Travel like a local in Ho Chi Minh city with a Vespa

Published:  02:04 Tuesday - August 02, 2016

Feel bored with the fast paced trip through the city like a typical tourist? Want to try motorbike ride like a Saigon resident? Or simply just love to have a photo to impress friends? So Vespa tour may be the solution for each or all of above demands

There are two main ways visitors to Ho Chi Minh City cross the streets.

One approach is to step with zen-like calm into the swirl of honking scooters and serenely stride across the road without breaking step. Like locals, they're part of the flow, part of the (exhaust-choked) stream of traffic.

The other is to stand anxiously on the edge of the curb, toes curled like a diver's, waiting for a non-existent stoplight, then plunge into the melee while letting out a small yelp before slaloming across the street like a demented Frogger.

Some, like Steve Mueller, would question why cross the road at all.

If you can't beat them, join them.

Which is what the South Carolinian did -- he now runs the city's Vietnam Vespa Adventures - It's a tour company that provides two-wheel thrills on the Italian vintage scooters, Vespa, around Ho Chi Minh City, out into the Mekong Delta and beyond.

Being on a scooter in Ho Chi Minh is the best way to feel a part of the city, says Mueller.

"It's really an authentic experience," he says. "Being side by side with the locals."

Day tours take in popular sights like the Opera House and central post office designed by Gustav Eiffel, but also stop at local eateries and offbeat locations.

One popular early morning pit stop is Tao Dan park where Ho Chi Minh City's bird fanciers puff themselves up like their caged pets in a display of tweeting one-upmanship.

Unfortunately/thankfully, you're not the one driving.

All the mopeds are driven by local, experienced drivers who have no problem with the swarm of vehicles on the roads. A local tour guide rides along, too, to add context to the sights, smells and sounds experienced from the back of a two-stroke motor.

Mueller took a circuitous route to setting up the company. After traveling around Southeast Asia in 1997 he settled in Vietnam the following year and discovered a glut of classic Italian scooters that needed a bit of TLC.

He bought his first one after just three days in the country and spying an opportunity to tap into international Vespa enthusiasts' desire for authentic rides, set up a restoration and export business.

It became so successful he was in danger of putting himself out of a job, so in 2006 he decided to start a tour company offering multi-day tours outside of Ho Chi Minh City.

According to Mueller, his business was kick-started by Vietnam's appearance on the TV program "Top Gear," which showed the country's beautiful countryside and underused roads. Longer trips are still offered by Vespa Tours, taking willing riders as far as the Vietnam Highlands and the coastal city of Nha Trang over seven days.

Most of the scooters in Mueller's garage hark back to the golden age of Vespas, the late '60s and 1970s, refurbished with replacement parts from Piaggio-licensed machinists in India.

True to their reputation, the 100 or so classic scooters owned by Vespa Adventures break down frequently -- mechanics are on hand for running repairs -- but Mueller believes its all part of the charm in a city where two wheels beats two legs.

(Source: CNN travel news)

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