Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: XO Tours - Saigon By Night

Date of Travel: 26 Oct 2012

When in Vietnam, do like the Vietnamese do. So what is common in the whole of Vietnam? The sea of motorbikes! This was my second time riding a motorbike; the first was when I was around 15 years old, for a 5 minute ride in a small village in Penang with no cars. During that ride, I dropped a slipper and had to make a u-turn to fish it up.

The XO Tours company came very highly recommended in TripAdvisor. There were many similar motorbike tour companies for cheaper, but I believe in trying out the original and giving business to the people who first came out with this idea. Booking was very easy, with just an email via their website at http://xotours.vn/Our_Tours/Saigon_by_Night.html. You can choose to pre-pay via credit card, or pay in cash on the day of the tour. Insurance is offered, so full names of all passengers are required. They have several tours, but I picked the Saigon By Night for US$35/pax mostly because I felt that The Foodie Tour at US$65/pax for 4.5 hours inclusive of all food and alcohol was more than what I'd pay, and I don't drink alcohol nor eat that much.

There were 9 of us on this trip, and 9 beautiful girls appeared at our hotel lobby at 5:45pm with their Vespa motorbikes and stunning traditional Ao Dai attire. They gave each of us a helmet that was thankfully not smelly/sticky/gross in any way. They then gave a very brief explanation of where we were going, and each girl then picked a passenger. I tried to pick the motorbike I wanted to sit on, but they wouldn't have it. The girls pick you, not the other way around Hahaha. I think it's based on weight, the one who rides most confidently will pick the largest person in the group. Thus I ended up with the group leader *blush*.
"Are you sure you can drive me?"

Before we got on the bikes, each driver explained to me that I must get on/off from the left side and I was not to put my feet down when in motion. Also to keep my hands to myself, to avoid getting chopped off. And just like that off we went. I tried to ask more questions on what's going to happen next, how many stops, more details since I'm a very meticulous person. I was bluntly shushed up and said I will find out. OK I had no choice but to comply.

Just before we took off, my driver Ms. Hang (sp?) told me that I can hold on to her waist or shoulders since I am a girl, but guys are not allowed to. Sorry, I am not up to holding anyone's waist at the moment, so I hung on to the back of my seat for my dear life. Off she sped at surprisingly high speeds. When I was about to ask if I'm allowed to talk to her while she's driving, she started with her small talk. For the entire ride, whenever I'm behind her, she'd make sure we're talking about something or other. For some shy persons in our group who only answer when they are spoken to, the passenger got a quiet ride to enjoy the scenery. For others, their entire life story was revealed in 2.5 hours including knowing their fiance and when they were going to get married, what they studied, how much they earned, and some of them having appeared on reality TV. I must say, these girls are quite entertaining. And they were quick to point out the sights along the way.
Holding on to the back for my dear life - instead of hugging someone

Our first area of interest was Chinatown. We drove through a night market on our bikes, and it was such a small alley with motorbikes going both ways. Some bikes stopped to by some vegetables or live chickens! We finally stopped in front of the big market at Chinatown, a.k.a. Cholon. This is where we met the owner Mr. Tung. I've heard that he doesn't appear on all tours, so we were fortunate to have met him. He gave us a run down of the tour, explained why he picked the areas we go to, and got to know us a little bit.
The fresh produce market where people shop on motorbikes

Blur photos as the bike was moving

District 5 / Chinatown = Wholesale trade hub
District 3 = Local suburb famous for its local Cafes and coffee bars
District 8 = Local suburb famous for Karaoke and BBQ/Hotpot
District 7 = Expat / Upmarket area
District 4 = Poorest area
District 1 = Back to hotel

We were each asked to pick one food out of 3 choices. Banh Mi (baguette sandwich), Banh Uot (in Malaysia, it's known as Chee Cheong Fun) and Com Tam (grilled pork on a bed of steamed broken rice). Having given our choice, off we went to the Banh Uot stall at District 3 to takeaway. We then went on to District 8 to sit beside a stall selling sugar cane, where another bike came with our orders of Com Tam. I personally had Banh Uot, and found it to be light and refreshing. For others who had Com Tam, till today, they swear that the grilled pork on top was the best food out of everything they had in Vietnam! But the rice was nothing to shout about. Sugar cane juice here is slightly different, as they add lime to it. I still prefer the original without lime. Mr. Tung appeared again here and gave each of us a souvenir keychain, and a little booklet with Vietnamese phrases for us to learn with our driver. Imagine 9 of us sitting in one line, facing each of our drivers all dressed in Ao Dai. It really looked like speed dating to me! LOL! I was fairly surprised to learn that each driver also had a Com Tam to eat, and they told me that they had this everyday. It's a humongous portion, and I can't imagine eating this daily.
Taking away Banh Uot

We saw motorbikes carrying 2 Adults and 2 Children, or in this case, 2 Adults and 1 Dog

Let's go already!

One of the many upscale looking Coffee Bars at District 3
This is at District 8, where people have BBQ and hotpots

Banh Uot - a.k.a. Chee Cheong Fun

Com Tam with the best darn grilled pork!

We got on again, and by now, all of our bodies were starting to ache. I personally have a lower back disc issue (L5/S1), and this ride was taking a toll on me. We went on to District 7, and just as Mr. Tung said, we were suddenly teleported to Singapore. Very modern, clean, fewer cars/bikes, many international restaurants and upscale condominiums. We met Mr. Tung again and he explained the area again, and gave a little joke that it's now our turn to drive the motorbikes. I perked up and thought Whoa, now it's time for some fun. Unfortunately, no such luck - but the fear on one of my friend's faces was classic! We bade goodbye to Mr. Tung, and made our way back to District 1. I had emailed prior that we would like to be dropped off at a restaurant in District 1 (since this tour came with a light snack only). Turns out that all of us were too full to eat anyways.

View of the Bitexco Tower - tallest in Ho Chi Minh city

There's a sky bar on top of this building - they say

I felt compelled to give a tip to each driver. Unfortunately, we underestimated our expenses in Vietnam, and did not have very much cash left. So I'm truly sorry to the drivers that we could only afford a small amount to each of you.

In summary, I would rate this tour at 9 out of 10. US$35 was well worth the money. It did not get 10 out of 10, due to my sore calves and behind that I got the next morning. Perhaps a slightly shorter ride might have helped.

The guy on the next bike seemed fairly amused
"Faster drive lah!"

"Next time, I want XS helmet please!"

Save me!

"Please take a photo of me!"

"I'm beautiful and I know it!"

Also check out:
Ho Chi Minh City 4D/3N Itinerary - Day 1
Ho Chi Minh City 4D/3N Itinerary - Day 2
Ho Chi Minh City 4D/3N Itinerary - Day 3&4 (Final)
Review: XO Tours - Saigon By Night


Anonymous said...

you say you dont eat a lot but it doesnt show in your figure

Angie said...

LOL. You are right, but I stand by my comment. Now go away!