HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Delta Chronicles Part 1/4 - We Have No Control

My blog title is finally relevant! My roommate Andee and I decided to take a trip down to the iconic Mekong River Delta this weekend. The Delta is Vietnam's rice basket, powering the country to the position of second-largest rice exporter in the world, trailing only Thailand. It is also one of Earth's great ecosystems, with fertile soil and a huge supply of water allowing for the growth of an amazing array of plants and animals. Consequently, the food on this trip was some of the best I've ever eaten. I'll get to that later, though, since there's a lot to talk about. I'm breaking my thoughts on the adventure into four posts, otherwise this would be really long and no one would read it. So, I begin with the experience of getting to and from the Delta.

Never before have I been on a trip where my route, mode of transportation, and final destination was so out of my hands. There are tons of guided tours that will hold your hand all the way from Saigon to the Delta and back, but these are expensive, and we didn't want to be stuck on a tour with a bunch old Brits and Aussies. So, using nothing but the Lonely Planet: Vietnam travel guide, we planned our trip: a night at a hotel in My Tho, the gateway to the Delta, followed by a jaunt to Ben Tre, and hopefully a night at a homestay in Vinh Long. We ended up doing all of these things, but almost entirely thanks to other people.

The trip started with a taxi ride to Cholon bus station in Saigon, where we were greeted by rows of buses - none of which said My Tho. So we found the one employee who knew some English, and he said to take bus #9. Great! we replied, and turned around to see three bus #9's. Shit. Before we could even ask each driver where they were going, one waved us on with a smile and gave an emphatic "Yes!" when we simply asked "My Tho?" So, we sat down and put our destination in the hands of the driver.

After half an hour we stopped, and the other passengers began motioning for us to get off. Then a guy boarded, said My Tho, and told us to stand on the sidwalk. Utterly confused, we exited and, sure enough, a bus with a sign saying My Tho stuck in the dashboard appeared. The random man helped us to our seats and promptly demanded 1,000,000 dong - about $50. We told him to get lost, but he was persistent. He did leave us alone after we gave him 200,000 - still not sure what, if anything, that paid for. Then, the ticket collector appeared, but we had no tickets. She gave us a funny look, and moved on. After all of this I fully expected to be thrown off the bus, but no one bothered us for the remaining 90 minutes to My Tho...

Where we were greeted by a phalanx of moto drivers as soon as we stepped off the bus. I waved them off at first, since we planned on walking to the hotel, but changed my mind after one said "No walk, 4 kilometers." We each hopped on a moto and were on our way, when I realized I hadn't even told the driver where we were staying. We ended up at a random pier on the Mekong where a guy offered us a boat ride to see the islands that My Tho is known for. We said no thanks, we just want to get to the hotel, to which he replied "Ah, my friends, I will give you a moto ride there for free, then you can go on a boat ride." After climbing on a different pair of motos and dropping our bags at the hotel, we met the man with the boat and heard his offer - a tour of the islands for 350,000. After negotiating the price down to 300,000 we were off and totally in the hands of someone we had just met. After a great day on the islands (more on that in later posts), our new friend took us out for coffee and a new pitch - meet at 6:30 am for a moto ride on a car-free country road to Cat Be, a floating market, and on to a homestay in Vinh Long, all for 1.8 million - a little under $100, split two ways. We paid half then, trusting a man we had just met that morning with a lot of money.

Once again, he was good for his word, and the result was an exhilarating ride through the Delta. However, as I said earlier, I had no idea where we were the whole time. We wound through markets and tiny villages, across rickety bridges, and onto an array of ferries, before ending up in Vinh Long. Here's a short video from the ride:
After successful, at times stressful, trips on Friday and Saturday, I didn't expect to have much trouble getting back to Saigon on Sunday. I was right, although once again through almost no work of our own. We told the people at the homestay (which was outside of Vinh Long) that we wanted to go into the town at 10am. No problem, they said, we'll arrange for motos to pick you up and then you can go on to Saigon. I expected to get dropped off at the public bus station and have a chance to roam around Vinh Long, but we were instead taken right to a private minibus operator, handed two tickets, and told the bus was leaving in 5 minutes. Well, so much for the town. We boarded the bus with tickets that didn't say Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City on them, after not hearing anyone even mention a destination, and settled in for the ride. Two hours later we were in District 5, a quick cab ride away from home. Overall, then, the transportation aspect of the trip was a smashing success, no thanks to me or Andee. The lack of control over where or how I was going made me nervous at first, but once I got over it I felt no worries and was able to enjoy an amazing weekend. More on that when I continue, but I'll finish with some pictures from the moto ride to Vinh Long since this has been such a text-heavy post.

1 comment:

  1. My job is in Mekong delta. It is exactly in Sa Dec town, 160Km away from Saigon. also the to Cambodia.
    Check out the Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qLa9tYTRFQ