We're riding through the inky night, palm trees silhouetted against a waxing moon. I'm on the back of a show-stopping vintage Vespa in a fetching shade of aqua with cool retro stripes. I can taste the tang of lime and chilli on my lips; smell the heady waft of coconut and rice in the air. We're returning from a "street and eats" Vespa tour of Hoi An, where I've learned more about the historic city than I have on multiple visits over the past two decades.
Travelling convoy-style on six original Vespas, means there's zero chance of being a wallflower. Locals on motorbikes, Vietnam's main mode of transport, call out to us, and even high-five us as we pass. We travel and eat like a local feeling uninhibited – rather than shut off like you do when travelling by car.
Our tour starts late afternoon in the manicured grounds of the Four Seasons Resort, The Nam Hai. Staff dressed in traditional ao dai cycle silently through the lush grounds dotted with 4500 coconut trees; couples stroll hand in hand back from the tiered pool fronting China Beach.
Suddenly the serene setting is pervaded by what sounds like a swarm of angry wasps, signalling the arrival of the Vespas. Ridden by Vietnamese drivers wearing bright orange shirts and helmets, they come to a halt, commanding attention. "I'm your driver," announces Ben shaking my hand and handing me a helmet. After the ubiquitous selfies, we jump on the back, pillion style.
Before we get down to the serious business of eating, we kick off the night's adventure at the Shore Club, a cool Balinese-style beach club, drinking martinis and watching locals and tourists along the long strip of An Bang Beach. Couples laze beneath thatch umbrellas sipping beer, children kick soccer balls, as we raise our glasses and salute the sun sinking into the languid sea.
From there it's on to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town of Hoi An, riding through rice fields where buffalos graze in the lingering light. We stop to try the famous crispy banh xeo (Vietnamese pancakes) at a typical roadside eatery where families are gathered around long tables. "Pace yourself," warns Ben, our tour leader, as he ushers us out into the night.
On we ride down narrow streets and lanes lined with lantern-lit shops. We see locals tucking into cau lou (noodles) at hawker stalls, families chatting over steaming bowls of pho. Everywhere is colour and life. "Vietnamese people eat four or five times a day," Ben tells me as we pull up at our next stop, White Rose, where the famous dumplings of the same name are made to a carefully guarded secret. Impeccable Vietnamese women are gathered around a large table, handcrafting the exquisite dumplings made from rice paper, pork or shrimp, and served steamed with a shrimp broth studded with hot chillies, lemon and sugar.
Somehow, we make room for more food (be sure to pack a serious appetite). We try com ga ty (chicken rice) at a hawker stall down a lane so narrow we need to get up to let motorbikes pass, and sample local beer and whole fried fish at a Vietnamese beer garden. With bellies full, we conclude our progressive scooter-led feast by floating paper lanterns down the Thu Bon River, grateful for a glimpse into how the locals live, eat and play.
Vespa Adventures Streets and Eats of Hoi An tour runs nightly (itineraries vary; tours tailored for the Four Seasons Nam Hai can be booked through the resort), from $US82 per person (30 per cent off for children under 12) including food, drinks, experienced drivers and English-speaking tour guide, helmets, insurance and local pick up and drop off.
A one-bedroom villa at the Four Seasons Nam Hai, Hoi An is priced from $US625 per night (check for specials online).
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Vietnam Airlines.