After contemplating in several of Saigon’s tour offices for 2 days, I decided to go with the easier, cheaper and more convenient option to get to Cambodia: taking a 2 day 1 night tour to Mekong Delta. At first I didn’t even know which place in Cambodia I wanted to end up in, but after talking to a few fellow travellers I decided to aim first for Kampot, then move on to Sihanoukville.
The Mekong Delta tour package included visits to “local” this and that, often meaning watching Vietnamese people performing in a way or another while bunch of tourists take pictures of them and then buy whatever they’re selling. I knew in advance that this tour would wreck my nerves from time to time, but as I write this from the most bounciest ride of my life, sitting at the back of a local minivan from God knows which decade and being the only English-speaking person in sight, I know I am also experiencing something beyond the tourism.
Our tour group consisted of 28 people from all paths of life, different ages and countries. The tour guide’s every 3rd word (not exaggerating) was “my family”, and after staying in a “homestay” (more like a guesthouse in the middle of nowhere) with 5 other people, it actually felt a bit like “family” after all. The tour stared off well: after 15 mins from Saigon, some family realized that they’re in the wrong bus. As they left in a taxi to their Phom Penh ride, a Russian family from another bus joined ours. On the road, we had multiple stops to the “happy room” as our guide phrased it. Once in My Tho, we went on a river cruise to a few islands, including Dragon island and Unicorn island. First was coconut candy making (interesting but so obviously made just for tourists that it was disappointing). On another island, we saw and some took pictures with a snake and drank honey tea while the people were trying to sell us their products. On another island we had a horse carriage ride for 10 mins down a straight road, and ate some pieces of fruit while sad-looking women sang some traditional music…At one point we also had a cruise down the river in a small boat, which was actually rather pleasant.
We sat few hours on a bus until the 6 people who paid extra for a home stay were dropped in the middle of nowhere to go on a riverboat to our accommodation, where we would enjoy dinner with the locals (except that they didn’t join us or say a single word during our stay). The dinner was magnificent, but the whole “homestay” was complete bullshit. In the morning they provided us with the bill for drinks. Coffee at breakfast was good, but not included in the price. I understand the homestay workers: they have different people each night who come in after sunset and leave at dawn. It is rather hard trying to be friends with different people each night for years, so I get it. But the advertisement for this homestay was rather different from the truth.
Second day we left our lovely homestay around 7am, (though most of us had been awake more or less the whole night listening to the outdoors life and traffic from the river), to go see a local floating market. The floating market starts at 4am, so when we got there around 8 it was mostly just locals selling stuff to the few tourist boats around. Interesting to see for sure, but I’m not so sure about the authenticity.
After the market we were taken to a rice paper and noodle making place, again one show with a gift shop. It was interesting to see how the rice papers and noodles are made, though. After that we had a walk to a fruit orchard, which was okay – I’ve never seen dragon fruit in the nature before! We could’v bought highly overpriced fruit at the garden, but no one did. That was the end of day 2 program, we took the boat back to Can Tho, the others went for lunch and I got a bike ride (with my backpack and 2 handbags) to the local bus station where I was hurried to the van, only to sit there for 1.5hrs even before we left towards the border town of Ha Tien.