Andy: The other tour we really fancied doing whilst in Ho Chi Minh City was an overnight trip to the Mekong Delta. Being one of the worlds best known rivers, we really wanted to experience this area of South Vietnam and see what it had to offer. This time we were accompanied by our friend Melissa who had just finished her 4 month English teaching contract. After assuring Seda that no, there was absolutely no occasion that would require swimming gear, we were packed and ready to go!
It was about a 4 hour journey from HCMC on a pretty small and uncomfortable bus, but thankfully we stopped halfway so we could “Take a toilet” as our young tour guide Linh put it. She was lovely and only in her early 20s. Quite a responsibility to take care of 14 tourists overnight and in her second language too which she did well.
When we arrived into the Mekong Delta area we headed straight for a beautiful pagoda situated next to the mighty river. According to local legend, and of course our tour guide Linh, young couples who don’t have a baby would go there and pray for fertility. She also mentioned ladies “over 25 and still don’t have a boyfriend”, which made Melissa pose the question, “What about 47?”.
From the pagoda and it’s surrounding Buddha statues we went to the quayside and got onboard a rather tired looking wooden boat which looked like it was one stray floating coconut away from sinking. All of us had to constantly shift from side to side trying to balance the boat that never seemed to be level, which felt like a never ending game of musical chairs. This was all done by way of a request via microphone, and at one point Seda and Melissa moved to the other side. The look of joy on their faces when it made no difference was a sight to behold!
The Mekong riverside was full of shabby metal panels erected to make a house for people on the banks. Our guide Linh explained to us that they were prone to flood damage and had been illegally built but the government was simply not able to control and remove them all now. They didn’t even look very strong on their stilts, and it looked like they’d topple over any moment!
We made various stops along the river including a couple of small factories which made sweets out of coconut which were very nice, and another which made underwear out of coconut and bamboo fibres which sounded rather….erm, itchy!
By far the best stops on that first morning was to a place which produced honey, and somewhere we we would try some tropical fruits and listen to traditional Vietnamese music. The honey tea we tried was lovely and we were also shown a section of the bee hive. We were invited to hold it, which I politely declined, but Melissa jumped at the chance. We had tried all the fruits before on our travels, but they were still very welcome. The music was good, and it’s always nice to listen to different things, but I don’t think I’ll be downloading it anytime soon.
The last stop before lunch was a short canoe ride along one of the Mekong’s many feeder streams. Once we’d donned our traditional Vietnamese conical hats we definitely went faster, and of course looked the part.
Linh mentioned a few times during the day about crocodiles and I always thought she was joking. That was until we saw this where we stopped for lunch. I had never seen crocodiles before and I just stood there open mouthed for a few minutes in awe, in the same way these guys were probably looking at me as a meal.
After lunch we were given the option to cycle for a hour or lie in hammocks. Have a guess which one we went for?!
After an hour of chilling, we headed back to the boat and then to the hotel. In the evening we headed to town to have a bite to eat and browse to local markets. We were joined by an Australian guy from the tour we’d met earlier that day. The 3 of us enjoyed our various pork dishes, while Seda tucked into her usual chicken and rice!
Seda: Our room was very nice considering the hotel was supposed to be only 1 star. Knowing that we were expected for breakfast at 6.10 in the morning made it easier for our tired bodies to give in to sleep.
Breakfast was nice and simple. I guess we were all excited about going to the floating market that morning which is one of the highlights of this tour. When we got there though, it was a little different from what we each thought it would be like. Melissa had thought that there would be a floating platform with all the sellers on it where we would get off the boat and walk around which we didn’t. I thought we would be in a canoe mixing with all the sellers on their canoes. Andy also thought we would transfer to a smaller boat, but no, we stayed on the same boat. Some drink and fruit sellers came and hooked their canoe onto our boat and people bought a few things. The only seller that we stopped by was the Vietnamese breakfast seller where the local tourists gorged themselves in the lovely soup but we westerners just carried on working on the boat balance issues.
The boat did a loop and off we went leaving the floating market behind on our way to see an orchard. It was a lovely experience seeing the trees with their tropical mangos, jack fruits, rose apples, pamelo and cacao growing.
There was a warning sign saying no fruits were to be picked and eaten in the orchard with a penalty of 100,000 vnd if anyone did. Andy was seriously considering paying the penalty and picking one of these enormous Jack fruits since the 100k vnd penalty was only £3 for us.
As we walked around the orchard and came to where the house was, our guide gathered us around the pond in front of the house to explain the culture. She said in every traditional Vietnamese house would have a pond in the front with loads of catfish in there and a toilet close by it. She said the sh.t would go into the pond and the fish would eat the sh.t and people would eat the fish and this would be the cycle of life for locals. Yummy!
The last stop on our Mekong Delta tour was to a factory that produced rice noodles. We were both looking forward to this as we thought it sounded rather interesting, and we had no idea how it would be done. Basically they boil rice down to nothing – until it’s just a liquid. They then make a kind of crepe, and then leave it out to dry rock hard in the sun before shredding it into the rice noodle. One thing I found fascinating is that they used the rice husks to keep the fire going, so nothing was wasted at all. Very economical.
The big city was calling us back by this stage, and so it was back to the bus, and back to HCMC for us. The 4 hour journey went by pretty quickly with a snooze that was only broken to “take a toilet”. Zzzzzzz….