What a culturally immersing day! After spending a couple of weeks either on beaches or in Ho Chi Minh city, the Mekong Delta tour was ideal for getting us our last proper taste of Vietnamese culture before setting off to Thailand.
I’ve been trying to involve myself in the culture of each country so far. Instead of just walking around or sitting on beautiful beaches, I’ve been eating the local food, learning about the history, going to temple events, listening to traditional music and plan to do cooking and dance classes too. I think it’s important to do those things; it will make your experience so much more fulfilling.
Our bus set off at about eight in the morning. It was fully packed and the sun was beaming. Both me and Jenny took a window seat, so I ended up having a random man sit next to me, which didn’t bother me at all… at first. But it did start bothering me when he started doing the following:
1) Listening to crap music on repeat out loud on his phone: Not just listening to it, but singing along loudly and dancing. Okay, maybe he forgot or can’t afford headphones, I told myself; I felt bad for getting annoyed at him…
2) …Until he started digging up his nose and when he found his treasure examined it at the end of his finger for a good thirty seconds to a minute. But my main concern was, where did he wipe it afterwards?
4) Then the fingernail cleaning started. Thick with black and brown dirt, he started picking his fingernails and putting the dirt god knows where.
5) Eating Durian (jackfruit) that stank like it was rotting. Eating really, really, really loudly. So loudly I could hear him chewing it over my headphones.
Bless him he was amusing. For the rest of the day me and Jenny referred to him as ‘BFF’ (best friend forever). We were so glad he came because he was just being so weird and it was so funny. But that night when we got back to our hostel I felt really sad about him and thought maybe he was lonely or maybe he had something wrong with him.
Anyway, back to the point, the Mekong Delta. Sailing down the first part of the river, with a big group of people from all over the world, I looked around fascinated to see the houses floating on the water. Banana trees, coconut trees and other tropical foliage stood out against the light brown water. That familiar dog biscuit smell (that followed around all day) was extra potent today and we later learned it was a smell linked to fish.
Hopping off at unicorn island, we made our way past locals’ houses down a beaten off road. The simple houses reminded me of those in Puerto Princesa, with their metal rooftops, manmade interior, chickens and dogs, lack of stability and washing hanging outside. And that same warming sense of community.
We all took a seat in a local café to try some fresh honey. We were actually presented with a few beehives at the entrance to the café. If I ever get ill in the future, I would love to fly back and enjoy the honey and lemon tea we were given to try here. You could tell the honey was fresh, because although it was still really sweet, it didn’t have the artificial after taste that supermarket honey does. BBF sat down beside us and seemed to be enjoying his tea more than the rest of us haha.
We then trekked down to take a ride on the wooden boat down a portion of the river. The walk down there was lovely- once again admiring the residential area and its authentic image. So many different boats queued up, it would take getting further down the river before we’d get more free space. Two locals sat either side on the wooden boat and used paddles to control it.
We were given straw hats to wear on the ride and they really do keep the sun out! It was so therapeutic gently bobbing down what felt like a large stream, in the toasty heat with nothing other than the sound of the splashing water. It felt like were on a jungle adventure. It was another one of those ‘wait, where am I? What am I doing?” moments haha. Like why am I on a random boat in a random jungle-like place in Vietnam on a Wednesday?
Once we were off the boat, we were informed that we were going to try some coconut candy. I’d never even heard of the stuff before, but now I’m clucking for some more and might have to secretly import tonnes of it back to the UK. Not only did we get to try it, but we got to watch it in the process of being made. It’s all completely natural!
The coconut gets broken up, some of the water gets taken out and the rest gets left to be used for oil. It’s then heated for certain amount of time in this giant mixer, before being rolled up, flattened, cut into squares and put into wrappers. The women doing it were obviously pros; I’ve never seen anyone wrap anything that quickly.
I probably had about six free samples, then when we went round to the store after the demonstration, there were even more free samples of the flavoured ones. Coffee, cocoa, ginger, peanut and a couple more flavours that weren’t that nice. I had one or two of each on top of the other free samples! They also sold coconut oils, coconut chap stick (which I bought as my lips dry out easily and it has worked wonders so far), coconut coconuts, coconut HEAVEN for any coconut lovers out there.
Before heading to lunch, we made our way to another part of the island to enjoy some fresh tropical fruit. Sitting down under a shelter in what felt like the middle of a rainforest, plates of different types of colourful fruit were handed out to us whilst a Vietnamese band played soothing music to us.
Bright orange jackfruit, papaya, tangy pineapple and dragon fruit were just some of the things we tried. I wasn’t a fan of the papaya or jackfruit, but the dragon fruit was so juicy. The band finished off with singing ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’ which was so cute.
Our trip finished with a simple Vietnamese lunch of rice, vegetables and tofu (or pork for the meat eaters). The dreaded BBF took a seat next to me at first. By this point he’d been playing the same song on repeat all day, even when the tour guide was talking or we were trying the coconut candy. He ended up moving-I’m not sure why, I think it was to get a better view of where we were.
After lunch we were given an hour to chill and look around the island. There were lots of fun things to do like zorbing, football tables and walking over the river on this large bit of bamboo.
They had crocodiles and alligators!! I don’t recall ever seeing any in real life before so it was really exciting, although I really don’t agree with them being kept in captivity. They had so many all climbing over each other and swimming and snapping. They move around really sneakily and cunningly, like snakes with legs.
When people were holding food over to feed them, they’d really slowly raise their heads up and really slowly open their mouths ready to pounce on their pray. Then they’d just freeze for ages. Like completely freeze- not blink, not twitch, probably not even breath. They didn’t look real, it was like they were made out of plastic.
We could have watched them for hours, but the time came to get back on the boat and then the bus and head back to the city. BBF was singing even louder and dancing even more ecstatically on the journey home, but luckily I wasn’t sat next to him this time haha.
Anyone looking to go to Vietnam and book the Mekong Delta- don’t bother looking online. If you stay in hostels or hostels they’ll organise it for you. Otherwise, almost every other building in Ho Chi Minh is an office where they organise tours. This one cost us about £7 give or take. Lunch and transport included!