Hanoi is the latest venture for Vespa Adventures and as they celebrate their one year anniversary operating here, I went on the road with them to peer into the secrets of their success. Starting in Saigon in 2007, they’ve opened up branches across the country and beyond. In Vietnam alone they operate in Saigon, Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi while in Cambodia they’re rolling around Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Steve Meuller; the man behind the motors, came up with the idea for the tours after arriving in Vietnam 20 years ago, but never knew it would grow to this scale.
I’ve lived here almost eight months now and yet my night with Vespa Adventures took me on a two-wheeled waltz through the lesser-known spots that I wouldn’t have found on my own bumbling accord – which is the whole point according to Finn, our tour guide: “We strive to ensure that our guests visit different sites around the city that are off of the beaten tourist path, all the while making sure they have a wonderful time.”
With that in mind, I was assigned a driver for the night and I could only marvel as my boy Hieu sped us deftly through the city to our first stop for the night.
I wheezed up four flights of stairs to find a beer-based cocktail waiting for me at the top. With a Tiger Crystal upended into a glass of pineapple and passion fruit juices, it looked like some sort of ingenious school science project. As we sat under the shadow of the impressive St. Joseph’s Cathedral, it was a welcomed treat – one accompanied by a bonus side of Nem Chua the spicy, fermented pork bites that Hanoi is famed for.
Skidding into the legendary rice wine connoisseur’s down by the old French railway tracks, the shots came thick and fast. A flurry of lemon, strawberry and apricot infused rice wines rained down on my innards in the best way. The bar sits a mere few inches from the rattling railway tracks and every day the approaching trains send the clientele into a rumbling drinking frenzy. Meaty strands of shredded buffalo were doing their best to combat the deceptively strong kick of the rice wine, but before the tour group turned into a feral pack of wild animals, I was once more whisked away, back into frantic oblivion.
Bun Cha Kim
Finding decent, authentic street food is challenging to tourists and expats alike. Hanoi’s reputation for unpolished diamonds is unparalleled and Vespa Adventures digs up some of the best. First up, a feast of Bun Cha – the dish given international fame by Barack Obama during his presidential visit in 2016 – was laid out before us. There are hundreds, if not thousands of restaurants offering this dish across the city, but Bun Cha Kim is the oldest one in Hanoi.
Vespa Adventures have made a point of hand-picking a mix of local joints and up-market locales, their ideas had been to create a fun foodie tour that balances the local, traditional spots with the iconic tourist spots. It’s also a blend of fancy up-market locations and those hidden, underground venues that merge together to tell the history of Hanoi through local food and drink.
Pho Cuon Ngu Xa
Before I could say “I’m full,” I found myself carving up the roads again in search of Pho Cuon – the Vietnamese wrap and roll beefy delight. This place embodies the street food atmosphere and while those with more dextrous fingers than mine can roll their own Pho Cuon, here I was treated to a display of professionalism, the likes of which I can never aspire to.
The tour is designed to support local businesses and ensure that lesser known spots of the city have a chance to shine, but it’s not just for tourists as Finn explained: “We also work with local expats, since this is a great way to reach places that you didn’t have the opportunity to go to before or to try some new food.”
Nightcaps and Jazz
The night drew to a close at Binh Minh Jazz Club, a bar straight out of a film noir scene and I was ushered swiftly through a crowd of Phillip Marlowes and a thin cloud of smoke. As the piano tinkled gently away in the dark, the smoke wafted lazily up to the ceiling and the soulful words bled out from the singer up on the stage.
I ordered a Long Island Iced Tea and toasted Vespa Adventures one last time before I searched for the nearest exit. “Goodnight,” I drunkenly bade.
Vespa Adventures offices can be found in:
Hanoi: 249 Au Co, Quan Tay Ho, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City: 169a De Tham, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam,
Hoi An: Hoi An: 134 Tran Cao Van, Hoi An, Vietnam.
Hue: 8/8 Minh Mạng Street, Truong An ward, Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam.