This vintage Vespa scooter tour in Hoi An is ideal for the family

Hoi An is host to an array of culinary delights and touring this Vietnamese city’s markets on vintage Vespas is something the kids will never forget.

Three vespas ride along a beach in Vietnam.
  • Sheridan Rhodes
  • December 2019

First, the pink light of dusk sweeps across the sky, then what sounds like a swarm of bees fills the air around our designated pick-up point in front of the impeccably manicured grounds and 4500 coconut trees of our hotel. One by one they make their entrance – vintage Vespas, that is – in show-stopping shades of metallic silver and aqua with retro stripes.

The Vietnamese drivers wear loud orange shirts, matching helmets and infectious grins. Coming to an abrupt halt, they line up in a perfect row and strike a pose, even doing a dab in perfect unison. All the kids watching go mad for the dab. This is going to be fun, I think, as we strap on our helmets and board pillion-style.

A tour group travel on Vespas through Hoi An
The vintage Vespas make for an impressive convoy around the city.

While a part of me is slightly nervous (it would never cross my mind to do this back home in Newcastle, even though our traffic has nothing on Vietnam), another part wholeheartedly embraces seeing the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hoi An Ancient Town, by motorbike. I’ve quizzed the patient staff at our hotel, Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, and they assure me it’s one of their most popular tours. The operators, Vespa Adventures, put safety first and foremost.

Vietnam is home to about 95 million people and with 45 million registered motorbikes, these buzzing two-wheelers are the country’s main form of transport. So these guides know how to navigate the city streets safely. I don’t need the statistics to appreciate Vietnam’s devotion to these machines, however, the first thing we saw when we arrived were motorbikes surging through the streets like millions of twinkling Tinkerbells.

On the Streets and Eats of Hoi An Vespa tour, six of us are assigned our own driver for a four-hour exploration of the city’s food scene. Vespa Adventures’ English-speaking guides not only ensure the ride is safe and fun, but kid-friendly too – children will love the thrill of riding on the back of the vintage bikes and all ages are welcome to join (but kids under six will need to share their bike with a guardian so it’s better suited to those over seven). Everyone must wear a helmet and all bikes have a backrest for extra anchoring and balance.

A group of children wearing chef hats preparing food
Kids will love the culinary delights on offer during the tour.

Crossing from the coast to the old town through rice fields and along narrow streets lined with tailor shops, the tour takes you to those secret spots where locals like to eat and play, while drivers point out Hoi An’s more recognisable highlights along the way. My driver Ben, the tour leader, clearly loves his job but is secretly a frustrated performer. He sings soppy Vietnamese love songs as we scooter through the night and become part of the colour and chaos of Hoi An, an historic city known for its White Rose dumplings, colourful lanterns and that banh mi shop – Banh Mi Phuong – made famous by the late Anthony Bourdain. All my senses feel heightened as there’s so much happening around me: the movement, the colour, the tang of fish sauce and chilli on lips, the salty sea air. This is a great adventure for older kids; they feel independent while soaking in the colour and life on the streets of Hoi An but, because the tour stops regularly, parents can still check-in while on the road.

Hoi An beach with boats on the water
Exploring Hoi An's beautiful beaches on bikes is a unique experience.

Riding as the Vietnamese do means you travel alongside them – whole families, young men on their way home from soccer practice, dad bringing home cau lou (noodles) from a hawker stall. Kids shout greetings as we pass by and on the front porch of local homes we see families tucking into bowls of pho. It gives a real sense of what it’s like to live in the ancient trading city.

Single file, we arrive at the village of An Bang on sunset. At the Shore Club by the beach, there’s a Seminyak-meets-Vietnam feel and we drink Lychee Martinis – with mocktails for the kids, of course – as the sun sinks into the East Sea. Tourists gather on the beach, locals fly kites and others seek relief from the hot sultry air with a dip in the sea.

A Vietnamese woman preparing local streetfood
Sample streetfood markets while exploring Hoi An on the back of a bike

After sundowners we travel in convoy to the heart of the old city, stopping to taste the famous White Rose dumplings – a recipe so heavily guarded it remains under lock and key. Down a narrow side lane, we sample com ga (chicken rice) at a hawker stall and tuck into whole fried fish washed down with local brew at a Vietnamese beer garden. Our favourite dish is the famous crispy banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake), which we eat alongside other families under fluoro lighting.

Between courses we browse the night markets with their colourful lanterns and take a boat ride down the Thu Bon River, floating paper lanterns over the side that we had purchased from a sweet Vietnamese woman missing all her teeth.

As we ride home through the balmy night, palm trees silhouetted against the moon, we’re grateful for the insight we’ve been given into life in Hoi An. The kids will never stop talking about that time they rode on a back of a motorbike through the narrow streets of this fascinating trading port.

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