Our last trip in Vietnam involved a 3 day 2 night tour of the Mekong Delta which we were really looking forward to as travelling in that region- although not impossible, is quite tricky. We had been told by our tour agent that we wouldn’t need much money as there was only a few meals to get and drinks so we figured the 477 K Dong ($22) would last us.
The first morning started with a hotel pickup. We arrived down at our designated pickup time of 7.40am and waited, and waited, 8 am came and went, as did 8.15 am. By 8.20 am we were both getting twitchy, having visions that we were abandoned in Saigon we asked our hotel to ring to find out where the bus was. Eventually at 8.40 am the bus showed up, it was an old 25 seater with nonexistent suspension and zero luggage room but the tour group was quite small at 20 people so a large but manageable size we thought.
So off we sped towards our first main stop of My Tho. En route there was a small detour to stop at Vinh Trang Pagoda where there were three massive Buddhas representing sleeping, happy and …meditative (?) The tour guide told us that if we had a photo taken in front of the Happy Buddha we would always look back on it and it would make us happy.
It is at this point I should mention some of the guys on the tour. There was a couple- who clearly had known each other for a max of three days who started drinking at our first rest stop 90 mins into the journey (10 am) and continued to get more and more hammered as the day went on. They even wanted to bring cans into the Pagoda! By the first day they had managed to insult the Irish, all of England, pale people with tattoos, people with back tattoos, the Germans… Out of the Europeans in the group it was only the french that were interacting with them on the second day. Gav and I quickly banded together with the two Irish girls, the German girl and the Canadian girl.
After the whistle stop at the pagoda (grab your photos and get back on the bus) it was onwards to My Tho for our transfer to the Dragon Boat and a cruise to some of the islands in the delta.
On the first island they had a coconut candy factory, The coconuts they use are the more mature coconuts over a yr old as they have more flesh than the young green ones that people drink. Our tour guide showed us how to prepare the coconut, extract the flesh, how the milk was made and then the cooking and packaging. Also we got to try some small samples and it was so good we got two packs- one of peanut and one of chocolate- I won’t lie to you-most of it we ate in the hotel room that evening watching Game of Thrones.
After that there was a rather pointless jaunt up and down the road on the back of a horse drawn trailer. Then for some reason we were made wait for ages but got to try some snake wine- which tasted like a young whiskey. Then it was back on the boat, here we had to wait for the couple to show up who had now added to their costume with some kimonos (the hats they acquired at the temple).They were also very drunk and all over each other- this is a no no in Vietnamese culture- hand holding is fine but performing a tonsil examination on someone with your tongue definitely isn’t.
Anyway so off we zoomed to our next stop, a bee-keeping farm with very docile bees and we got to sample some honey tea. Honey tea is a mix of honey (obviously!), pollen, lemon and hot water. It was really nice but very small and then it was followed by a sales pitch for honey, pollen and royal jelly. It was mostly the Vietnamese, Taiwanese or Indonesians who bought these.
A short walk away through a market led us to our next stop for some fresh fruit, tea and Vietnamese singing and the first obvious request for tips.
15 mins later we were on our way to a row boat to get a trip through one of the small creeks surrounded by palm on the Mekong delta back to the boat. I really enjoyed this bit as it was very relaxing but there was a very vocal request for tips at the end, we gave one of our guys what we could afford before getting off but most didn’t give anything. It made us wonder how well the money we paid for the tour was distributed. The boat that the two Irish girls were in were demanding $5 tip for the 10 min ride and threw anything less than that back at them so they ended up not giving her anything.
Then it was a quick lunch and ride back to the dock and to our hotel at Can Tho.
The following morning was an early start as we were due to leave at 6.30am to go to the Floating Market, in reality we didn’t leave until well after 7am due to someone sleeping in until 7! The floating market itself was quite interesting to see and vendors would drive up and pull along side to sell fruit and drinks. All the families lived in a floating village that was the Market and the kids work rather than going to school.
After this we went to a rice husking mill which made a variety of rice products including rice paper and noodles, I had a go at the noodle making- possible job option there.
Then we went to a fruit farm where the fine for picking the fruit was 100K Dong ($5)!
A quick cruise back to Cai Rang for lunch the group then split and most went back to HCMC while we headed on to our hotel near the border at Chau Doc.Randomly just before Chau Doc we stopped at a monastery which .up until a few years ago had a single nun living at it. They have now gone to town and built (and are still building) a massive complex complete with a cave temple tunnel in the mountain and views over the border to Cambodia.
Shortly after we arrived in our hotel. The 477K Dong we left with had been whittled down to little over 110K and we still needed to get dinner and water for the following day. That evening however we managed to get dinner for 30K Dong ($1.50) (Gav got a Banh Mi – a pate sandwich for 10K and I got a fish noodle soup for 20K) and two large bottles of water for 16K, this left us with 52K and was quite possibly the cheapest meal we would have on our trip.
The following morning we were due to be picked up at 6.30 am by a Xe Loi which is a type of cylco only used in the Mekong delta. When our drivers showed up at 7.15 am and took us the short trip to the port I can confirm that it is not at all a comfortable form of travel and also required a tip for both drivers. We ended up having to delve into our dollar reserves for this as we only had that one 50K note and both were expecting a tip so we gave them $1 each.
Though we were both really tired we were ready for our final morning of sightseeing before heading to the border. We were due to travel by row boat to see some floating fish villages where over 200 families were farming catfish, then onto see the Champa Villages in the Sarong area (the area used to be part of Cambodia), see people work in the manufacture of Sarongs and finally see a Mosque before heading for the border by speedboat.
Shortly after we departed the dock, Gav started chatting to a Dutch guy beside him and very quickly it transpired that this morning tour was not happening and we were going straight for the border as we whizzed by the places that we were supposed to see that the Dutch guy had seen the day before. We were slightly annoyed, but also slightly relieved.
After two very easy stops at the Vietnam Exit border and the Cambodian Entry border it was a steady cruise right into Phnom Pehn the capital of Cambodia!