Speaking of speed, everything accelerates at night. For the evening part of the tour, we join up with a vintage Vespa club to consume more, only faster. With deep breaths and prayers to the travel gods, my wife and I cling to our drivers as they rev into the Spirograph-like pandemonium that is Saigon traffic (I’m relieved to hear that Francis Ford Coppola and his granddaughter Gia survived on this very tour only a few weeks earlier). With 45 million registered motorbikes in a country of 95 million, everything happens on two wheels: deliveries, business meetings, date nights, family time (more than one bike we pass has two kids and two parents), and, naturally, restaurant-hopping. Our zigzaggery takes us to a stylish teahouse, a fried-banana cart, a pho spot, a chicken-jerky place, and a famous rooftop gastropod restaurant called Oc Chi Em, which has 600 possible combinations of snail dishes.
The odyssey wraps with a late, late nightcap amid the gorgeous crowd at The Iron Bank
. Up concrete stairs and behind bankvault doors, young bartenders in denim aprons swizzle smoky drinks in glassware shaped like skulls; it’s as trendy as any place we’d find back home in Los Angeles. Our guides surprise us with a beautiful mini photo album they somehow whipped up between Vespa stops. We toast to Saigon’s endless appetite and stunning flavors, and, for a moment, quiet the sadness that our return flight awaits with so much still left undevoured.