For our last full day in Saigon, we decided to take another group tour to the Mekong River Delta. We were lucky enough to have Lero, our tour guide from the Cu Chi Tunnels, to provide us with groan-worthy humor again. It was a mess trying to herd over fifty tourists into three different buses, depending on what destination, how many days they were spending, and what itinerary they picked. It only cost about twelve bucks, so we dealt with it and went where we were told and finally ended up on the road.
Two hours later, we arrived at a tourist center lined with souvenir stalls, which we were obligated to walk past on our way out to the river boats. The wooden boats were painted beautifully in all sorts of vibrant hues, but the wheezing sound of the engine and the height of the water on the side panels made me skeptical.
Our shoddy vessel managed to bring us across the muddy river to Unicorn Island, surely a traditional authentic Vietnamese name. A man holding a tray of bees was waiting for us to arrive, oogle at the bees, and then take photos. These bees were responsible for producing the honey we sampled while sitting around plastic tables. After enjoying honey tea, a man brought out a massive Python for everyone to take a turn holding and posing for a picture next to yet another row of souvenir stalls.
Once back on our boat, we putted past wooden house boats, boats stacked high with hay, and a dozen other tourist boats carrying pudgy middle-aged white people around. At the next island, we were ushered past more shopping opportunities to seats underneath a wooden pavilion. Plates of local fruit and tea were placed in front of us. A group of Vietnamese singers and musicians stood at the front and recited a few songs I’m sure they’ve sung a hundred times a week. Just for the enjoyment of the tourists, they finished their performance with “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, and then proceeded to shove baskets in our faces to collect tips.
Lero led us to a small river crammed with colorful rowboats waiting patiently for the tourists to clumsily sit down inside. The two men rowing our boat were thin and had dark weathered skin that had been out in the sun for decades. We floated peacefully past the muddy banks and jungle flora until we were dropped back at the main river boat. The rest of the tour consisted of a visit to a coconut candy factory, chicken and rice lunch, and a bike ride around Phoenix Island before being herded back onto our stuffy tour buses. Normally, Byron and I can’t stand this kind of traveling, where everything is planned out, and eliminates any opportunity for spontaneous experiences to occur. All day we were rolling our eyes at how touristy we felt being herded around, but given our lack of time in Saigon, it was still the best option to see the delta and get a glimpse at life in this region.
Back in the backpacker district, we finished up our last night in Vietnam with buffalo wings, burgers, and Dairy Queen.