The Mekong Trail
Trip Start Dec 30, 2010
54Trip End May 05, 2011
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There wasn't a huge amount to see along the way to be honest, as the river was very wide and the scenery was rather samey, but all the same I love boat trips for the feeling of the wind in my hair, and it didn't disappoint. I spent most of the time on deck listening to my mp3 player and reading a little
Border control was relatively straightforward, and we had time for some lunch while they checked everyone's paperwork. All clear, we continued to Chau Doc. We hadn't booked a hotel, but since we were arriving in the early afternoon we hadn't thought it would be a problem... We ended up perched with our bags on a teeny tiny pedal rickshaw going from guesthouse to guesthouse, all of which were full. It didn't help that neither of us had a proper Vietnam guidebook: between us all we had were two copies of the infinitely inferior 'Greater Mekong' one, which doesn't even include a map of the Mekong Delta. Eventually we found an air conditioned room with a TV, which though unnecessary was a nice luxury as it was a really hot day, and we were able to catch up with news from the Middle East. Chau Doc was nowhere near as tourist-friendly as I expected. I suppose most people come through on already-organised tours. As it was we found one travel agency and had little choice but to book with them. $41 for a 3 day tour ending in Saigon seemed like a good deal.
I wasn't expecting much from the tour, it was bound to be touristy, but even so I was still disappointed. It's bound to be hard to go from travelling so independently to being tied into a tour I suppose. After our early start that morning we had to get up even earlier the next day, then hung around for ages, first at our hotel then at another in town with a whole other group of people, with no information, before we were all taken along to a nearby village
It must have only been about 8am when we were ushered back onto the boats then transferred to a minibus which drove us for about 3-4hours to Cantho, another large town in the Delta. Roland, a German girl called Anne, and I were joined by two Danish girls, Linnea and Heidi, and taken by boat to our "homestay" which wasn't really a homestay so much as a bed and breakfast. We ate lunch there, which was a nice plain vegetable soup and rice, then were given free time/siesta during which I chatted to Anne and read a bit. At 4pm our 'guide' met us and took us into the surrounding fields, where he pointed out such exotica as green beans of varying lengths. (Ok he also showed us rice, papaya and some other more unusual things). It can't have been 4.30pm by the time he'd walked us round to a crossroads: "right is home, left is village", and we decided to walk through the village. It was actually really nice to walk through: someone remarked that villages here are built along one long street rather than in sort of clusters like at home, which I thought was an interesting observation. Our walk was slow and punctuated with many hellos and photos. Roland was offered lots of rice wine. As dusk began to fall the dogs came out, which was interesting but luckily I had some wonderful bodyguards:-)
By the time we returned to the homestay it was dinnertime already, and we were joined by some Australian women and a couple of Hungarian men who didn't speak much English
As with everything on this tour, it was so badly organised. Getting to the village was quite fun as we had to cross the river by small boat in which everyone stands trying to maintain their balance. It's like tubesurfing but much more pleasant than the rush hour commute in London! The market was nothing special and we went on to the school, where the children were busy sweeping the playground clear of leaves which had accumulated over the weekend. We were supposed to be there to hear them sing the national anthem which they do at the start of every day, but time was ticking on and we were meant to be meeting another tour group at 7am and had to get back to the homestay, have breakfast then take a boat before that. We didn't even leave the school until nearly 7am, then had to throw our stuff and ourselves onto the boats and had breakfast on the water.
Needless to say, when we got the the floating market where we were meant to be meeting the other group, they were running late, so we waited for an hour or more before being transferred onto a huge tourist vessel to spend yet more time looking at the market we'd just spent so long in
The next day I felt really unwell, with an upset stomach, which I think was either side effects of Malarone, the antimalaria pill I'm on, or it was a reaction to the soup I'd eaten the previous day which I'm sure was made with pork stock. Either way I was miserable all day, not helped at all by the heat. Illness is never half as bad when you have company though. The group that day was huge, but thankfully we weren't obliged to wear the same stickers everyone else had on. I can't actually remember everything we did but it included a coconut candy factory and some traditional music.
We arrived into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) at about 4.30pm, earlier than expected. I wasn't really up to traipsing round from hotel to hotel (even though I had a personal sherpa), so we took the first available room we found, which turns out to be a good deal I think. It's very noisy and the bathroom is miniscule, but we have a TV, air con, fridge, kettle and even a computer with internet in the room