Vietnam Vespa Adventures, Saigon After Dark Tour: Get out of your comfort zone and on to a scooter

Negotiating Ho Chi Minh City's night traffic on the back of a vintage Vespa sounded scary. It turned out to be thrilling.

I admit when the tour organiser informed the group that the night's activity would be zooming around Ho Chi Minh City on the back of a Vespa, I said, rather nervously, "I don't think my travel insurance covers that".

It did, in fact, but I was looking for an excuse. I'd seen the traffic in Vietnam's great southern city and it wasn't pretty – thousands of scooters pouring along the highways and merging haphazardly together, like the streams of a river that had broken its bank. It was bad enough being in the middle of it in a taxi, with a metal frame to protect me.

I'm not very good with fast vehicles, having fallen out of a moving car when I was a little girl. But travel is often about forcibly taking yourself outside your comfort zone so you can look at your world another way. Sometimes I have to be blasted out of it.

I can't say I'm now a rev head, but I'm indebted to my fellow travellers for persuading me to go on that tour. Not only because the Vietnam Vespa Adventures Saigon After Dark Tour is a brilliant way to experience the city's cafes, bars and clubs, but because the ride through the streets over four hours, on a kind of progressive dinner, is completely exhilarating.

When you're cheek to jowl with other commuters, when you can see the whites of their eyes, you really feel part of the city. And I can say this, having been on the back of the one Vespa that broke down in the middle of traffic, making it necessary for my driver to usher me by foot across about five lanes of merging traffic. I suppose it was Murphy's Law that it would happen to me. But he soon got it going again and I survived.

Founder Steve Mueller started collecting vintage Vespas in the 1990s and turned his "fleet" of 120 scooters into a thriving business that now includes tours in Siem Reap and Hoi An. Each guest is assigned a scooter and driver and there's also a tour guide who travels ahead to make sure tables are ready at the various eating spots along the way. Groups are limited to about eight people, although several groups may go out each night with their own guide.

In Ho Chi Minh, our tour starts at our hotel, The Reverie Saigon, where we are assigned drivers and scooters and fitted with helmets, before hopping on the back for what was billed "the ride of your lives". The first pit stop is the aptly named Zoom Cafe, Vespa Adventures' headquarters, where our guide Dieu explains the evening's program over cocktails or coffee. She's funny and charming, and tells us, speaking for the young inhabitants of the city, "We want to show you what our Saigon is like".

Then Dieu sets off ahead to meet us 20 minutes later at our second stop, a roadside seafood cafe where we're served crab in salt and chilli, beef with stir-fried morning glory, giant shrimp with noodles and frogs' legs, a nod to Vietnam's French heritage.

Before we can digest all this we're off on another 20-minute drive to a restaurant that specialises in crispy pancakes made on blazing fires. After that we're taken to a "secret" bar hidden in the middle of a mechanic's yard, where hip young people sip strong iced coffee by candlelight while a violinist plays melodies I recognise as being by Simon and Garfunkel.


Lastly, we're driven to a bar (more cocktails) where a fabulous rock chickette sings Guns N' Roses songs with a voice that's Tina Turner-meets-Melanie Safka. (And if you don't know who that is, I bet the hip young Vietnamese do.)

I had such a great time I actually contemplated staying on the scooter for another go-around. Being the most nervous of the experience, I probably ended up being the most passionate about it. That's always the way.

It was a bit of an accomplishment for someone who was even afraid of the River Caves ride at Luna Park as a child. Not that I'm taking up bungy jumping any time soon. I don't see much return from that investment.

I do have to caution that scooter accidents can be nasty. Although I was completely confident of the skill of my driver, Nervous Nelly me was wise to check her insurance.

The writer was a guest of Vietnam Vespa Adventures and Vietnam Airlines.