We had high hopes for the second day of our Mekong Delta tour, but alas it was a definitive letdown. Five years prior, getting from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Chau Doc had been my favourite part. Long boat rides, narrow rivers, candy factories and an even better look into Vietnamese life in the Delta. This time, all we got was the tour to a minority village and a fish factory, something that had been included on the same day as the transport from Chau Doc into Phnom Penh in the original tour. Our ride to the city would be by bus, not by boat.
So, here is how today went.
We got up, ate breakfast and went on a boat ride. We stopped at the Cham village, a small Muslim minority group originally from Malaysia. We watched people weave fabric and listened to the chant of kids begging for us to purchase sweets from them. We walked to the mosque, and met a lovely family who was cooking a large pot of curry right on the street.
Afterwards our boat went back towards the city, through the floating village. People live in floating homes, along with livestock and any other food means. We watched people eating, smoking cigarettes and fish in the river. We then stopped at a floating fish farm, where we fed fishes living under the house into a frenzy and saw how they make fish sauce out of the fishes that don’t make it.
We then headed back to town, where we were dropped at a random transport company for our trip into Saigon. We waited and waited, and then we were all piled into and crammed into a minibus. We (tourists) were made to sit at the back with our feet on our bags while the Vietnamese smoked cigarettes and made things miserable for us. By the time we made it to the bus station a few kilometers out of Chau Doc, we were not in a good mood and wanting to get off the bus.
We stopped at the bus station and got off the bus. The driver didn’t want to let us leave, and we felt unsure as to what to do. On one hand we had paid for the transport – on the other we had been mislead by the tour company and passed on to a subpar company. With the pressure of the German couple with us on the bus, things got a little nasty and ridiculous and in the end, we stayed behind and the bus left.
As the bus drove off, Travis and I immediately regretted our decision. Yes, the ride had been awful, but now we were no better off. The next step was to get a bus to Saigon, which we found at a somewhat reasonable price. We had to wait an hour for the bus to leave, and while we were waiting a representative of the transport company we had been passed to came by to reimburse the cost of the tickets we had purchased, which was a nice gesture. By this point, the German couple was driving us mad with rants about what had just happened and how the Vietnamese were racist people. We were regretting our decision more and more by the second.
Our bus got going and it got going slowly. It was what we call a “chicken bus”, and kept stopping to pick up people and load more motorcycles on the roof of the bus. It was hot and loud and the seats were uncomfortable. The German couple wouldn’t shut up. Eventually the bus got full and we got real cozy with our bags – really this was no better than our original ride. To add to the slow ordeal, the bus started to break down, and broke down a few times on our ride into town. And just when we thought today couldn’t get more ridiculous, four hours into the ride the German guy realized that he had left his passport at the hotel in Chau Doc. Instead of getting off the bus and going back to get it, he yelled his way into using the bus driver’s cell phone and getting someone from the hotel to personally deliver his passport in Saigon. It was all very embarrassing for Travis and me, but somehow the German couple failed to see how any of this was their fault.
Too many hours later we were finally at a bus terminal, way in the suburbs of Saigon. We got away from the Germans as fast as we could, hopped a cab and headed for the backpacker’s area, where our day (now night) got better. We got a good room with AC, hot water, WiFi and cable TV for a great price and ate tasty tasty food on the streets while watching the world go by. Saigon had never been my favourite city, but I was sure glad to have arrived.