The Mekong Delta : Disappointments and Diarrohea :(

My Tho Travel Blog

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Lady in 'Non La' : the traditional conical hat you will see everywhere you turn in any weather in Vietnam.

Leaving Gray and his friend to their own devices in Saigon, Mario and I are off for a two day tour of the Mekong River Delta.  The south-westerly extremity of Vietnam where the ‘Mother River’, the World’s 12th longest finally reaches its terminus after a 2,600 mile journey south.  This is something I hadn’t originally planned on doing, and a former travel pal advised me to avoid it, but “Hey, I’ve got a few days to kill so why not!”.  This will prove in so many ways to be a regrettable and ill-fated decision.

Vietnam is highly efficient tourism-centred economy these days.  As with Thailand, there is not a hotel, hostel, guesthouse or coffee shop in the land that can’t offer you some variation on tours or transportation package to do anything, and go anywhere anytime you want for the ‘right price’.

Jaing, our great guide calls for our attention at riverside.
  Travelling and adventuring couldn’t be easier.  The 1, 2 or 3 day tour packages to the Mekong Delta are popular and whilst seemingly many in variety, as ever with these setups, probably all boil down to much of a muchness.  Likewise prices will not vary hugely so don’t knock yourself out too much trying to get a super-cheaper deal when you could be better spending your time appreciating Saigon.  Mario and I sign up for a 2 days, 1 night package (that night to be a ’home stay’ with a Vietnamese family) and this comes in at about $26 each.

We board our tour coach early doors at 8.00(ish) and as we trundle out of morning-traffic choked Saigon our tour guide for the 2 days, Jaing, a child of the Delta himself (whose name appropriately means ‘River’) introduces us to our itinerary and some facts, cultural and historical, about the delta region of Vietnam.

  His English is superb, strongly American accent inflected and he will prove to be the most friendly, expressive and informative guide I have had in my journey around the world so far.  He is humorous and honest, comedically spelling out the difference for us between things referred to as ’Free’ and ’Included’ in tour packages like his.  “Lunch and dinner today will be provided for you.  These are not “free”.  Note.  They are “Included”, that’s “included”.  I.e. you have already paid us for your meals.  Note people, nothing is “free” in Vietnam!”.

The first leg of the journey is a fairly long coach ride down to the edge of the Delta region.  Trundling bus travel time unfortunately constitutes a depressing large part of your time on this particular tour trip.

  If you were foolish enough to sign up to a 1 day trip to the area I can’t imagine it boils down to much more than a return coach drive.

Having “umm’d?” and “err’d?” about which of the various trip ‘options’ to go for, despite our best efforts to avoid it, most of Day 1 of our journey boils down to little more than the usual tired sheep-like shuffle from one faux-cottage industry ‘craft’ site to another.  I kinda knew this would be the case.  We hop on a boat (nice in itself) and ride to near Dragon Island in the Lomg An or ‘Peaceful’ province of the Mekong Delta.  The river at the Delta before infinitely fragmenting into the Gulf of Thailand splits into two main branches referred to as the ‘Front’ and ‘Back’ river.

Ao Dais amidst the palm fronds.
  There are 12 provinces in the Delta region and taken as a whole it houses by a very long way the highest concentration of Vietnam’s total population.  Historically the principle trade of the region - not surprisingly - was fishing and the Delta remains full of families and whole communities of floating or island villages that attempt to survive on the sub-aquatic bounty of this great river.  Jaing though informs us of the sad but inevitable truth of the death of the Mekong fishing industry.  A combination of over-fishing and pollution mean it is an industry on its last legs (or fins I supppose?).  He states "These days a fisherman who casts his nets into the waters of the Mekong is more likely to bring up a net full of garbage than fish.
  True apparently.

Here in the middle of the ‘Front’ river we are taken to a Coconut Candy ‘factory’ where besides the waters edge women prepare and package fresh, sweet, chewy coconut candy; a big hit in Vietnam and southeast Asia generally we are told.  I try some.  Like some.  Obligingly buy some and continue to chew.  We are permitted a huge 25 mins to walk through the local village.  Pretty much a one dust-street affair this is a ridiculous way to try to experience the ‘Real Vietnam’ of course as it’s just the latest of 50 zillion single file processions of baseball cap wearing tourists to parade in a dazed fashion up and down the road in recent years.  Mario and I desperately lunge off the main thorough fair to try and get a ‘private audience’ with the island.

  Our risk on timing (we are late back) is rewarded by the beautiful site of the mesmeric white ao dai dress floating between the palm fronds, worn by two local ladies.  I cannot speak highly and often enough of this beautiful traditional form of dress.  My favourite in all of the World to date!

Other activities on the day are lunch on Turtle island, another boat trip back; a honey and sugared fruits farm; a fruit restaurant where we are treated (ever so briefly) to traditional Vietnamese Delta music and singing.  At this point my early warning immune system bells begin to hum distantly that all is not quite right somewhere Below but I try not to let this further dampen a tedious day.  We then have a pleasant, but as ever, lightening quick boat ride through the bamboo/mangrove lined watery canals of the Delta.

  We’re on these boats, wearing our ‘Non La’ conical hats for no more than 10 minutes.

The rest of the day is an absolutely torturous 3 hour coach journey to the Dekta city of Can Tho where we will stay for the night.  The traffic is incredibly bad here.  I swear at one point we barely move for 30 minutes.  It’s hot and sweaty and I am definitely beginning to feel unwell.  There’s a diverting 15 minute ferry crossing involved in the journey to Can Tho, notable for Mario and I again with our fascination with the myriad swarms of motorbikes that populate this nation like a never ending, exhaust fume spouting locust swarm of the roads.

Getting ready to depart the ferry.
  A million lights crammed on to one tiny ferry.  Engines growling away, waiting to be unleashed once more upon the far shore.

When we get to our hotel in Can Tho I am knowingly but seconds away from dire (diarrhetic) straits!  I’ll censor the worst excessive descriptive details that would be possible to note at this point in the name of public decency.  But it’s not pretty.  I take the (I now know very wise) decision to bail out of the proposed home stay night in favour of staying put at the hotel where I know cleanliness and all city facilities will be close to hand should I need them.  The last Mario hears of me before setting off himself is a resigned groan through a toilet cubicle door.  The Mekong Delta tour has not got off to a pleasant start.  It will get so much worse.

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Lady in Non La : the traditional…
Lady in 'Non La' : the traditiona…
Jaing, our great guide calls for o…
Jaing, our great guide calls for …
Ao Dais amidst the palm fronds.
Ao Dais amidst the palm fronds.
Getting ready to depart the ferry.
Getting ready to depart the ferry.
Mekong undergrowth.
Mekong undergrowth.
Conical Hat (abstract)
Conical Hat (abstract)
Mekong Boat Lady
Mekong Boat Lady
Mekong Boat Lady
Mekong Boat Lady
Mario and others board their very …
Mario and others board their very…
The motorbike throng aboard the ca…
The motorbike throng aboard the c…
My Tho
photo by: Deats