- Travel Topics
With a couple days to spare in Ho Chi Minh City, Vicky and I thought it would be worthwhile to do a two day one night excursion to the Mekong Delta in the South of Vietnam. We knew how this was going to go:
Poorly planned and executed, this would end up being yet another “too good to be true” cheap tour, which over-offered and under-delivered Yet, faced with no better alternatives – we reluctantly paid the $50 and hoped that we’d make friends with another foreigner, with whom we could joke.
We arrived out front of the tourist agency around 7:45 AM as instructed for our 8AM bus. Somewhat unexpectedly, at 8AM a lady came and motioned our group to follow her – perhaps we’d actually leave on time?
We made our way around the corner and stood there for quite awhile as several Vietnamese guides conversed, shuffled people around, pulled random couples out of the crowd and threw them into various buses. They had a worried look on their faces, as if they don’t do this same exact tour everyday and weren’t sure how it was going to go. We stood there for about 20 minutes, with the only notable occurrence being the 10 or so people who approached us trying to sell sunglasses, despite the fact that both Vicky and I were already wearing sunglasses. While I admired their persistence I was dumbfounded by their logic. A typical conversation went like this.
Seller: Would you like some sunglasses?
Me: Nope, we already have some.
Seller: How much did you pay for those?
Seller: I’ll give you these for $2
Me: Blank stare…
Before long the only sure fire way to end the conversation was to say that they had been given to me for free. I received a few peculiar looks, perhaps wondering whether or not it was prudent to offer to pay me to take a pair, but in the end no one took the bait.
The Mekong Delta is about 4 hours away, but not without a pit stop at a random store, which sells rather overpriced and strange artwork. Would I like a 1,000 pound smiling Buddha made entirely of wood for $4k? Sure, just put it in my backpack and we’ll be on our way.
We stood for another 30 minutes, admiring the Australians for their height. I’m convinced that there is a disproportionate amount of freakishly tall males in South East Asia. Perhaps being above average height in their own country wasn’t sufficient, they had to go where they were giants.
A few more hours and the real fun began, starting with a short canoe ride down one of the rivers. I remember it distinctly being…hot. Yep, that’s it – no curious smells to rattle on about, nor strange reptilian sightings, just hot, sticky, and sweaty. But it was interesting, in it’s own hot, sticky, sweaty way.
We made our way to the coconut factory. Not so much of a factory actually as a place where people were doing things with coconuts. But what does one call that? Anywho, coconut water is all the rage nowadays and these guys are practically swimming in it (and are not too keen on sharing, but they will sell it to you for a buck). What really impressed me though was the coconut candy. I don’t often come close to actually buying anything from these tours but this stuff was delicious. You have to love seeing the process of making/wrapping it for what it is. There’s nothing like putting something in your mouth after three to four Vietnamese laborers get their hands on it I always say!
After some more confusion and wondering where our guide went we stopped for a quick lunch. Somewhat seamlessly and without any sort of direction lunch turned into free time on the island. It wasn’t quite clear how long we had until we had to be back on our boat, which made it rather awkward to do anything or go anywhere at all. Oh well, there’s nothing like lingering around and doing nothing on your paid tour now is there?
When all was said and done we waited for another 40 minutes for our next bus. We were being taken to the largest city in the Mekong Delta. We assumed that this was about 20 minutes away, but actually it was more like 3 hours (which the tour description failed to mention ahead of time). At least the bus had AC.
If there is one thing that is quite complicated about these tours it’s that people have very different itineraries. For example, some people might be staying overnight in a homestay while others are at a hotel. Some people might be doing 3 days while others are only doing 2, or 1. This makes it awfully confusing for the guides as they don’t organize people by these characteristics and have to constantly ask questions and keep track of who is doing what, while everyone is on the same bus. Moreover, everyone books at different tour agencies, which then outsource to the companies that actually do the tours (which, as you can imagine, are considerably smaller in number).
I remember quite clearly our tour guide asked if anyone had booked a homestay for the night or if they were doing the mini-hotel. I wasn’t sure why he kept referring to it as a mini-hotel but it couldn’t be good news. No one responded yes to the homestay. A few hours later after a sheet had been passed around it was discovered that three couples had written down that they were in fact doing homestays. As you can imagine, the tour guide was quite befuddled and was wondering why no one had spoken up earlier.
How could this be?
One French gentleman wasn’t sure if they had booked a homestay or not.
Another older German couple wasn’t sure what a homestay was.
And another young couple said they had not heard the question the first time around.
What we had here was quite an anomaly. It was one of the very rare cases where the Vietnamese tour guide spoke better English than the European tourists.
“But surely, you must know what you booked?” The tour guide’s frustrations were mounting.
The tour guide jokingly said that if he couldn’t figure out what everyone’s itinerary was, they would have to sleep in the park. His joke was not clearly understood. An uproar ensued. Vicky and I were content to sit back and watch the drama unfold, confident that we had chosen the mini-hotel stay and knew where to go. At one point we stopped in front of a mattress store and one passenger jokingly asked if anyone was doing a “storestay”. When we finally arrived in the city I wondered if we’d see everyone tomorrow. I bid the French man adieu and wished him the best of luck in the park.