Mekong Delta River Run

The Mekong river begins in China and runs through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. So an opportunity to ride down the Mekong on a boat for one full day was definitely on my mind. (I don’t know why we didn’t do this last time because I think my father would’ve loved it). But yes, there are many tours that take you down the Mekong; our local friends advised us to go to The Sinh Tourist -apparently the oldest tour operators in town and we were set.

We started from their office at Ho Chi Minh City around 8am and looked like a whole lot of people had signed up for the same. There were four buses and we drove out of the city to a place called My Tho where we were transferred to a boat as we rode down the river…

We stopped at the Coconut farm where they make coconut candy, paper, cookies and even make-up products. They had maximised their usage of coconut raw materials to their advantage and was even known as coconut village.

Lunch time in coconut village was equally interesting as they prepared spring rolls wrapped in coconut paper and served vegetables, fish, pork and rice. It was a pretty good lunch. This island village also farms honey so they gave us honey tea after some hike around the village.

Then we went for a buggy ride in the village followed by a cultural program with local artists singing Vietnamese folk songs where they also served us the different tropical fruits.

But they saved the best for the last as we got on smaller boats whose captains were mainly the women folk as they paddled through the green palms and river alleys as if we were in some spy movie. The river run was long for her perhaps to row the entire stretch so she turned the engine and the sights and the sounds made it seem like we were in the scene of some James Bond movie.

One of the things to be appreciated is how they are doing tourism in this country. Giving a peek of their lives to tourists who wants to go to Mekong delta, they have promoted their coconuts products, their local villagers who prepared lunch and the folk singers who sang for us. And these women who now gave rides to tourists in their boats. The best part again is how when we ran across women who had already completed their trip in the river, they would flash some cash suggesting “don’t forget to tip”.

It was the women helping women because I have noticed the Vietnamese people don’t necessarily ask for tip directly. So to have your friends aide you in coaxing your customers to give you some pocket change is brilliant. And who would not want to give a few thousand dong after that surreal Mekong delta river run…

Seventy-Two Hours in Saigon

Visa on Arrival in Saigon (compared to Hanoi) was a crowded affair.
The lines were long and people had to wait for half-an-hour or more to get their visas processed but it is worth the wait.
After stepping outside, I used Uber for the first time (it was downloaded in my phone for long but I had not used it yet). Proved to be quite handy in a foreign country as the driver knew exactly where to drop us off.

Day 1: Saigon is the most popular city in Vietnam and hosts about 10 million people and 8.5 million motorbikes. It is amazing how everyone is in tune with the traffic and its rules. The infamous Notre Dame Cathedral was under construction but the post office was still very grand with Ho Chi Minh looking down on us.

The best part about today was walking around the city. Walked about 13 kilometres getting easily distracted by its wondrous sights and sounds. They say it is only when you walk -you get to smell, see and taste the place.

When we got tired, we sat around turtle park and ate the street food. It looked like a favourite hangout for locals, and the youngsters seemed to be enjoying themselves too.

One of the best things about Vietnam is the food in general. There is so much to eat and if you don’t know what to order, you might just miss on the many varieties of food. But when you have local friends, you actually get to eat the best that the city has to offer.

Day 2:
Mekong Delta River Run is a popular tourist attraction and I don’t know why we didn’t do this last time around. Probably has to do with the limited time in Ho Chi Minh City but one must get on a boat and ride down the Mekong Delta. It almost feels like you are in some Bond movie cruising down the palm trees with local mafia waiting for you in the other end.

Day 3: The first half was spent at the Cu Chi Tunnels. These tunnels were used by the Vietnamese to fight American soldiers. They have basically perfected the usage of tunnels in guerrilla warfare as the Americans had no idea where these guys were coming and ambushing and killing them. Our guide was a young girl who had just graduated college and was really good with the information she was telling us. I will write more about her when I do a separate post on this experience.

Towards evening we walked in the Nguyen Hue Walking Street near the People’s Committee Building with the Ho Chi Minh statue. It was apparently a canal during colonial times which has now become a pavement and a wonderful public space. Families, couples, friends and travellers all seem to relish the mood of the street with many vendors and street artists doing their own businesses. There is a mixture of both the old and the new as everyone at one point notices the old building where American journalists apparently used to live, and next the high rise building next to it.

Back in Vietnam

The last time I was in Vietnam
I knew I wanted to wanted to come back.

We had traveled from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh
and spent a night in Hoi An -Danang.

But it was too short a time
to get to know the country.

So I am back here
traveling, learning and experiencing.

As I make way
from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi

Immersing in the local culture
and enjoying the Vietnamese experience.