I always wanted to be an adventurer! I also wanted to be President of the United States, a doctor, and a clockmaker. I’m still working on those things, but I think I’ve got this adventure stuff down pretty well now. Today I woke up to take a boat ride down to the Mekong Delta. This river is part of a larger chain that stretches throughout most of Southeast Asia. Vietnam is the last country it touches before it hits the sea. In Vietnamese, it’s called the Nine Dragon river due to the way it snakes through the various countries and breaks off.
The tour company, Saigon River Express, told me to be outside by 7:15am, and sure enough, they were there to pick me up right on time. I was escorted to the docks and waited for the rest of my party to arrive before boarding. There were many cheaper options for this cruise, but I selected the expensive one. It turned out to be a fantastic cruise and well worth the money. The guide was exceptional, honest, and heartwarming. She answered all our questions, quite frankly, about the government, the people, the corruption, and the scandals. Nothing was off-limits. She showed me how something could both be sad and beautiful at the same time. My trip down the Mekong Delta could accurately be described as a beautiful sorrow.
I had joked with my boss the day before that I would end up on a trip with many old people. That ended up being true, but their age didn’t affect their spirit. Two couples from England, one couple from Australia, and a man from someplace in Europe with a very pretty-looking, young Asian girl. I say girl because she looked younger than me.
Listen, I’m not that old.
In the beginning, you’re shy, but towards the end, you’ve fast made friends. Once everyone arrived, we boarded our speedboat and had a short introduction to our day. This would be an entire day trip, and it was packed with all kinds of things to do and see. Other companies may take you to specific stops where people are used to touring groups coming through. Wherever we went, I never saw anyone else like us. It made the entire day feel very authentic.
Our first stop was at a Pagoda outside of the city. Although Buddhism is practiced widely in Vietnam, there are almost no temples in the city. Since their last leader was Catholic, he wanted to make sure his people were too. So to visit a temple, you’ll need to go outside the city a bit. Here you’ll find a temple that practices a type of Buddhism common in Southeast Asia. This one is also a University, so you have monks studying, people praying, and tour groups watching. An interesting site indeed.
After a quick potty break in which I had to pee squatting (Camping 101), we continued down the river. We learned that to ward off crocodiles, all the boats had two painted holes on each side of the bow so they could trick the creatures into thinking it was a more giant animal. We also learned that there are efforts to clean the river up, but more people who hurt than help the effort. A few times, garbage got stuck in our propeller, and whew, sometimes the smell was awful. Still, cruising along at high speeds meant that the wind felt very lovely even though the sun was out.
Throughout the ride, we were fed fruits and sandwiches. The fruits were cold and yummy, and I even tried something I’d never had before! When we were full, we gave our leftovers to some kids beside the river. It was nice to not have the food and drink go to waste! After the temple, our next stop was a market. I had been before in other countries, but this was an authentic market. Full of things to make me squirm! Duck egg with baby still inside? CHECK! Squirming fishes flopping in pans? CHECK! Live chickens being harvested? CHECK! Peeling skins off of Frogs? CHECK and DOUBLE CHECK! I didn’t want to make you squirm, so instead, I focused on the images of the people and the fruits. Always a favorite of mine.
The sights and smells were lots of fun, but we were ready to head down to the Mekong Delta after this. The ride was enjoyable. I saw a floating gas station, a floating police station, and many friendly people waving Hello. Our funny guides made the trip even more enjoyable.
We were told a story about how the Mekong region developed its own whiskey. Of course, it starts with prohibition and alcohol being outlawed. Soon, the people in this region were making their own version of moonshine using Buffalo stomachs. We were offered some Mekong Whiskey, though luckily not from a buffalo’s stomach. We stopped and went to a “pub” that was nothing more than a shack. Still, the sticky rice whiskey was sweet and helped with the heat, sucking all my energy away. As we were leaving, I thanked the older lady serving us in Vietnamese. I guess I said everything correctly because all the Vietnamese people turned around and stared at me with big eyes. The young guide said, “Wow, you are so good; it sounded perfect.”
That made my entire day! At this point, the heat was nearly unbearable. We walked around a village, learning about how the people make their living and how poor the conditions of the homes were. Still, they treated us to coconut juice and showed a few items left behind from the war – all with a smile. We got a chance to sit down in the shade, and I got to know my fellow tourists. They had automatically assumed I was from London, and I smiled a bit. I think it’s a compliment that people don’t see me as “that American.” When I told them about a few of my adventures, they seemed genuinely concerned for my safety. I paused and smiled and assured them I was pretty safe and always acted cautiously. One of the gentlemen remarked that with my smile, I could make friends anywhere.
I laughed, and after that, I felt as if the older people in the group kept looking out for me. I thought it was cute, and I enjoyed playing the young granddaughter for the day.
Hot and really hungry, we finally finished our ride down the delta to a small orphanage where we had lunch, and the kids entertained us with a football match! It was a simple spread, and it was nice to sit and relax with some fans blowing on us! The fruit was good, and by the time we had said ‘Hello’ to the kids and learned a bit about how our tour was helping them, it was already time to go! I have to admit I kept falling asleep on the boat ride back. The heat just kept lulling me back to sleep, no matter how many times I sipped on my diet coke. This was a long day, but it was definitely a lot of fun.
As we were all shuttled back to our hotels, the two couples from London sat near me and wished me a safe journey. I got hugs and kisses, and they popped out of the van and disappeared back into their hotel. One of the things I wanted from my time here were memories that could be etched into my mind so that I might never forget them. I don’t know if I accomplished that, but I’ll never forget the warm feelings had carried throughout the day. That remains etched in my heart.