“Mekong Delta” always had an alluring sound to me. To get to Can Tho, a large Vietnamese city on the Mekong, we followed the challenging instructions of our guide-book.
The easiest way to get to Can Tho from Saigon, it said, is to book a tourist day tour to the Mekong delta. At the end of the tour, it said, instead of going back to Saigon, just take a minibus to Can Tho.
Ok, so there we are on a tacky tourist trip. We “say hello Mekong river”. We have a short boat ride (not too bad that part), we visit a noodle factory with attached souvenir shop. We have lunch in a place with attached honey shop. We visit a sweets factory with, guess what, an attached souvenir shop. The guide is as bored as we are and his vocabulary seems to consist only of the words “Mekong river”. When it is time to “say goodbye Mekong river”, we ask to be dropped off where we can catch a bus to Can Tho. He smiles for the first time. “Not easy”, he says. In Vietnamese, he writes
I want to go to Can Tho. Please help me.
on a paper. And sooner than we think, we are standing at a gas station next to the highway with that piece of paper and no other instructions.
We walk into the shop of the gas station and ask the girls who work there, if they speak English. Blushing. We show them the paper with our Vietnamese plead for help. Giggling. More giggling. Shouting to another person in the shop. Laughter. More shouting, more laughter. Finally, they take us to a parking lot by the road where a minibus is waiting. We show them our paper again, they laugh and nod and a few minutes later, we speed along the highway in an overly crowded bus.
It is late when we arrive in Can Tho and the city has nothing of the beauty that Hanoi and Saigon have. Right when we arrive at our hotel, they introduce us to a Miss Rose who wants to sell us a boat trip to the floating markets. We are tired and slightly annoyed.
On the next morning, we wake up and discover by coincidence that Miss Rose is sitting in front of our door. We are taking things slowly, and she leaves before we are ready to explore the city. After less than three minutes walking we meet Miss Ha, who also offers boat trips to the floating markets. We want to have lunch before we decide anything. She is surprisingly happy with that. We will have no problem to find her if we want to book her tour, she says. Weird, is what we think. Soon, we learn why she is so confident. We are under observation while we walk through the city. Women on motorbikes are posted on strategic street crossings to report our whereabouts. Yes, it sounds crazy. But believe me, it is true. We do not like Can Tho at all.
Now, everyone who comes here wants to do a boat tour on the Mekong. That’s the one big thing to do. We consult our guide-book again, it has proved such a valuable source of advice before… Guide-book says private tours are better than the official ones. Smaller boats, longer tours, better views. In a reckless moment, despite knowing that Miss Ha operates a network of spies (we see her talking to one of them and she knows all about where we had lunch and where we stopped for fresh coconut milk), we book the tour with her.And you know what, the tour is awesome. Seeing the sun rise on the river, watching the life on the Mekong, photographing the colorful markets, it’s a great trip. Even the noodle factory is scenic and there is not a single souvenir shop anywhere.
Time of visit: April 2012
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This article was published on perelincolors.com