Letters From The Mekong Delta

Group of boats on the Mekong Delta

Letters From The Mekong Delta (AKA How to Milk a Cow)

Hello dear friends and family,

Hope all is well…

So when in Vietnam, one must take a Mekong Delta tour right? Well, you’d better continue reading….

To Ho Chi Min City in South Vietnam we arrived with a well-organized schedule. First, running to Hung Shop to stroll around the yummy bright new shining photography equipment. DONE!!
Second, visit the local market for souvenirs (we were out of there after 10 minutes – we just couldn’t handle the “Hi laddddddyyyy you wanna buy something? I give you good price! What you want? I have” and they keep going and going while texting on the phones at the same time, not even looking at you.

Third, to book our Mekong Delta one day tour

Upon arriving I’ve already known those trips were very touristic. Running from one place to the other and so on, so I’d already expected some souvenir shopping etc. but nothing could have prepared me to how much tipping-oriented they really were.
First thing in the morning we arrived to the lobby at 7.30 AM with our hats and bottles of water and started waiting for the pickup… 10 minutes…. 20 minutes…. 45 minutes…. hurrah!!! the pickup finally arrived- a taxi! Yes, we were picked up by a taxi and taken to the main office about three blocks away. Well, since we were the last ones to arrive, the shuttle bus was already full so we had to squeeze ourselves into the only empty seats (with no leg room whatsoever BTW).

On the bus we had to write our names and mobile phone numbers and we were told at least 5 times to be careful not to get lost and to make sure we had our guide’s mobile number, or otherwise we’d be left in the Mekong Delta. Five times!!! A bit unnerving I would say…

First Stop – Shopping at the Bonsai Garden- a small Bonsai Garden accompanied by a very expensive souvenir shop and a coffee shop. Again we were told about 3 times that this was a good place to buy something (even just some coffee) so we’d have some small bills for tipping.
Off we went to our Second Stop where we were herded to the boat (not before mentioning how we should buy the traditional hats from the local lady on the pier and maybe some water because apparently our caps were not as good as the local hats).

Third Stop – The unicorn island, there we were to visit a honey factory. The “factory” was in fact a couple of bee-hives and we were seated on long benches in order to get a chance to taste the local tea with some honey as well as local treats such as excellent dried fruits and some banana Saki. It was quite interesting but again with the mantra “please don’t forget to buy some honey and treats and to tip the local singers!!!

From there – off we went to the rowing boats where two local rowers were assigned to row a boat with the milking cows, sorry- tourists that is. On the way to the river there was again a one-in-a-life-time opportunity to buy some very unique and local souvenirs. The experience was nice, especially the pictures I got from it BUT you follow all the other boats and see the boats that have just dropped off the cows (tourists) return to the starting point, so don’t expect any authentic experience but rather a rowing factory. I do have to mention that a couple of well-known American movies were running in my head and I could almost see those soldiers crossing the Mekong holding the weapons up above their heads… Here were Charlie Sheen (Platoon) or Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando (Apocalypse Now) peeping at us from their hiding place in the thick jungle. After we were dropped back at our boat, we gave our nice rowers a generous tip and after a minute I could feel someone pulling my arm – it was the rowing lady in the next boat just making sure that I indeed tipped my rower….

Then it was lunch time – included in our Mekong Delta one day trip. My partner and I chose the vegetarian option and ate some rice and a really itsy bitsy sample of vegetables. The guide of course mentioned about 4 times (he really did) that lunch is very limited in size and it might not satisfy our huge “Western appetite” and so we could order (with our own money) whatever we wanted (and don’t forget to tip the waiters!). The options were all kinds of animals we usually do not eat and of course – a live snake – to be headed in front of us, drained from its blood and have the option of drinking the warm blood on the spot- good for the bananas you know (if it  doesn’t ring any bells you really SHOULD read my Hoi An cooking class letter)

Well that was the end of it. After taking a motorboat back to our original boat, the cows (us) were driven back to our hotels after a fun day full of adventures (and tipping of course).

man and woman rowing a boat in Mekong Delta

Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of the hard work all the people involved in the above adventures do. I always tip and I always try and treat people with kindness and think about how I would like to be treated. However, this Mekong Delta tour was extremely touristy and the guide kept repeating his tipping mantra and in almost every place we were taken, we were asked (almost forced) to buy something, it was just a bit too much. I do not regret taking a tour to the Mekong Delta since in my opinion, if you happen to come all the way to the South of Vietnam you need to visit it! But here is a tip for you (free of charge  😉 ) if you can afford it, try taking a private tour and let them know what interests you or if you have more time, spend a couple of days there. I would sum up my Mekong Delta one day tour in the words of  my dear aunt Rozy, who likes to say – “an adventure indeed”.

Sweet dreams (and don’t forget to tip)

Maya

For more Travel Stories check my adventures in Sapa,  Halong Bay or Hanoi!

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The boats of the Mekong Delta day trips

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