Just relax and sit back
In my previous blog post I explained why (motor-)bikes are the perfect means of transportation in Saigon. But also that the hectic traffic on Saigon’s streets is not very inviting for tourists to participate in.
That’s where Back of the Bike Tours comes in.
You don’t drive yourself; instead you are driven around, sitting safe and comfortable on the back of a bike. Brilliant!
What are Back of the Bike Tours
They score high on Tripadvisor and receive raving reviews from their customers.
The staff (the drivers/guides) are young locals, riding their own bikes.
Most of the drivers work part-time and many are students. My driver, Chao1, was an exception: she works full-time in this job. More about her later.
All guides speak English.
Back of the Bike Tours offer 4-or 5- hour tours on three different time-slots: morning, afternoon and evening. Each part of the day has it’s own perks.
Apart from choosing a time-slot, you have options for the type of tour you prefer:
- Vietnamese Street Food Tour
- Saigon City Tour
- Chef Tour
- Custom Tour
Not being a foodie (at all!) I decided to choose for the second option: Saigon City Tour, at night; from 6 to 10 pm.
My review of Back of the Bike Tours
How does the tour go?
The website is clear and attractive, giving all the information you need. The booking process was easy and fast and all the communications (mainly by email) went fast and smooth.
We were met by driver Quyen at the time and place where we would be picked up. He was Frits’ driver.
Shortly after, we were joined by Thao1 (the 1 is added since there is another Thao in the company), who was my designated driver.
Thao1 came across as a strong young woman; a real leader. I felt instantly safe with her and that did not change the whole evening.
Our group turned out to be three couples; an older Columbian couple, a young Irish couple and ourselves. We were driven around by 6 young, enthusiastic Tour Drivers/Guides and there was an additional photographer who made pictures during the tour.
Since you are asked upfront to bring as little as possible with you- for safety reasons (petty crime is a big problem in Saigon)-, it is a very nice service from BOTBT to provide a photographer and to send the participants the pictures -for free- already the next day! Great!
Unfortunately the quality of the pictures was not very good. I guess this is due to the circumstances: evening (dark), moving subjects (riding on the bike) and a not very good camera. Or does it have to do with the file size? I’m not sure. Anyhow…
Both Frits and I brought our small cameras (I was hesitant, but decided to take the risk), and especially my camera is awesome in dark situations, so we ended up with nice pics.
We drove past some of the city’s monuments, through a number of precincts -like ChoLon-, and along flower-and food-markets.
We stopped at a number of places, where the drivers shared their knowledge with us.
At the fruit market they bought various fruits, told us what it was, how to peel or open it and let us sample all of them.
We had dinner all together in a local, small restaurant….
…..and they brought us to some popular, unknown to foreigners, local hangouts.
This was the first popular night hangout:
We drove on to the second night hangout with a view.
This place was right at the riverside and had indeed beautiful views on the city skyline.
Ofcourse we had to pose there.
What is so awesome about BOTBT
Sitting hassle- and worry-free on the back of a bike and enjoying the fresh breeze that the speed creates is already a pleasant experience. It gives a feeling of freedom.
Inside a car you miss out a part of the city sounds and certainly most of the smells; on a bike you ‘get’ it all.
But the most valuable element in the BOTB tours are the Tour Drivers/Guides.
In a country where there still is quite the language barrier, with so few people speaking (adequate) english, starting a conversation with a random local is not that obvious or easy.
Joining a Back of the Bike tour gives you access to young locals that you can actually communicate with. They have a lot of information. Not only touristic info, but also information about daily life in Saigon/Vietnam, about the local fruits and vegetables, about themselves, their lives, their dreams.
Quyen, the young man who drove Frits, was a student of just 21. He was really young, and he was cute and charming. He smiled a lot and was very chatty and enthusiastic.
Thao1, the young woman that drove me around, seemed more mature -in comparison- and serious. (Just an observation, not a judgement or anything). As I said earlier in this post: a strong and ambitious lady and a born leader. I felt a connection with her, somehow. She was a good match for me.
Remember yourself when you were in high school? You had to choose what you wanted to be when you grew up? Many of us had no idea. I know I didn’t!
So we just picked a study, only to discover after a year or so that it was SO not what we wanted to do or be. Recognizable?
Well, these young people have similar experiences and issues. Quyen chose international relations, in which politics is an important topic, only to discover that politics are not really his cup of tea. Luckily there are many other topics in his studies that he likes more. And Thao1 studied to become an airhostess, but found out she has fear of flying. Her current job seems right up her alley.
Both of them are smart, so I’m sure that they will achieve what they want. They -like Vietnam as a country- have a fascinating future ahead of them!
At the end of the tour we all were allowed to pose on one of the bikes ‘as if’ we were driving it ourselves; a fun finishing touch.
The service of Back of the Bike Tours remained perfect, even after the tour. Frits for got his jacket that was stored inside the bike and it was brought back rapidly to our hotel. Great!
Do you join tours when you are traveling? Which was the best tour you ever did?