheese, spiced tofu, etc.). Banh Mi 24’s vegetarian option is a bit more traditional, and the bread is made onsite, ensuring you get the fluffiest, toastiest bread for your sandwich.

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With half a banh mi stuffed in my purse (they’re huge!), we continued onward to a vegetarian speciality restaurant, ẩm thực chay giác tha. Immediately, I liked the spot- bamboo decor and all locals.

We started with kumquat tea, which was perfectly sour-sweet, and then moved on to banh tieu (hollow doughnuts), a wonton-esque dish with a sour vegetable filling, meant to be dipped in soup, and banh canh (thick noodles covered in egg, pickled veg and herbs).

Everything we had was ace, and the owner was so nice. Her English was limited, but she kept motioning to ask if I liked the food, which always got a resounding yes in the form of an enthusiastic head nod.

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Last stop: dessert at thế giới tàu hũ. Here, we had pandan tea and tofu with boba in coconut milk. My guide ordered durian in coconut milk so I could try the stinky fruit I’d seen all over SE Asia.

The verdict? Not a fan, but I believe that’s because I didn’t grow up with the spiky fruit and had never been exposed to it prior.

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Absolutely stuffed, it was time to head back to my Airbnb for drop off.

Full disclosure and a safety warning: I took this tour twice.

On the first night, I was assaulted and had my phone stolen after our second stop.  The guide couldn’t have been more helpful- she took me to the police station, helped me file a report, then took me to a resale store so I could buy a new phone, AND went with me to get a new SIM for it. At the end of all of it, we stopped at a cafe, where she bought me lychee tea before taking me home.

There’s nothing the guide could have done to prevent the incident. They warn you to not have your phones out while riding, as theft on the back of a bike is common in Sai Gon (and the rest of Vietnam). At the time of the incident, mine had been in my lap.

The man who rode up next to us, hit me twice in order to grab it.

As traumatising as the phone incident was, I was bummed I hadn’t been able to experience the full tour. So, I contacted the tour company and asked if they had availability for a do-over.

At first, they demanded I pay full price again. I understand most of the money goes toward paying the guide and their operations, however- we only made two of our six planned stops the first time I’d gone on the tour. Because of that, I felt a discount on a re-take to at least compensate for the food I’d paid for but hadn’t had was appropriate.

In the end, they knocked $15 off me taking the tour again.

You should absolutely take this tour if you’re in Sai Gon. But, make sure you wear a sturdy cross-body bag and keep all your valuables inside it while you’re riding. The man who hit me to grab my phone also tried to take my bag, but luckily, I travel with a PacSafe crossbody (read: nearly theft-proof).

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The second tour ended up being one of my favourite memories from my time in Vietnam. A fun, delicious way to experience one of SE Asia’s most vibrant cities.

Have you ever done a food tour in a city you’ve visited? What did you think of this review of a motorbike food tour in Sai Gon? 

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