We had met the Mekong River in the north of Laos, walked with it along the west of Thailand and dined along with her in Cambodia. Exploring the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam seemed a pretty cool idea, a way for us to say goodbye to our hydrodynamic travel buddy and to watch her depart into the South China Sea.
We looked into going independently as we like to imagine we’re travellers and not tourists, apparently there is a massive difference and you can talk to anyone else travelling about this subject for hours… It can be a tricky conversation and the word “tour” can lead to raised eyebrows and looks of pity. The subject of travel in conversation has started to bore me profusely but Michelle keeps up with the best of them.
Money, time and money became the issue with us going it alone into the great Mekong Delta and with an agenda of 30 odd days to see the entire country we knew time was going to be an issue and money always is… private rooms with en-suites aside.
We took the plunge and went for (dare I say it) a tour, two days, one night to My Tho, Ben Tre and some islands belonging to the Mekong Delta to save both money and time.
After a bus journey and short boat trip we made it to our first destination. Before getting off our own boat we saw at least fifty other boats already parked up and few others not far behind. Before our eyebrows began to raise and just before we bestowed looks of pity towards each other we decided that come what may, we would just take it all with a pinch of salt and just enjoy the next two days.
It took all of five minutes before I had to hold my defiant eyebrows down and into place as we came across a bridge that clearly pointed out it was for the use of tourist’s. Silly picture time and onwards into the mass of people at the coconut sweet making shack that sold the said sweets along with other coconut based goodness. The freebies were politely eaten by the pair of us… and then we had some more. Two bags bought and our evening planned on the said feast then onto a quick explanation as to how the sweets were made. We then walked to the end of the shack to a glass tank filled with a lot of dead snakes in a liquid, Snake wine.
Snake wine tastes like Snake… actually that is a lie, it tasted of vodka, cheap, nasty vodka that I’m sure even a Russian would turn down. I’m not saying that all snake wine tastes like this but I’m confirming that in this tour on a scale of one to Lindsay Lohan (1-LL), it was full on Lindsay.
We moved through the amazing coconut producing sweet shack to another with benches and was served some local tea with the local honey. To make you aware that I had at least four glasses of the stuff not only strengthens my pointed out Englishness but also to the fact that it was absolutely gorgeous. Tea, with honey and also a little helping of bee pollen. Incredible! Michelle faced another fear when a random lady appeared from nowhere with a massive snake for us to all have our pictures taken with it. A queue formed and despite my over whelming urge to join the queue (One of England’s favorite pastime’s) I hid behind the phrase “you do it babe”.
Another walk through the masses of crowds and we were at our next destination, a similar shack as the last but this time exotic fruits were promised. If I were a 1950’s school boy the Banana would have indeed been “Exotic”, along with the watermelon and dragon fruit. The raised eyebrows and pity on the faces of our fellow tabled diners was enough to slap the nostalgia of the honey tea fresh off my face and we all giggled through the most uninspired performance of singing I’ve ever witnessed, and Michelle likes me to join her in watching American X Factor. The performers sang their songs with the solemn faces of Javier Bardem’s character in ‘No country for old men’ and shuffled off to the next shack to brutally murder the waiting and unfortunate crowd.
At our next stop we walked through some vegetation, saw jack fruits hanging on a tree, pineapples growing in the ground… hang on a minute why wasn’t these exotic fruits on my plate earlier? We were walking on what was a farm up until they opened the Disney Land I’ve been describing and worked out they could make more money just allowing us TOURIST’S to be led around rather than actually farming. Fair enough.
We then had the most bizarre and useless journey ever conceived in South-east Asia and got on a horse and cart that led us up a back alley to see the inside of locals houses and to see whether they drove Chinese or Japanese Scooters. Even the local guy who had invited his Japanese friends out to visit him in Vietnam was apologising to us at how terrible the day was. The horse led us back to the point where we got on and after a few moments of shocking familiarity we managed to gain our bearings and head to the famous mangrove boat ride. Everyone puts a picture up of this boat journey and it’s the one I’ve used as the main picture. We were finally here, the mangroves. We turned a corner, queued up (obviously, like any other ride at Disney) and when we finally turned the corner we saw the chaos, the lie, the truth.
Vietnam has many great traits, they are very hospitable, proud, great engineers, fine purveyors of some of the best coffee the world has to offer but their one true gift is the ability to create traffic almost anywhere and the Mekong Delta truly shows you this. Photo’s speak louder than words.
After telling the paddlers of our boat to “do one” after they spent the last five minutes of the journey asking for a tip (the journey was only ten minutes long so that makes it 50% of the total journey) we got back on our boat a few Dong lighter, we couldn’t not tip.
The evening was ours to do as we pleased… thank god and a few Bia Hoi’s were sunk along with the laughter of our memories from the day we just had.
The next morning was spent being served iced coffee and offered fruit and even noodle soup on a floating market. It wasn’t quite the floating market you would automatically expect, one with little boats along a stream but more like large barges and canal boats on a river that was wider then the Thames.
Our two days on the tour was fun. We did have to shed our “Traveller not tourist” mindsets but I’m glad we did.
Would we do a tour again though? I hope not…