One of many tourist attractions accessible from Ho Chi Minh City is the Mekong Delta; a region of Vietnam covering around 39,000 square kilometres and the place where the Mekong River reaches the ocean.
I’d heard the Mekong had views to rival even the Rochdale canal so I decided on a two day, one night tour of the river to see what it was all about. I arrived at the travel agency at 8am sharp, slightly hungover with a banh mi (the best sandwich ever, may I add) in hand only to wait around for another half an hour until the coach and driver decided to show up.
I shouldn’t complain though. Two of the lads I met on the tour later told me that the coach hadn’t even bothered to pick them up, meaning they had to get a minibus by themselves to the meeting point at the river. A minor inconvenience, I imagine.
The first day consisted of a chilled long boat ride and lots of stop offs along the river to see how things such as honey and coconut candy were made. These were, as expected, essentially sales pitches as we were given plenty of free samples and then presented with a load of products for sale. Sadly, I don’t like honey and the coconut candy tasted of iron, so there was no purchase from me.
I did, however, see a Japanese bloke buying six bottles of honey. On the very rare occasion I do use honey, it’s to stir into porridge and a bottle tends to crystallise before I even come close to finishing it so what he was planning on eating I do not know.
There was also a very bizarre moment when we were given some fruit and a group of around six Vietnamese women came out and sang “If You’re Happy And You Know It” to us whilst we ate. I have absolutely no idea what the reasoning was behind this, but I chucked a few dong into their tip box anyway.
The “Fun” Part (AKA…where it all went tits up for me)
When I had booked the tour, I had decided to opt for the home stay as my accommodation for the night instead of the hotel. I thought it would be pretty cool to get a feel for how people live on the Mekong Delta instead of staying in a hotel as, let’s be honest, you can do that anywhere.
The three of us who opted for home stay were transported via motorbike to our accommodation for the night as the coach proceeded to take the rest of the party to the hotel. I was surprised at just how good the home stay was, as I had a private room with a super comfortable double bed and my own bathroom. Sometimes it pays to take a gamble!
Upon arrival we were told to ensure we were covered in insect repellent as the mosquitoes by the river were rampant. Guess what I forgot to pack? After attempting to eat my dinner and failing because I was a meal in myself for the insects, I borrowed a bicycle and rode to the market around 300 metres up the road to find myself some repellant.
Now, bear in mind I was in a village in rural Vietnam which probably doesn’t see all that many English men. As they understandably didn’t speak any English and due to the fact my Vietnamese isn’t quite up to scratch, what followed was the most surreal game of charades ever seen.
There I was, in the middle of the shop trying (and failing miserably) to use Google to translate “mosquito spray” when I realised that my only option would be to act it out. I started flapping my arms up and down wildly to mimic a mosquito and pretended to bite my arm and, finally, apply lotion to it. Safe to say they didn’t have a bloody clue what I was doing and even invited a few of their friends over to laugh at the white man doing a silly dance in the middle of their shop.
Eventually I gave up and tried to walk away with what little dignity I had left. Much to my relief/embarrassment, I discovered that the lady in the shop a couple of yards away understood English and managed to sell me some repellant. Better late than never!
An early night was on the cards as we had a 6am wakeup call the next morning. My wakeup call, however, came much earlier than that.
At around 2am I thought I could hear something tapping on my mosquito net that was hanging over my bed. I presumed it was just the fan causing it to ripple, but turned the light on anyway out of curiosity.
No sooner had I turned the light on when something flew right across my face. I leapt out of bed and saw what I can only describe as a bloody big bat inside my mosquito net. How it got there; I have absolutely no idea. I was just as clueless as to how I was going to get it out.
I finally decided to prop the door open whilst holding up the mosquito net to allow it to eventually find its way out. Now, I know bats are blind but this one seemed blinder than blind, as it kept going back to the other side of the net and completely neglecting the side I was holding open. After a very traumatic 15 minutes, my unwanted guest eventually decided he’d had enough fun tormenting me and decided to leave before he outstayed his welcome any longer.
The next morning involved a very early trip to the floating markets. I’d like to tell you about that but as the picture below shows, my view was slightly impaired.
By far the most interesting part of the second day was a conversation me and some friends had with a rice farmer who had a really interesting back story. It turned out he had worked in Colorado in the 60s as a helicopter technician until he was imprisoned. He was pretty vague when it came to explaining the last part, but it was nice to speak to a real person who wasn’t out for a tip or trying to make a sale.
It was around this time (11am) that our tour guide decided it was high time the rice wine was cracked out and he proceeded to get royally pissed with half the day still to go. Why not? I can imagine this would be rather frustrating for the people who were in a rush to get back to Ho Chi Minh City, as he decided that timekeeping was no longer much of an issue. I suppose I would have minded if he hadn’t have invited me to partake in his drinking session. It would have been very rude of me to turn my back on the local culture…wouldn’t it?
We arrived back in Ho Chi Minh only a very respectable two hours late with a fair few disgruntled punters on the bus – none more so than one particular guy who had to catch a flight back home to Denmark. I made plans with the people I’d met to catch up later that night: a tradition that was to last for the rest of my time in Ho Chi Minh.