Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta

Fred was in charge of planning again today, so we went on another of Zoom’s private guided tours.  It wasn’t until the night before, when I spoke to Zoom on my cell phone, that I learned we’d be going the Mekong Delta.  Fred had no idea what we were doing!  He just knew we’d be doing something “outside the city”.  You’ve just got to love his “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” attitude.  🙂

Today, unfortunately, we hit a snag in our run of great luck with tour guides.  We met our guide and driver around 8:40am at the port and knew we had a long drive.  Everyone except me ended up sleeping for most of the way there.  The guide, who was difficult to understand, felt the need to talk for the entire three and a half hours.  He was nice enough, but clearly anxious.  He needed eye contact and constant reassurance that he was being understood.  This required extreme concentration on my part.  It was utterly exhausting and I had a headache before we got to our initial destination.

Our tour guide shows us onto the boat at the river.

We had a boat all to ourselves again.  It was another really hot and humid day, but the ride to the island wasn’t all that long and we had plenty of water.  Once on the boat, our guide had a microphone and continued to speak about the Mekong delta region via a very poor-quality audio system.  This made understanding him utterly impossible, since it sounded like one of those really awful speakers that you’d find in a drive through burger joint.  We gave up trying.  As a result, my knowledge of the things we did today is more limited than usual.  Most of what I know was looked up after the fact.

The family settles in for the ride to what our tour guide referred to as “Coconut Island”.  Fred is amused by the impossible-to-understand tour guide; the kids are not.
a view of the river as we made our way to Coconut Island
Sampans (the smaller little boats in the center of the photo) and plenty of other larger tourist cruising boats fill the area.

Once we got to Coconut Island, there were some interesting things to see, but I did feel like we were being brought from one vendor to another during much of the day.  Here’s some of what we saw.

The tour guide explains how the local honey and royal jelly is harvested from the bees.
a closeup at the honey and royal jelly products that were offered for purchase
We had a chance to try the royal jelly, which was served with hot water and a little honey to sweeten the taste.  Fred was more interested in the calamansi fruit (pictured near the middle of the right side), since he had it growing up in Manila.
Pythons are native to some areas of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam.

The kids were also introduced to a really cool python.  It was definitely a highlight of the day for them.  After a brief hesitation on both their parts, they decided to take a chance and hold it.  Neither of them could take their eyes off of it!  They both really enjoyed the experience.

Kyle cuddles up to the python.  It was love at first sight.
Kayla also took a turn with the huge snake, feeling right at home with the bulky reptile around her shoulders.

This is what the area looked like where we tried the honey and saw the snake.  It was covered, but still outdoors.

After the bee and snake encounters, we were brought to another adjacent covered area and told to sit at a table.  We were then served a selection of local fruits, such as papaya and dragonfruit, while musicians played and sang for us.

Musicians sing and play Vietnamese instruments (the Dàn nhi and the Dàn ty bà).
While listening to the music and trying not to giggle at the foreign sounds, Kayla and Kyle decide whether to tackle the mango, dragonfruit, or papaya first.

The music was really unusual.  Something about it made us want to laugh.  I can’t quite describe the sounds.  It was something that sounded quite at home in Vietnam, but not something I really expected to hear.  At the end of the session, they were playing more familiar tunes such as the hokey pokey – and even that was almost unrecognizable.  It was a unique experience.

After the music ended, we walked through what looked like a small village.  There were a few houses and some gardens and fruit trees, along with a fishing pond and a rooster and chickens.  Our tour guide continued to try and educate us about the area’s history, its people, and the local products.  We didn’t catch very much of what he said.  It was so frustrating!  I felt awful for him and for us.

Our tour guide demonstrates how to carry a bamboo yoke.  I looked it up online so I could figure out what it was.
This is one of the small houses we saw in the village area.  A lot about this area reminded me of the bayous in Louisiana and some of the poorer dwellings I’ve seen there.

