When travelling especially if you’re in hostels you will soon realise that the free breakfast is definitely the most important meal of the day! Its where you meet everyone and no-one wants to miss out on the free breakfast!
Normally when people head towards the Mekong they’re most likely coming from HCMC and lots of travellers book tours from there. After hearing mostly bad reviews I decided to travel there by myself. After meeting yesterday (at breakfast) Meegan and I decided to team up as we both wanted to head to the Mekong to check out the extensive network of rivers in South Vietnam. After getting directions to the bus from the friendly hostel staff at Long Hostel we woke at 5am the next day to begin the adventure. Exchanging names in the taxi there, I soon figured out Meegan was soon to become my new travel buddy and guide to the workings of Vietnam!
I hadn’t actually travelled anywhere past HCMC considering my journey was just starting I didn’t know the first bus I had travelled on was considered ‘luxurious,’ maybe it was the $3.50 I paid that got me confused. After two hours, multiple stops and a Bánh Bao (steamed pork bun) we arrived alongside the magnificent Mekong. We got off at the centre in Ben Tre, still not knowing whether or where we would stay that night. After deciding that we would rather head to the markets the next morning we decided to hire bikes for the remaining time we had left (the bus left at 1pm). Considering we got there around 8am we had loads of time to venture around. Hiring the bikes for $4 for the day (quite expensive for Vietnam, but had to remember that it was the only place in Ben Tre which did rent them out). Following the road along the river, where a local tour would have taken us but we felt we could do it on our own and on more of a budget. Getting out on the bike was really fun and very relaxing, not to get to excited though because 5 minutes later I was saying that my butt hurt, and I basically couldn’t sit down properly on a seat, let alone a bike one. We had to stop as the heat was getting to us, this is where I found my favourite thing about Ben Tre…The locals.
We stopped at a tiny cafe and of course the common greeting “Xin chào” They were all laughing and looking at us in wonder, as neither language could be spoken to one another you can just imagine the hand gestures and smiles as well as the nodding that was going around. The best moment of my bike ride in Bén Tre was when I pulled out my lonely planet and although she didn’t speak English the shopkeeper’s eyes devoured the book. In the hour we were there, her eyes basically hadn’t left the pages. For me it was amazing to watch. She couldn’t read what it was about but was totally enthralled anyway, for me this is a totally familiar feeling and I loved seeing it happen to someone else. From this moment on I’ve been trying to learn more Vietnamese, just so I can hold a one minute conversation. Because I know that if someone who has no experience with my language and tries to start speaking it with me, know matter how broken, it makes my day, as it did on this day.
Another bus ride, another $3.50, and another two hours later we were dropped off at the most well known city of the Mekong Delta, Cân Tho. This bus ride was when I realised the last one was luxurious. Stinking hot, smoking, chickens under the bus and a few more people than necessary. Couldn’t believe it when Meegan said that was actually an alright trip! We booked into Hotel2, affordable and convenient and found out they had a bath!! For $6 a night I found this awesome!! Only after the shower and bath did I find out it wasn’t actually connected to any plumbing so the water just leaks onto the bathroom floor to go into the drain. Watch your clothes aren’t on the floor, as Meegans were! Another highlight were the night food markets, while walking to a restaurant we discovered it and the food they made was shockingly amazing!! We had what I call a Vietnamese pizza, made on a rice paper sheet they mix a few herbs, such as mint and chives, some egg, as well as a few other ingredients while mixing and heating the rice paper roll up. To make it easy to eat with your hands they fold it in half. Another mouth-watering creation. I later found out its called a ‘Banh trang nuong’ if anyone wants to try it out!
The next morning we woke early as. We booked a private tour to check out the floating markets on a small boat, we were also going to travel through some small canals and see how the Vietnamese use the river to live. For $18US this tour was absolutely worth it and breathe taking! We travelled up the river on a small gondola like boat, an added extra of booking the tour while in Can Tho. Our tour guides name was Phong and she was amazing making us bamboo bracelets and tiaras on the way, I must say I felt like a Vietnamese-wood-nymph. Definitely recommend this private tour as it proved how great the locals as well as what the life on the river could be like.
