Ho Chi Minh City's roads are teeming with scooters. Picture: Andrew Shipp

If anyone in Ho Chi Minh City needed a patron saint, it would have to be Columbanus, the patron saint of motorcyclists.

About nine million people live in the Vietnamese metropolis and almost five million of them own a motorbike or scooter.

Walk out on to the street at any time of the day or night and the roads are clogged with them. There is the constant beep of horns as they slide around each other, seemingly without any angst or fear.

There are families of four heading out for dinner, women with their nightclub heels and mini dresses sharing a ride, office workers in suits, kids out for the evening riding around.

Riders are texting, smoking, eating, conversing with fellow commuters and rolling along in the endless flow of scooter traffic.

So it comes as no surprise that the best way to see the city, with its wide tree-lined boulevards and narrow shop-filled alleys, is on the back of a scooter. But be warned, the first five minutes are among the most terrifying you will experience. After that, you get used to having your life hanging by a thread, and relax and enjoy the ride.

After agreeing on a price, my driver Hiep casually lights a cigarette, throws me a helmet and we plough straight into the oncoming traffic with a couple of beeps on the scooter's horn.

What ensures is a mix of thrills and dread as we weave our way through traffic and around pedestrians as he shows me the main tourist sights of the city - Notre Dame Cathedral, the War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, Tue Thanh Society's meeting house and the market in Chinatown.

Cholon, the city's Chinatown, is a bustling district in a bustling city and a chance to spend time walking through the Binh Tay market is like stepping into a shopping labyrinth. The massive market is divided into distinct sections. There are the kitchen goods, with tightly packed aisles of shiny tin and steel pots, pans, woks and utensils. Then there's the cloth section, the cap section, the batteries section, the thongs section, the kitchen mitt section, the sandals section. It seems that whatever you want is there.

Weaving through internal alleyways which seem to get narrower and narrower, there's a sense you could simply disappear and never been seen again before you're spat out from a doorway, back into the chaos and mayhem of the surrounding roads.

Riding through the traffic and enjoying the buzz of the city from the back of a scooter, Hiep is quick to remind me of the "mafia" who will seize on any slips from tourists, but I felt safe enough to grab pictures as we sweep along.

A few hours on a scooter followed by lunch at a local cafe with a couple of beers makes for one of the best ways to spend the day in Ho Chi Minh City.

Sitting back and watching the ebb and flow prompted one traveller to say that driving through the city was like a beautiful dance between art and science. Just with a little bit of terror thrown in.

The West Australian

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