Once we got to a small roadway, we waited while the tour guide made a phone call.  It wasn’t long before these guys showed up (pictured below)!  We weren’t really sure where we were going next, but it would be a fun ride getting there.  I did feel sad for the horses though; they looked like they could’ve used some water.  They did seem to be well cared for, though.  Considering that these drivers own them and depend on them for at least a portion of their living, it must be the case.

Our transportation to another area on Coconut Island was these horse-drawn carts.  Fred and I rode in the one in the front and the kids were together in the other one.  It was a bumpy ride!

We were dropped off along the roadside at a place that sold a bunch of souvenirs and drinks.  We were feeling like we were being sold to a bit too often and we didn’t buy anything at this location.

We were taken to a shop area, which we had to walk through to get to the next activity.

It was a short walk through the souvenir shop and down another pathway through a residential area to get to the sampans, which are a type of skiff used in southeast Asia.  We were offered a ride, but the lines were really long and we were getting short on time, so we opted to skip this activity.  Looking at the photos online after we got back home, I’m realizing this may have been a mistake.  We probably missed out on some seriously beautiful scenery, but there’s no rectifying it now.  No regrets, though.  We’ve done more than our share of exploring the world in these past few months.  My point is that if you’re in the area, I’d recommend not skipping the opportunity to ride through the delta in a sampan if you have the chance.

Sampans were lined up along one side of the bridge we were standing on; tourists were lined up on the other side patiently waiting in the heat and humidity for rides.
Durian, a really smelly but apparently tasty type of fruit, was being sold by a vendor on Coconut Island.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try it.  We were too short on time.

We walked another shot distance to an small coconut candy factory.  Our tour guide showed us around the place and pointed out the various processes involved in making the candy.  The process started with fresh coconuts and ended with delicious candy with various flavors added.  My family bought some of the candy with chocolate added to it.  I have an intolerance to cacao, but I take their word that it was truly delicious!

Here you can see one of the workers busy working with strips of the coconut candy.
These women were handling the final stage of the process, wrapping the coconut candy.  They are wrapped in small pieces of edible rice paper and then covered in a more decorative outer wrapping.

After buying the coconut candy, we headed back to the dock, which was a short walk away.  It was getting close to 2pm, so we were hungry.  It was definitely time for lunch.  Our guide arranged for the boat to pick us up and we headed to a restaurant.

Our tour guide awaits our boat, coming to pick us up for a late lunch.
a view of the shore and some of the boats we saw on the way to lunch
a sampan heading for a dock nearby
some colorful boats docked near the shore
the tired, hot, hungry crew, still listening to our tour guide on the poor-quality audio system
Some of the buildings are built with the changing level of the river in mind.
The restaurant seemed to be only accessible by boat and was full of people when we arrived.
Here’s a shot of one large group that took up a good portion of the outdoor seating at the restaurant.
We were seated at a large table in the corner and were soon brought tons of seafood.
I was glad for the assistance of this restaurant worker, who deboned the fish and created tasty spring rolls for us.
There was more food than we could eat. We particularly liked the sticky rice.

After our late lunch, it was time to head back to the van, since we had to travel the three and a half hours to get back to the ship in time for departure.  We got back on our little boat and were given fresh coconuts, which was a fantastic treat, given the intense heat and humidity of the day.  They were truly delicious and hit the spot.

Kyle really enjoyed the coconut water.
Fred pretends to relax in the hammock at the back of the boat. He was only there for a few minutes though. Even after a long, hot day, he can’t sit still (or recline) for that long!

The trip back was uneventful.  We were all really tired from the day’s heat and humidity.  To avoid the incessant talk of our well-meaning tour guide, we all closed our eyes and slept for the majority of the ride back.  We would’ve likely slept anyway, but it was definitely extra encouragement to crash!  It wasn’t the best day we’ve had, but looking back, we still had some incredible experiences.  I would recommend looking around for the best tour if you’re ever in the area.  I think they do vary widely in quality.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Replies to “Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta”

    1. It’s actually quite bland. It doesn’t have much of a taste at all – just a slight sweetness, but not even as sweet as melon. It’s not tangy or bitter at all.

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