Xin chào Mekong Delta
South of Saigon is a region of Vietnam called the Mekong Delta, or the Rice bowl (of the world). An enormous percentage of the worlds rice is produced in this region and because of this it is a very important economic area for Vietnam.
I’m usually not a fan of tours, they don’t give you enough time to explore the local flavour of villages – and they always feel rushed, there is never time to just sit and watch at a market – or explore a back alley… But when I’m travelling on my own, and I have a very short period of time, it’s not a terrible way to go. So, I booked into a two-day one night tour of the Mekong delta, and early on Tuesday morning I got up and head out with a busload of tourists from all around the globe.
We drove out of Saigon, stopping at an art gallery where they make sparkling shell paintings, by shaping the shells of ducks into different shapes and then buffing them until they sparkle, they create some pretty spectacular pieces of art and ceramics. But, I wasn’t in the mood to buy – it’s pointless to buy these things at the moment, when we are already going to be over our weight limit if we ever leave Indonesia.
We then drove on to Mekong city where we were transferred to My Tho by a long boat and got to see a lot of the daily action taking place on the Mekong river, seeing lots of different islands and fish farms.We stopped at one island – where we got to try coconut candy freshly made, it was delicious. We watched as the women shaved, boiled, thickened and set the candy as we munched and chewed on soft warm pieces fresh from the setting tray. We also had the chance to try rice wine, banana wine, pineapple whisky and snake whisky. snake whisky is a strong alcohol which is filled with snakes who die in it, I drank one that also had a crow in it – it was very strange, and very strong. The fiery poison of a snake gives the alcohol a hot biting flavour that burns your eyes and your throat.
We then moved on to an orchid garden on Unicorn Island, where we were given some of thee worlds most decrepit bicycles which we rode around the island. Some kids tried repeatedly to steal my bag – but they were terrible thieves, coming up beside me on their bikes and trying to unzip my bag – but very badly. They laughed at me and said Xin chào! (Hello in Vietnamese) and then proceeded to attempt to rob me. I laughed at them, because they really were terrible at it, and rode away. I rode around with some new friends from Guatemala, Holland and Germany and we stopped for a beer at a little street stall before heading back to the orchid garden for lunch, of another mystery meat.
We then transferred to little rowing boats through a little canal in Ben Tre, where you we really got to experience what its like to live in the Mekong delta, carefully navigating the thin canal that is busy with many rowing boats in water where there are small crocodiles, waiting for a foot or a hand to slip under the surface. When we got to the little village we ate fresh fruit and tea and listened to some of the worst ‘traditional’ music that I had ever heard. We then walked through the jungle to get to a bee farm, where we had a chance to try honey tea and I held the bees in my hands much to the horror of most of the tourists I was travelling with.
There are a lot of snakes in this part of Mekong Delta, and I was brave enough to let them wrap a giant one around my neck. I’ve never held a large snake before – and the warm soft solid body of the snake was incredible, you can feel it move under your hand, slowly but with so much power it makes your breath catch in your throat a little.
We then rode back to My Tho where we split into two groups, half returned to Saigon and the rest of us boarded a ferry and did the two-hour journey up the Mekong to Can Tho, the largest city in the region. We were on the boat as the sun went down, splashing pink across the sky and the city lit up for us, pink and purple lights sparkled across the horizon as the fishing boats chugged out into the ocean for their night-time catch…
After an exhausting sweaty day, we trekked through the village to the hotel where most of the tourists where staying and I hopped into a taxi to get transferred another hour away to a little village for my homestay.
Barefoot, stained and snaked and soft… off on another adventure.