So, second day in Ho Chi Minh, and I’m leaving it for the river. Specifically the Mekong which is about 3 hours away by bus. Not really sure why I chose to do this tour – probably because I wanted to spend a little more time outside of cities and in the country.
Of course, this meant making some precautions. I knew from yesterday that the weather was going to be close to borderline-unbearable hot, which mean shorts. Unfortunately, that also meant leaving my legs bare for every mosquito living by the river to snack on. Clearly I’d need to take precautions – so all my bites got slathered in anti-inflammatory gel, followed by my insect repelleant and then the worst of the bites covered in plasters. Once my left leg was prepared, I popped the tube bandage over it to keep me from scratching it, and to keep the insects from getting near it. Nothing I could do about the right leg for now, but did take my summer snood with me in case I needed another bandage.
The trip was fairly uneventful, and I passed the time by listening to the Miss Saigon soundtrack (apt, I know) and doing a little minor haggling at our one bathroom stop (my sunglasses got bent out of shape in my bag and really needed some new ones). When we arrived at the harbour, there were also hats at a good price for sale, but decided to stick with the shades.The Mekong runs through several countries, and the part we were on ran through the Ben Tre province – the My Tho river. There are 4 famous islands here, named after the 4 holy animals of Vietnam (Dragon, Phoenix, Unicorn and Turtle). We passed dragon, and headed for Unicorn.This was a strongly food oriented tour, as the first stop was a Honey Farm where we could sample honey tea, along with honeyed banana, peanut and ginger. Banana and peanut were okay, ginger was not okay.
Naturally the stuff you could buy came out almost immediately after, and then we got a surprise when we turned round – and found one of the staff heading towards us with a giant boa constrictor! For some reason it immediately went on my shoulders, and I had to wrangle one of the gawking onlookers into grabbing my camera before the snake was given to someone else.After this, we walked along the forest path towards a very busy river. It was low tide, but there were still an insane amount of boats on the water. Kind of like rush hour without engines – they were all little row boats. You went four to a boat, and 2 people would row you down the river. At first not a great idea – river was so jammed with traffic you weren’t really going anywhere – boats have to come back the way they came so did have to pass quite a few along the way. However, once we got away from the heavy boarding docks it became a very nice ride through the forest on the river.The big boat was waiting for us at the rowing boats end – the river spews out into the Mekong naturally, and we hopped aboard to head for lunch. A plan that was scuppered when our guide discovered the restaurant was actually rather busy, so pushed ahead our next stop with plans to have lunch later.
The second ‘shopping’ stop was the Coconut Candy shop – where a type of chewy candy made from coconut, and is actually very famous along the Mekong. They take the flesh of the coconut, squeeze it into milk and mix it with caramel. Then add another flavouring if required, wrap in rice paper, then normal packaging, and voila, coconut candy. When the still-warm free samples came out, I was a little skeptical as I generally don’t like coconut unless its been thoroughly dessicated or dunked in chocolate, but gave it a shot anyway.
Oh my god this stuff is so GOOD! The coconut works with the caramel so well, and then you add extra flavours. The chocolate one is literally the chewitt equivalent of a bounty bar, and the crunchiness of the peanut works with the caramel to give it a kick. I ended up buying 2 packs of the sweets – no clue if I’ll be allowed to take them into Australia, but frankly given how fast I’m getting through them, don’t really see that being too big a problem… They’re supposedly really hard to find outside of the Mekong too, dang it.
By this point everyone’s hungry (and snacking on the sweets), so its over to the restaurant – where we got the most disappointing meal I’ve had on a tour so far. Not buffet style, not even all-you-can-eat rice. Just a mound of it with some bland veg and a hunk of pork. Everyone on my table was eyeing up the veggie option which included niem spring rolls instead. Others ordered things on top of their meal (including something called Elephant Ear Fish which is an entire fish fried and displayed between 2 prongs for some reason), but I made do, and spent my time watching the dogs running round the restaurant. You see a lot of them in Vietnam, especially in food places, but there was one in particular I didn’t want near me – poor thing clearly had mange, but the owners seemed oblivious. Really didn’t want to know if the others had anything, so kept my distance – thankfully the dogs don’t come too close to the customers anyway.
When everyone was full, we had some time to walk around and see the area before we headed to the next island. While wandering (and eyeing up a tied up buffalo taking a bath in the lake), I felt a very familiar itch on the back of my leg…
I’m clarted in 2 different repellents but the damn mozzies are persistant. Found the ONE spot on my leg not covered in spray and bit me twice. And beginning to itch quite a bit – so take my summer snood and wrap that around the worst of the bites after treating them to keep me from scratching, and then dig out the legs for my zip off shorts. I don’t care how hot it is, sweating is preferable to being constantly itchy!
Our final stop is a fruit orchard on a nearby island, where we are given a choice of fruits (plus salt and chilli) to try. Pineapple was the most familiar, followed by papaya, dragonfruit, jackfruit, and a pale brown fruit I didn’t quite catch the name of. It was pretty sour though, so avoided the majority of it – did enjoy jackfruit though.
While we ate (and drank fruit tea), we were also serenaded by a group of musicians and singers who perform traditional songs in Vietnamese. Right up until the end when they finished up with ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It’ – and Jingle Bells for the season.
Its been a good day – if a little duller than I expected. Hadn’t realised how much of the tour would be dedicated to going to shops rather than enjoying the Mekong. Guessing the multi-day trips are the best way to enjoy this river rather than a day.
We weren’t supposed to get back until 7, which had me scuppered since I’d been told 5, and was supposed to meet Laurence at 7, but we actually got in just after 6.
Laurence had been socialising all day – managed to get into multiple conversations with different people and see quite a few different places while I was on the river, so his last day had been pretty enjoyable. We ended up having one of the same things we’d had the day before (honestly have no clue what it is), and shared a steamed bun along with some smaller steamed…things I really didn’t like and looked like they’d come off an operating table.
Once we were full, I asked him if he had any plans for later night – because I had been looking online earlier and had found something…not particularly backpacky I wanted to do, but would certainly understand if he didn’t. I wanted to go to the cinema – to see Frozen or the Hobbit.
The downside to travelling abroad for extended periods when you have BIG Disney/Fantasy friends is that they can, and do gush about anything they love damn near constantly. And by this point I’d been dealing with Facebook elation for weeks – not to mention forbidden from going near any form of media sharing website. I needed to see these damn things.
As it happens, Laurence doesn’t enjoy huge fantasy movies, but he does like animated films so was up for seeing Frozen. He was a little reluctant on the grounds that he didn’t know if they’d be in English, but there was a cinema (marked on my map no less) that I knew did English movies with Vietnamese subtitles. He was game, so we made our way there.
Hobbit apparently hasn’t made it to Vietnam yet, but Frozen has. The next English performance was in an hour, so we hopped to the nearby coffee shop and whittled it down before heading into the icy air conditioning and settling down to a surprisingly crowded movie theatre. Frozen ended up being great – Idina Menzel has a fantastic voice, and despite my reservations for how much they’d ruined the original story, it was actually very good. My only vice was that I honestly couldn’t see any chemistry between the 2 main characters at all.
Once we got out, it was pushing 11pm, so Laurence walked me back to my hostel, and we said our goodbyes. He’ll be on a plane early tomorrow morning, but I grabbed his email address to keep in touch. I myself will be heading to the Cu Chi tunnels, so needed a good nights sleep. Did have a brief look around for the Hoi An group, since they should be here by now, but no sign of them. Have to look tomorrow.