While motorcycle street food tours are nothing new in Vietnam’s biggest city, this one does it with the environment in mind
There are scores of motorcycle street food tours in Ho Chi Minh City these days that can be done on the likes of vintage Vespas and even with ao dai clad young ladies who zip you through the city’s notorious traffic with graceful ease to your next culinary experience of a different kind.
Ao Dai is Vietnam’s official national dress typically worn on formal occasions, not usually on back-of-the bike foodie tours.
I guess you gotta do, what you gotta do, right?
YesRide cares for its customers’ comfort and, more importantly, their safety
But with so many options out there, all vying for international visitors to take their tours in a space that’s desperate to make up for lost time and money, it’s hard to know which one to choose.
Recently, Tri from YesRide reached out to me via Facebook after he’d seen some of my YouTube videos about Vietnam.
Video is a new medium for me, so I was chuffed that Tri, a 26 year-old advertising exec by day from Ho Chi Minh City, would find my videos remotely interesting, and, perhaps even more shockingly, wanted me to document my experience of his street food tour for my YouTube channel.
He also promised that I’d experience places that I’d never tried before.
“Sign me up!” I bleated.
YesRide was originally born out of Tri and his friends’ desire to improve their English, and because Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon to those of us who live here, is synonymous with motorbikes and street food, it’s the perfect business model – plonk paying customers on the back of motorbikes, drive them around the city to out of the way food joints, all the while working on your English skills one-on-one.
For the most part it’s worked, although there was that slight hiccup we all experienced between 2020 and 2022 that threw a spanner in the wheel spokes.
But, they’ve dusted off their bikes and are bouncing back fully-recharged – literally.
My tour starts at the famous Ben Thanh Market in the centre of town, where we greet each other and Tri hands me a helmet that miraculously fits my oversized head.
That he caters for me in this department, shows YesRide cares for its customers’ comfort and, more importantly, their safety.
You haven’t really been to Vietnam if you haven’t had a xe ôm experience where you’ve found yourself funneling through pulsating traffic with a helmet on that neither fits or has a chin strap that properly does up.
I was dreading that this may be another case.
We take off on Tri’s electric motorbike manufactured by VinFast, a subsidiary of the Vietnamese conglomerate, VinGroup.
VinFast was established in 2017, headquartered in Singapore and is the first Vietnamese car and motorcycle manufacturer.
YesRide started offering tours in 2018.
The ride is smooth, not to mention quiet, a rare thing in Ho Chi Minh City, which in April this year, was ranked the fourth loudest place on Earth according to a UN report on noise pollution.
The WHO recommends a maximum limit of 70 decibels for traffic and commercial areas – Ho Chi Minh City registers a whopping 103.
The quietness of the bike really comes into its own through the dark narrow alleyways of District 10 later during the tour as we zigzag in and out of the densely populated neighbourhoods on our way to slurp on the popular curbside dessert chè – a typically sweet type of soup made sometimes with peas, beans, jellies, fruits, nuts, coconut milk and just about anything else you can think of, with crushed ice.
Tri and his crew at YesRide are fully-licensed and accredited by the local authorities to offer tours like this, which in a climate that has become ripe for ‘backyarders’ to proliferate and take advantage of unsuspecting (and as a result, uninsured) tourists, offers peace of mind that in the event of an accident, you’ll be covered if needed.
“Our tour lets you try authentic food from all over Vietnam, but mostly the south,” says Tri as we glide through the streets and I marvel at how I can actually hear everything that he’s saying.
His English is spot-on and more than fills in the gaps left behind by my clumsy Vietnamese that if it were an animal, would surely be better off euthanised.
My tour this evening takes in four locations and about seven different kinds of dishes and snacks that, by the end, must surely have increased the tyre pressure on the VinFast.
At the very least, I’m certain Tri is finding the load on the back heavier to maneuver through traffic than before, although he would never admit it.
There are over 60 different types of street food at your fingertips on YesRide’s routes, naturally you can’t take in all of them, but you probably could if you did their tour 10 times over.
This means that Tri and his small team are always mixing things up to ensure their business keeps evolving and growing and that there’s almost always something new to experience if you happen to take their tour multiple times.
“We visit areas only locals know,” explains Tri at our last destination where the pavement is lined with young students and office workers with 9 to 5 jobs sitting on miniature red plastic stools getting their sugar fix before curfew, “and the only thing you need to bring is an empty stomach!”
While it seems Tri has everything in place to give his venture every chance of success, the use of an electric motorbike for his tours might just prove to be the unique selling proposition that he and his friends are looking for to push them to the top of the Google algorithm and greater exposure.
All they need now is more bums on seats so they can invest in more electric-powered bikes which, at the same time, might inadvertently help Ho Chi Minh City move down that dreaded UN list.
And this bum thinks that would be something to make some noise about.
Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon
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