Kevin didn’t take his camera on our tour of the Mekong River delta, so as promised, here are my impressions. Firstly, as he mentioned, the “sit time” in a bus was much longer than expected due to the fact that we didn’t dock in the center of Saigon as hoped.
Our tour was described as “Oceania Exclusive – Mekong River Cruise”. We paid extra for the exclusive part, which in the end meant that you did exactly the same things as the cheaper tour, except you would not have more than 16 people in your tour group. This tour was also listed as “Strenuous”, requiring substantial walking, stair climbing and not recommended for those with physical limitations. This tour requires the ability to board small boats and was NOT for people with mobility concerns. Do you think this stopped people who could barely get out of a chair and needed canes to walk from going on it? Of course not!
We drove for about 3 hours to the Mekong Delta port of My Tho – where all kinds of tours on boats were heading out. We thought we were going for a “long” cruise, but instead it was about 30 minutes to a small island called Thoi Son, where we visited a “honey farm” – where we had honey tea, tasted royal jelly, and they tried to sell us products. A short walk took us to a coconut candy “factory” (in an open hut) where they demonstrated the process, offered samples (we declined) and had many coconut based products for sale. A further walk took us to a pavilion where we sampled local fruits including dragon fruit, bread fruit, papaya, mango, and longan (one of my favorites). We were then (painfully) serenaded by a group of musicians, singers, and dancers who passed around a tip basket.
Once this was over, we walked a short distance where we were picked up by our boat, then taken to another “port”, where we “embarked in smaller sampans for a scenic ride through the narrow, tree-lined canals”. How to describe this? Hmmm, imagine some Dali-esque, hallucinogenic, demented Disney ride.
The “scenic canal” ran alongside a road and houses and was scattered with litter and plastic bottles, like most of Southeast Asia. I think it existed solely for the purpose of taking tourists on a ride. Watching people with mobility issues (and weight issues) attempting to climb in and out of these boats was frightening. Add to that the condition of the boats – rotting inside and out, with a few extra boards dropped on the floor so you might not put your foot through the hull. A woman sat on the forward deck and sort of paddled, and sort of pulled the boat thru the shallow water. A man sat on the rear deck and steered – mostly by pushing away from the mangroves. We felt bad for these folks, they worked really hard, with 4 passengers to a boat.
At the end of this strange journey, we got off the sampans, and hoped we wouldn’t get dumped in the water by some of the folks who had no idea how to get in or out of boats. Another walk – through some people’s back yards, apparently, eventually led to a very nice resort where we had a wonderful lunch. The food was tasty, and each table had a person who prepared the plates for us. For example she removed the heads and shells from the prawns before serving, made fish rolls with rice paper wrappers, etc. There was soup, noodles, roasted pork, deep fried fish, and more. It really was relaxing and pleasant and probably the best “tour” meal we ate one this trip.
After lunch we made our way back to the ‘first’ tour boat, to take us back to the port.
Our final stop was a visit to the Vinh Trang Pagoda, a Buddhist temple built approximately 150 years ago, with a combination of Khmer and French architecture. They had a reclining buddha and a sitting Buddha. One thing about this overall trip, we saw LOTS of Buddhist temples…
After this hot walk in the sun, we then boarded for the toooooo looooong bus ride back to the ship. We were hoping to see more of the Mekong river itself, but I guess the only way to really do this is by a land tour, not a cruise.
Vietnam has changed a great deal since our last visit in 2010. More cars and motorcycles, replacing scooters and bicycles. Hopefully the standard of living and quality of life are improving too.