Living in Manila we seem to have a long weekend every other month so with some good planning and a few days of annual leave you can convert a 3 day weekend into a 4-5 short stay. We have just completed a short stay in Ho Chi Minh city and I wanted to share with our experience of seeing Ho Chi Minh City from the back of a scooter.
I found a company called XO Tours - www.xotours.vn. What makes this tour company unique is that its a scooter tour where the drivers are young females, mainly college students, dressed in the national dress. Now I know what your thinking, jumping on the back of a scooter and going around in the crazy traffic of Ho Chi Minh City, well I can tell you its perfectly safe, the drivers are very safe and do take it carefully. At every stop we are met by the XO Tour guide who will explain the history and stories around the spot we are visiting. We decided to do two tours, the first the "sights" tour in the morning and then on the next day the evening "foodie" tour.
The "sights" tour is a great way to get your bearings in District 1, home to where most of the tourist spots are such as The Opera House, The Reunification Palace, the Post office, the Notre Dame Cathedral (currently being renovated so no opportunities for good pics), a local market and the War Remnants Museum. The tour snakes through the busy streets of District 1 stopping at each of the sights for a guide to give you some history and stories of the area, time for the obligatory picture and a stretch of the legs. We even had a traditional Vietnamese coffee on the back of the scooter in between going from one sight to another.
Inside the post office there is an 87 year old man who translates letters into English and has been doing this for the past 70 years. He said he has never missed a day of work in his life - thats amazing!!
The "foodie" tour takes you out of the tourist area of District 1 and into the more local area to experience Vietnamese cuisine the local way, street food. This was an amazing experience riding at night through some of the busy areas such as Chinatown, learning more about the rich history and culture and experiencing some fantastic food. No fresh spring rolls or Pho on this tour, its local dishes made by locals for locals.
I was even adventurous enough to try a local favorite the "jumping chicken" or frog as it is better known. And yes it really does taste like chicken.
So some of the advantages of a tour like this are the small group size of 8 - 10 for the sights tour and a max of 16 for the foodie tour, the scooters can get through the traffic much easier meaning that you get to see more in the time that you have and the very knowledgeable guides and drivers. The company provides insurance and wet weather ponchos in the case of rain.
If you only have a very short time in Ho Chi Minh City and I recommend looking at doing something very similar to what we did.