My Vietnam experience has been very different from the rest of my travels so far. I’m only staying in the country a week (unfortunately) and I am doing almost everything with prepackaged tours. Up until now, I’ve done most things on my own. There’s pros and cons to each, but it’s certainly been nice to relax a bit and not worry about transportation, accommodation, or lifting a spoon to shovel food into my mouth. For a few days/a week, traveling with guided tours can be nice. Any longer than that and I’m pretty sure I would snap and flee into the jungle for some solace.
The first tour I went on was a two day trip around the Mekong Delta. While this was something I already had an interest in doing, the trip was made better by the fact that my good friend Paula, whom I met while teaching in South Korea, was able to join me for it. Yay for seeing old friends in new places!
We booked the tour through a company called The Sinh Tourist. The trip started with us meeting at the not-so-nice time of 6:45 at the company office. Luckily, it was a block and a half from my guesthouse, so I got to maximize my sleep time. Once everybody was there we set off on our adventure!
The first stop was the Ben Tre province, where we boarded a boat and set off down one of the branches of the Mekong River. The scenery was extremely urban at first, but soon we found ourselves turning down a muddy canal lined with lush jungle vegetation and locals paddling their tiny boats. It was surprising how quickly the city disappeared and the rural communities started.
A moored boat and a contraption used to string fishing nets across the river (I think).
Either that or a net for a sick game of water volleyball.
We sat down and enjoyed a nice glass of tea infused with some magical nectar and listened to a local musical performance. I took two things away from the experience. First, I really liked that honey tea drink. Second, I really don’t like Vietnamese music. Ouch.
After our ears stopped bleeding, we got in a boat and journeyed on towards our next stop. This was also right up my alley, since we visited a group of people who make chewy coconut candy. Fantastic! Paula wasn’t as thrilled since she doesn’t like coconut. More for me =)
This coconut was viciously slain only moments before…
The next leg of the trip was quite fun. In groups of four, we clambered into little canoe thingies, strapped Vietnamese nón lás (conical rice hats) onto our sweaty pates, and let our local navigators propel us through the winding waterways. Each of us tried our hand at rowing, but in the end we let the boat driver do most of the work.
Lunch came next. We all sat around tables as staff prepared a tasty spread of elephant ear fish spring rolls (AWESOME), a tasty shrimp and veggie soup, and a chicken dish. Despite the sketchy appearance of the fish, it was a nice meal.
Paula had some trouble with the fact that it was staring at her beforehand, but once meat was separated from sightless eyes she was able to enjoy it.
We pressed on through more winding waterways and passed all manner of craft. From the small canoes paddled by a single, smiling lady to the massive transports that somehow managed to squeeze through the waterways while other boats hugged the shore; it was interesting to observe the flow of a community where most people get around via waterways instead of roads.
We made it back to our bus and drove for a while until we reached Can Tho. Our hotel was a four star beast, set quite a ways out of town. I was excited, since that usually means it will be quiet. Sadly, this wasn’t to be the case, since the owners also decided to incorporate a karaoke hall into the design. Instead of falling asleep to relative silence, I resorted to drowning out the caterwauling of drunken Vietnamese tourists with my custom lullaby of Five Finger Death Punch. It worked.
Despite the obnoxious nightly soundtrack, the hotel was very nice. The room was fantastic and dinner was an eye-popping spread that set my jaws a-slaverin’ in seconds.
The next day we went to my favorite part of the tour: the Cai Rang floating market. Unlike floating markets I’ve been to in other countries, this one lived entirely up to its name. Most others are simple docks which boats pull up to and people can walk along and peruse their wares. This one took place entirely on the river. There were no walkways to speak of. Instead, a huge patch of the river turns into a chaotic maelstrom of boats zipping this way and that.
Big ‘supermarket’ boats with a variety of goods float along while smaller ones with a small selection will come chugging at you, careen into the side of your boat and latch on with a hook while the seller holds up whatever they’ve got to offer for curious eyes. Many boats had bamboo poles waving in the air with their selection tied to the tops.
It was chaotic, frantic, novel, and awesome. I sure wouldn’t want to drive a boat through the market, but riding along on one was a great experience.
The last part of the trip took us to a fruit garden. There, we saw mangoes, dragonfruit, papayas, bananas, jackfruit, and many more tasty tropical delights. Of course, my favorite part came after we wandered through the gardens when staff brought a pleasant variety of tasties out for us to gorge ourselves on. I didn’t have any qualms about obliging…