Waking up at 5:30am we headed down and got to ride to the first floating market while the sun was rising, absolutely breathtaking! We made our way down the river and eventually came across the first floating market. I don’t know what I pictured before but it definitely wasn’t what I had in mind. The first moments we had a ‘drink cart’ stop by offering us anything, next second we saw a boat which looked like it was about to sink as it was weighed down by pineapples. We learnt off Phong that the boats told the other what they were selling by having a stick protruding upwards and hanging off would be what they’re selling. This I found really helpful as I really wanted to buy some ‘māng cut.’ If any of you have tasted this before you will know they’re amazing! We don’t have them in Australia, but the translation is mangosteen, which unfortunately I’ve never heard of. If anyone has the chance definitely try them, do it!
Afterwards we went and saw how rice paper rolls were made. I must say very interesting I really enjoyed this as I got to see the different process of how everything came to the markets. First off the rice was de-shelled and mixed in a vat to make a white paste-like mixture. Afterwards it’s spread onto a stove top which is heated by the shells of the rice (something which westerners could learn from, no waste!) This process make a round circle which looks like a crepe. It’s picked up by bamboo and then placed on bamboo drying rack which is placed in the sun. Loved seeing this and knowing exactly what I was eating! Considering I didn’t know this was included in the tour I was even happier about spending the money on it. A great experience which only improved with the rest of the tour! We chugged up the river again and found ourselves at the next market, it was much smaller and definitely much like the other, the māng cut had lasted me so decided to pass on buying anything. Afterwards we toured through some small canals were we passed a few weddings and every child must have said “Hello” the first thing they know in English. Of course I couldn’t help replying. The second question would be “what’s your name?” After replying to this the conversation would end, for two reasons. Number one-the boats still moving, and number two they don’t know how to answer or anything else. A welcome relief in this part of the Mekong was the lack of people trying to sell you stuff and pulling you in with their deals they just want to talk or if we can’t communicate verbally with one another just smile and nod. Once again I highly recommend travelling solo or privately to the Mekong and not with a tour from Ho Chi Minh. It felt much more personal and we could decide to stay or leave if we liked the place or not. After spending two whole nights in the Mekong I decided to head back to Ho Chi Minh as I wanted to further my travels in the beautiful, but humid, Vietnam.
If you think this post has finished you’re wrong. A third of the journey was the way back, it also put my faith back into the Vietnamese people in Ho Chi Minh City. Catching the bus was relatively easy but once we got into Ho Ch Minh we stopped at the bus station and of course got off. We were surrounded by massive buses which were leaving every couple of seconds, to top it off it was pouring down rain and could hardly see twenty metres in front of us. The language barrier became a problem and I found myself wishing that I could speak every language at least a little. Bus number 14 it was and one was leaving in just a moment. Combining my massive bags, the pouring rain and the darkness of course Meegan and I got split up. It was very confusing and not to mention my massive fall in a puddle (don’t worry mum I was cracking up laughing). Not being able to find Meegan, I thought she had caught the earlier bus I jumped on the other and once again communication in smiles and nods apparently works out well here. The name of the market place next to my old hostel was familiar and after the wacky pronunciation I was surprised he knew. In the middle of the bus ride after the Vietnamese surrounding me I was tugged from the bus and to what I understood to wait. The torrential downpour and the blind woman next to me made it all the more amusing. This is the bit, ‘the ledge’ I call it, is where you are surrounded by all that unfamiliarity that it kicks up the nerve system, the bit I love about travelling or adventures. Making it back to the hostel safely not to mention drenched I could only laugh at Meegan when I saw her step out of a cab as I was crossing the street or once again ‘defying death’ in the bowels of Ho Chi Minh City.
Until next time where you hear about the beautiful city of Da Lat!
Love Sophie-the newly acquired Vietnamese wood-nymph.