Fact: The Mekong River flows through six different countries in Asia–China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It’s only the 12th longest river in the world and the 7th in Asia, yet it is considered as the region’s lifeblood and a major source of livelihood since the early civilization. If Mekong Delta could speak, it would probably be able to tell tales as old as time. (READ: Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, That Is The Question)
But my story is not about that. This isn’t written to educate you about the lifestyle along the river. I have little known facts about its history, and I’m not quite loaded with its modern stats today. This is a story about my so called $8 adventure– on how I cruised the Mekong Delta while buzzed off snake wine.
Truth be told, it wasn’t particularly an adventurous day as I opted for a group tour. It wasn’t a life changing experience, and there was nothing so striking about how I spent my day. But I will tell you now that I had an unbelievable amount of fun by myself on this cheap little thrill. And isn’t that what makes a great memory sometimes? Those we expect the least from turning into one of your finest days? This is exactly a story about that.
Coming to Saigon, I had second thoughts if I even wanted to do the Mekong Delta tour. There are only two possible ways to do this– either I build my own DIY trip which will cost more money and time, or go with the $8 group tour which will entitle me to all the generic and most touristic spots. I’ve read the reviews about how it’s nothing special and thought I could probably afford to miss out on this. (READ: Ho Chi Minh City, I’m Just Not That Into You)
But upon reaching Saigon, I couldn’t wait to get out of there already. I spent two days exploring its streets completely guarded because I felt like everywhere I turn is another opportunity to be victimized with another scam. Sadly, yes, I was a complete Paranoid Penelope in Saigon. Anyway, with that said, I finally decided to just spend my final day in this chaotic city, well, away from it. Plus, I felt like a Mekong Delta experience is quite a must in any Vietnam itinerary. So I went ahead and booked the tour with the nearest travel agency along the streets of the Ho Chi Minh City’s backpacker district. There was another option for the Mekong Delta tour which would bring you to the floating market as well, however it was double the price. I went for the cheaper one as I was trying to be as frugal as I can after all the unnecessary rip offs I have just gotten myself into the last couple of days.
So as the clock strikes 7, I was already at the same agency I booked with, which was on the same block as my hostel. It took awhile before I was picked up, and the bus didn’t leave the district until past 8am. An hour late– no longer a novelty to me after being in Asia for this long. It took almost two hours to reach our first stop, which I was okay with because I do love long bus rides. I don’t really know why. I love just gazing out in the window and getting a millisecond glimpse of people’s everyday life.
We had a quick coffee/restroom break when we were nearing our destination. But our first official stop was Vinh Trang Pagoda, a Buddhist temple built in 1850. I’ve been a bit templed out by then, having traveled extensively around Southeast Asia. There was nothing grand about this one, although there is a huge Buddha outside. It’s a beautiful Pagoda though, complete with a nice garden just right outside.
Soon enough, we continued on to our journey to take the ferry along Mekong Delta. We were going to be taken to a few stops, places that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to, such as coconut candy factory. It’s such a touristic scheme and there wasn’t anything too impressive about it. The rice wine factory though was very exciting for me. It wasn’t just rice wine that they made here too, but they also served coconut wine and the legendary snake wine. Surprisingly, I lived in the Philippines long enough but I’ve never tried the traditional coconut alcohol here. So on that day, I thought I’d brave their version instead.
I’ve tried a shot or two, or maybe three, of each, and boy did those send me on a good one. They were less harsh than I imagined but they weren’t tasty, I’ll tell you that. It was rough, but not too rough, although washing it down with water isn’t a bad idea at all. The snake wine, which literally had a snake marinating in the jar, was a different story. It wad a very earthy, almost woody aftertaste to it. Still, it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. It was very tolerable, as a matter of fact. (Read: Top 10 Southeast Asian Food You Need To Try Authentically))
Next, we were off to a bee farm which sold some teas and other bee products like bee pollen, honey, etc. This is the first time I discovered about bee pollen on your tea together with its benefits so that was pretty cool. The thing about these factory trips though is that it doesn’t really give you an actual glimpse of the lifestyle there. It’s so tourist oriented that it wasn’t quite authentic anymore. To make it even more touristy, they even brought out a huge Python. Not that I don’t have enough Slave-4-You inspired photos with snakes (because you know, Asia), but I fell into the peer pressure and ended up petting the snake as well.
The buzz was lasting pretty long because I pranced around like I was on another level the entire time. I made some new friends, but still I enjoyed prancing around on my own like a happy little girl full of glee. Finally, we were off to the actual traditional boat cruise along the canals of the delta.
We had to transfer to a small boat, obviously because we’ll be maneuvering our way through narrow canals. Like I was expecting, the boat ride itself was yet another tourist trap. Sure, it’s traditional in a sense where local Vietnamese ladies sailed us, and we were even given rice hats to add to the experience. But as we cruised along and hit traffic in the canals with boats filled not with locals, but other tourists like myself, it was just like being in a theme park, except everything was all natural. The cruise lasted around 15 minutes, if not less, and next thing to you know, we were at our final stop where we will be eating lunch.
Now don’t get me wrong though, I loved every bit of it. I cruised around appreciating the sceneries and inhaling as much of the culture as I could. It’s such a humbling feeling to witness and learn about this part of the world. I was in the middle of tourist trap, but I learned what I could, and I enjoyed every second of it. Perhaps it was the snake wine. Or maybe just the fact that despite all that, I was in the middle of nowhere and the peace and serenity was hard not to indulge in. But either way, it was a terrific trip. Obviously, if you truly want an authentic experience along the delta, you’re better off with the 3 day tour, which allows you to stay with the locals and have a better glimpse of the lifestyle here. But if you’re short with time like I was, I’d say cruising the delta was worth every penny nevertheless.
I headed back to Saigon with a completely different mindset. I was less guarded by then, and I gained my positivity back. I gave Saigon another chance and well, it really isn’t such a bad place after all. I wouldn’t say I had a change of heart, but I was suddenly on a different disposition which has given me a chance to enjoy the chaos a little more on my final hours here. Top that off with a bowl of pho and a glass of iced Vietnam coffee on a hot afternoon, and well, I couldn’t think of a better way to part with this city.
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