A homestay in the Mekong Delta
20.08.2013 - 21.08.2013
The ferry dropped us off in what I would call the heart of the Delta. We were the only westerners in sight. In a town that we didn't know the name. The only thing we knew for sure was that our destination for the night was a few hours away in My Tho. We were told that there were no tuk tuks, songthaews, or taxis. The only way to get to the bus was by motorbike. Reluctantly, but with no other option we each hired a bike for $2. The men were excited to have our business. They put our day bags around their chests and put us on back. The ride was 20 minutes long. It was a very scary experience, they drove what seemed to be faster than anyone else on the road. There was no care for avoiding speed bumps and pot holes. Being on the back took every ounce of strength to hold on with the extra weight of the bags. There were times when we all wanted them to stop and take rest. We eventually made it, all covered in sweat and some of us in tears. We were dropped off at a very sketchy restaurant and were told to eat while we waited for the bus. I wouldn't dare try anything but fried rice with an egg. We waited on the side of the road with a warning from the restaurant owner to hang onto our belongings tight. There is a lot of crime down in the Delta. We jumped on the bus and there was only one seat open. We stood next to our bags and hung on tight. We had to pay for ourselves and our bags! The ticket collector on the bus grabbed a large box from the front of the bus, drug it through the passengers and placed it next to Megan. It turned out to be an old US Army ammo box, that was Megan's seat for the ride.
My Tho was a much bigger city than I had thought, with motorbikes wizzing by and boats coming in and out with their goods. Right away we got a feeling that it was not safe and we should head out the next day. But first we needed to find someone willing to give us a tour of the Mekong Delta via the Mekong River. Reception at our hotel gave us the name of a man named Mr. Chung. Mr. Chung greeted us with smiles and a couple of different itineraries we could choose from. We decided on one that would be two days on a boat tour with a homestay at his uncles home. Mr. Chung showed us a brochure of our trip which included, a visit to four islands. We were supposed to tour a rice paddy on bicycles, visit a fish farm and fish for our lunch, tour a coconut candy factory, a honey farm, see local music, and visit sacred pagodas. Followed up with a four hour boat ride to his uncles home where we would stay with his family for the night and bike around his village. The next day we would visit one of the famous floating markets after we fished in the river that morning. When we finished the tour of the river and villages we were to have a taxi waiting for us at the spot where lunch was provided. The taxi would then take us to an air-con mini bus which would drive us back to Saigon. We signed off on the tour, being assured that he, Mr. Chung would be our English speaking guide for the next two days. Extremely excited we went to sleep dreaming of the adventure to come.
We awoke to a beautiful bluebird day, ate breakfast and shuttled to the river. Mr. Chung told us that his mother was very sick and he couldn't be our guide. He quickly pawned us off on a man who didn't speak a word of English and told us the boat captain would be his wife. Disappointed but understanding we set off intending to have a great day anyway. First stop was island 1. We stopped at the honey farm, which was a square meter of honeycomb. Pretty unimpressive. But we were able to try different candies and drink 3 or 4 cups of tea. Next was the traditional music. 3 or 4 more cups of tea, fruit, and 3 songs from the villagers. Pretty unimpressive. We moved down the island to the coconut candy factory. This was cool to see as we saw the locals making a soft, chewy delight. The candies come in many different flavors, I was keen to the coca. We took a small canoe down a tiny canal, which brought us back to the Mekong where our boat was waiting for us. We motored over to the second island. A temple towered over the trees and gave us light to where a monk had once lived for 70 years. He survived on only coconut water and coconut meat. Pretty impressive. We rounded the corner and had lunch at the fish farm. The fish farm was a restaurant that had a small pond with some stinky Mekong fish. Lunch was served, a whole fish, crispy as could be, and a few soggy greens. I was under the impression that we would fish here and eat our catch, the guide didn't know that, and apparently they have never done that. Little did we know that this was the end of our day tour. Two islands instead of the four we signed on.We got back on the boat and embarked on what should have been a 4 hour ride. It took nearly 6 as the captain had to battle the fierce headwinds and strong white caps. The water was coming at us with every wave. Well aware of the fact that the locals use the river as their toilet, we pulled out the umbrellas and put on the raincoats. When we finally made it to the home stay we were a little surprised to see lunch tables sprawled around the property. This was obviously a place that many tour companies visit during the day, it was hardly what I would call a home stay. Using the bicycles that were provided we set off for the last 45 minutes of daylight. We were going to the banks to watch an epic sunset unfolding in front of us. Half way there we were turned around by a handful of snarling dogs coming our way. Back to the house it was. This is where we found out that we were not staying with Mr. Chung's uncle, in fact they didn't know him at all. Upon further investigation we found out that our captain wasn't his wife. We were sure that his mother had not been sick either. One lie after another. Determined not to let this ruin our experience we tried to make the best of what was around. Our guide assured us that we would fish the following day! But, the fish will only bite on bananas and not flies, so we were to fish the traditional way. We had a lovely meal, burnt fish and egg rolls before dozing off at 9 P.M. hoping for a better day tomorrow.
The eggs had been made an hour earlier and flies were swarming the stale bread, but we woofed down our meal, packed our bags and got ready to fish! We launched the boat and motored to a perfect looking spot with tangled Mekong grass in a back eddy. Our guide told us to fish. We exchanged glances wondering how, without a rod, line, hook, or a banana. Understanding that there was nothing for us to use except my own gear packed deep in my bag, with a time frame of 30 minutes. So far the trip had been composed of mostly lies. Disappointed and feeling completely ripped off we told our guide to continue to the floating market. We cruised the market up and back 3 times, happy to watch the locals perform their daily trades. We stopped at a place where they made rice cakes and talked with a local lady who had lived there her whole life. She was happy, old, and content. We asked her what her views on America were and she told us, they are rich. This is where the tour on the Mekong ended. We got off the boat and waited for the taxi that never showed up to pick us up. We walked a kilometer or two with all of our gear to a street stall restaurant where we were served lunch. It was 9 A.M. Our spirits were low and we were ready to get back to Saigon and erase this from our minds. We walked to a gas station and waited for our mini bus to take us back. Since we were told the bus would hold 10 people we expected that. The bus showed up and we were the last seats on a 25 passenger bus. There was no A/C and our bags were jammed below our feet. Reluctant to get on but in need of leaving we boarded and got out of there.
This is what memories are made of. We shook off the bad, kept our heads high and got ready to go back to Thailand. Ah, the land of smiles!