Whilst staying in Ho Chi Minh City, Harmony and I wanted to take a trip to the Mekong Delta. It's relatively easy to organise, as most hostels have an option to do it. That's what we did anyway and it was only about £10! The company that we went with is called YTC. There were highs and lows, but I can still recommend it!
The day started with an early alarm clock, breakfast at our hostel and a short wait for someone to show us to our bus. We were one of the first few on, but it soon filled up with other people doing either a one or two day tour. The tour guide on our bus ran us through our itinerary, but didn't mention anything about a rowing boat. I was truly gutted as the boats are a staple to the Mekong Delta and it was the activity I was most looking forward to. It really dampened the mood for me, but made me overjoyed when we actually got around to doing it in the afternoon!
After a four-hour journey on bumpy roads, we arrived in Cai Be. It was a surprisingly nice village with many amazingly colourful temples. We boarded our wooden motorboat and found ourselves on one of the most important rivers in the world, as it brings trade to a lot of the continent (which is probably why the village of Cai Be is so nice). As well as that, the river also provides ample conditions for forestry (producing building materials, medicine and food) and allows for fishing. Also, the area now benefits a lot from tourism.
On our tour, we were told that we were going to visit one of the delta’s many floating markets. However, we weren’t able to properly experience it because “you have to buy in bulk, so it’s not for tourists.” Instead, we just plodded past whilst identifying which boat sells what thanks to the items they hang off of a bamboo pole. We then stopped at a traditional Mekong house. Here, they made coconut candies, rice paper and popcorn. Our big group crowded around the action, which made it hard to photograph or even see what was going on. Fortunately, I stayed at each station after the crowd moved on and could get the shots I wanted. As the natural light spilled through an open window, I snapped a portrait that I'm really happy with (top of this blog post).
When we were shown how the popcorn was made, the guide was really impressed with the technique that was being used but, honestly, the only thing interesting about it was how sand was used opposed to oil and the fact that they used rice shells for the fire. The coconut candies that we tried were flavoured with peanuts and were so nice that Harmony and I had to buy more! We had the choice of many different flavours including coffee, chocolate and toffee, but we played it save and just went for the peanut flavour again. There were about 20 sweets in a £1 pack, so they kept us going throughout the majority of the morning.
As we proceeded to leave, we had to endure a fight between two cockerels that the locals arranged and enjoyed. Our guide told us it was okay because "it’s just practice, not a real fight". Even though you have to expect to see stuff like this in Asia, nothing can prepare you for it. Saying that, the large snake trapped in a small cage, with snake skin belts draped over it, went down surprisingly well with the group. It seemed like our guide didn't stop talking about killing and cooking animals throughout the whole trip, which was seriously sickening to listen to. On that note, it was time to go to lunch…
The boat ride to the restaurant showed us just how extensive the river system is and the sheer size of some of the individual sections. To me, it seemed very maze-like and exhaustive. I was shocked that some of the houses hadn't fallen in already due to the eroded concrete pillars. Things got more peaceful as we entered an area with much more vegetation. I was getting increasingly impressed by the hand-made motorboats and thought that they could probably pass as pirate ships. We then pulled up next to some smaller boats, climbed aboard and a man starting rowing us down the river! He took us through the mangroves at a steady pace for quite some time, so we could admire the natural beauty whilst soaking in the sun. The guy rowing the boat was the perfect subject for a photo and I was happy to get a cool photo.
Lunch was pretty nice with watermelon for desert. Plus, it was included in the £10 price! Drinks were not included, but that's pretty standard with tours. Some people ate elephant fish, sushi and shrimp from the river, but Harmony and I were happy with our tofu, spring rolls and rice!
After lunch, we were free to chill out on the restaurant's hammocks whilst the 2 day-ers went on their own ride in a rowing boat. We were also free to ride a bike around the area, but we were going on the bikes soon anyway to go to our next destination – a traditional song and dance show. It was really entertaining and interesting. We were then back on the boat and heading to Cai Be for our long bus ride home.