This part of the trip was the great unknown, and the part that I had been most anxious about. No more easy tour buses, no more catering for tourists wherever you go, no more assurance that most people you need to speak to will know English...We were going to 'Old School' Vietnam. And in my imagination I had convinced myself that this would consist of staying in some kind of mud hut and that I would intensely dislike the experience. I was wrong on both counts, and looking back, probably wouldn't have minded staying in a mud hut, might be fun! It turned out that the two weeks we spent travelling across the Mekong created more challenges, more stories, and more bizarre, funny, and breathtaking memories than what we found down the usual tourist route. So I'm glad I was (sort of) forced into it.
Our route across the delta went from east to west, keeping in the northern half. From My Tho on the edge of the delta, we carried on to Ben Tre, Tra Vinh, Vinh Long, Can Tho, Chau Doc, Ha Tien, and finally we got a ferry across to Phu Quoc Island, back to tourist-land. I think, without a doubt, my highlights of this time were the boat tours we went on. The first was in My Tho, and could have been very hit-or-miss - we were approached by a guy whilst having a look around the small town. A lot of people try to speak to you, often trying to sell something, and more often than not we would just say no thank you and carry on walking. This guy was different, he was very laid back and firstly just offered to show us to a nearby cafe that was open as we were a bit desperate to find some food. He stayed to chat for a while and mentioned that he takes people on tours on his friend's boat, away from the tourist crowds, and early in the morning before it gets too hot. He said if we wanted to go we could meet him at the cafe at 5.30 the next morning and didn't have to pay until we had been on the tour - for someone to be so confident, and without putting any pressure on payment, was out of the ordinary, so we thought we'd give it a go. I'm so glad we did.
The other great thing about the Mekong Delta region was how friendly the people were - although English was not as widely spoken, you are always greeted with a smile - and by the children, this is elevated into genuine excitement. Any children we walked past waved and shouted hello, and giggled when we replied. We were briefly shown a school by one of the locals, and all of the children came rushing to the window saying hello and trying to shake my hand - it completely disrupted the lesson, but was lovely and made me feel like a film star!
It struck me on leaving this amazing country, that although people didn't tend to have the luxuries that are considered common-place here, and they had to work so hard and such long hours just to scrape a living, life seemed simpler and they were happy. When you don't have to worry about getting the latest gadget, or this season's must-have item of clothing because it's not even an option, you can get on with, well, life.
I guess in future if someone asks me what the point of going to Vietnam was, and if I benefitted from it at all, I should just point them to this blog, because it seems there's quite a lot.