I knew that I wanted to pay a visit to the Mekong Delta but wasn't entirely sure how I would go about doing so. My mom has a friend that is from a smaller city near Can Tho which is a bit further into the Delta than some tourists venture. I knew that I wanted to visit there as well as the small town of Ben Tre, no particular reasons for either but they just stood out to me. I researched a few different bus and ferry options but was soon able to throw that all out the widow, thanks to my new friend Mr. Kim.
After only being in the city for a few hours I was on my way back to my hotel, intent on showering and sleeping when Mr. Kim approached me, starting the typical motorbike driver (xe om) spiel. Before long he whipped out his book of tourist recommendations all of which gave glowing reviews, his focus is on trips to the Mekong Delta which piked my interest. The trips were definitely pricier than what I was prepared to spend but I had heard that motorbike trips through Vietnam are one of those don't miss experiences so something made me say yes. As a bonus to my commitment to a 4 day tour of the Mekong Delta Mr. Kim offered to drive me around Saigon for a quick tour, so much for that nap and shower I was planning on. One other bonus is that he drove me out to my friend Shawn's apartment which saved me one short xe om fair.
Tuesday morning Mr. Kim was waiting for me as promised, at 9am in front of Shawn's apartment. I followed his recommendation to wear long pants and a thin jacket and although I was sweating my skin was happy to not be roasting into leather. The plan for the first day was to drive out towards My Tho and Ben Tre, where Mr. Kim lives with his wife. The entire drive was about 2 hour but we stopped once along the way for a much needed coffee break. Although I'm not done traveling yet, the roadside coffee stalls all over Vietnam might be my favorite part of the country, hammocks included. I learned quickly that Mr. Kim loves both his coffee and cigarettes, the former of which I was happy to join in.
Once we arrived Mr. Kim took me to his home where his wife was waiting with a delicious, home cooked meal. Lunch wasn't quite what some of the other tourist in Mr. Kim's book made it out to be, actually a bit awkward as I was seated alone in the dining room and Mr. Kim ate in the kitchen while his wife seemed to have disappeared. Although I was abandoned I could tell Mr. Kim wanted me to be happy, offering me more food, tea, bananas, and delicious homemade yogurt ('yoaurt' for the locals). After lunch it was time for me to check in at my home stay which was conveniently located just around the corner. I was given 10 minutes to rest/change/do whatever before Mr. Kim and I were off on our boat adventure.
We boarded our own private boat on a small inlet of the Mekong Delta and from there I had little idea of what to expect. It's not that Mr. Kim didn't tell me but honestly nothing stuck in my mind during this trip, I'll blame the heat. I would have been fine just sitting in the boat for a few hours as the scenery was absolutely beautiful but we soon stopped at a 'coconut candy' factory, one of the tourist spots along the river. Mr. Kim explained the process to me, shoved some candies, snake wine, coconut wine, and other snacks down my throat and then ushered me to buy something. I was afraid this tour would turn into a buy this buy that kind of day and we weren't off to a good start. I decided to get some cacao flavored coconut candy for my friend Shawn as a 'Thanks for letting me sleep on your couch' present and we moved on our way.
The next stop along the river was at a fruit farm where I was presented with an awesome plate of fruit, but unfortunately I had no appetite for it. I managed to eat about half the platter anyways, fed a banana to the lone monkey stuck up in a cage and fended off the Royal Jelly seller, I was already forking over enough money for this trip.
Just when I thought this trip couldn't get more interesting we made a stop at the home of the Coconut Monk, founder of the now extinct Coconut religion. Apparently the coconut monk ate only coconuts for three years while also meditating, he was also a candidate for presidency in 1971 but lost and returned to his floating pagoda. This whole place was a bit bizarre and felt like an abandoned amusement park, but it was an interesting stop along the way.
I thought we were about finished but Mr. Kim took me to one more stop for a short walk around coco island, there wasn't anything to see here but it was a peaceful town and nice way to end the day. The evening was pretty uneventful and included a much needed shower, a bit of reading and a yummy curry for dinner. After our long day of driving, boating, eating, walking and exploring I was definitely ready for an early bedtime, only to get up and do it all again the next day.
I was warned that I'd either love it or hate it. For some Vietnam is a food and adventure paradise while others just can't seem to find their grove. With a turbulent history and remains of division between north and south, it's an interesting place to say the least.