It was great to catch up with all the family over Christmas, but the time went too quick. On route back to Oz I decided to spent a few weeks in South East Asia. After an overnight transit through Bangkok, I arrive in Vietnam. Yeah – a new country for me!
Before I came to Vietnam I decided I really wanted to visit the Mekong Delta, and to experience some of the local culture I was especially keen to do a homestay. The first task on arriving at Ho Chi Mingh, therefore, was to organise a two day tour. It was pretty straight forward; it just involved visiting a few travel agents and as they all seemed much the same, simply signing up with the cheapest.
The first day of the trip I didn’t really enjoy :o(. It was not a great start – a bus load of grumpy people. We had sat and sat and sat and sat and sat at the pickup point, for over an hour, waiting for the tour to start. There was a pretty irate American lady at the back of the bus and at the front a Guatemalan chap, both arguing with the tour guide about the delay. As I have travelled extensively in Asia, the tardiest didn’t really bother me.
Don’t these people know we are now on Vietnamese time!!!
I didn’t enjoy the first day because I felt like a tourist being herded from one sight to the next. We were just quickly checking off each sight.
- Buddhist temple √ Check;
- A boat ride on the Mekong Delta between purpose built huts to extract money from us √ Check;
- Hold giant python √ Check;
- Coconut candy factory √ Check;
- Hold a bee hive √ Check;
- Locals trying to sell tacky, locally made souvenirs to the foreigners √ Check;
- A disappointing 5 minute ride on a rowing boat √ Check;
- Listen to traditional folk singing (hmmm if you can call a Vietnamese rendition of “If you are happy and you know it clap your hands” traditional) √ Check.
This wasn’t quite the fantasy I had conjured in my mind about the Mekong Delta.
At the end of the first day on the Mekong Delta, we were herded back on to the mini-bus and headed off to our homestay. After about a 30 minute drive, four of us were dropped off on the side of a busy road, with no clue where we were. We were surrounded by lushest green jungle and standing opposite half-built apartments. Gulp!!!! I was feeling slightly concerned about our homestay as we head towards the derelict buildings, dodging the hundreds of motorbikes to cross the road.
A small voice inside by head was screaming, where the hell are we staying?
I felt a bit relieved when a man on a motorcycle appeared, but there were 5 of us and only one bike. Our guide sent the two other tourists on the back of the motorcycle, and then there was only Ian and I. It was now dusk and the light was fading fast, so I was glad when two more motorcycles appeared – even though we were heading into the unknown.
I was starting to feeling happier. Even though I am a tourist, I hate feeling like one and enjoy getting off the beaten track. 15 minutes on the back of the motorcycle and I was dropped next to the cow shed. My rider zoomed off to pick-up our guide leaving me on my tod, in the dark and goodness where. There was no sign of Ian. My nervousness started to return as I waited, so I tried to preoccupy myself with the cows. About 5 minutes later Ian finally appeared. Now there were 2 of us standing in the middle of nowhere. After another 10 minutes our guide finally appeared and we set off walking.
It was another 30 minutes walking to our homestay. A man on a motorbike followed us, using the bike’s beam to light our path. In the dim light I could make out some houses, more jungle and a stream. I just thought to myself how beautiful this would have looked during the light of day. Ian was not impressed that the bus hadn’t dropped us off right outside the homestay, but I had enjoyed our mini adventure – to me this is what traveling is all about.
On reaching our home for the night, dinner was ready. We sat down with the other 2 tourists, plus a young local boy and lady who wanted to practice their English. The evening meal consisted of egg pancake, grilled fish, lettuce and rice paper, to make our own fresh spring rolls. We all chatted for awhile, but still suffering from jet lag it was not a late night.
I have always been lucky with all my homestays and this one was no exception. Our bedroom, upgraded to the family room, was made from palm leaves. It was very basic, but clean. I was also impressed to see our bed had a mozzie net and it was in pretty good condition with no gaping holes. Before coming to Vietnam we had read about all the nasty diseases; malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever. The Mekong Delta seemed the perfect breeding ground for the disease riddled mozzies, so Ian and I were well prepared with trousers and long sleeves and armed with DEET. However, fortunately only one horrid mozzie was spotted the whole trip.
The pièce de résistance of our homestay was the ensuite bathroom, I especially liked the designer waterproofing walls.
The day did not start to well, but the homestay made my trip to the Mekong Delta worthwhile. What will tomorrow bring?
Info – It is very easy and cheap to organise Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Mingh City. There are heaps of tour companies, so shop around. It cost me $27 USD per person (including food), but excluding the homestay it’s only $20 USD. You can pay in American Dollars or Vietnamese Dong.
My biggest advice is confirm upfront what is actually included in the tour, for example meals, entrance fees, etc. I knew from the offset that I wanted a homestay, so I made sure it was included. It is quite frustrating, but I found in Vietnam you never quite get want you expected and there are always additional fees added. Grrr!!!!