We woke up early in the morning to get ready and check out from hotel. We left part of our clothes at the laundry of the Bali B hotel, which we were supposed to collect after our return. All in all, we had taken very little stuff to Vietnam, so we just took the rest with us. The travel guide was awaiting us at 8 AM at the reception, it turned out that some tourists had already gathered there too, so our hotel was probably a meeting point for people staying in hotels nearby. The bus, though, was not there and we had to walk to it a while. It happened several times later, that if the travel agency promised to pick us up at some place, it usually just turned out that somebody acompanied us on foot to the place, where the bus was waiting. Even lead by the guide, again we found crossing the street rather scary, because nobody stopped to let us pass safely. The bus turned out to be a cramped van for twenty people, with folding seats in the aisle. We were sitting next to two young Spanish women, who were travelling across Vietnam in the opposite direction, from Hanoi to the south, and visiting Cambodia in the meantime. Among the tourists we also met very friendly twin brothers from the UK, also travelling from the north and planning to visit Cambodia, while their final destination was Australia were the were planning to refill their wallets. There was as well a, rather reserved, young couple from Germany, several Americans, French and many Vietnamese from the north. The Vietnameese guide, a young man, was very helpful and his English was rather good in comparison to the ones we met later. In case you were already bored and didin’t want to read to the end, we definitely recommend the An Travel agency in Ho Chi Minh and their trip, as it was a rare example of honesty, lack of ‘surprises’ and good value for money.
As usual on vietnamese trips, we stopped on the way at a restaurant with a shop, which most likey had a fixed agreement with the travel agency. There was a very neat garden there, with straw huts, ponds and palms, which looked, in my opinion, as Vietnam is imagined by foreigners before they actually come to visit. The next stop was a huge pagoda with an enormous Buddha statue. It was definitely worth seeing, much more specatular that most temples we have seen on our way. In front, there was a street food stall with Vietnamese-style banana fritters offering a standard cheat: if you pay for two portions before you actually get both of them, the price magically doubles, so either you pay the double price again or end up with a typical Vietnamese promotion “get one, pay for two”, its up to you, a win-win situation anyway.
After another hour by bus we changed for the boat, leaving our backpacks in the trunk. Boats of different kinds were our main mean of transport from that moment. We were zigzagging between one bank of the Mekong river and the other, stopping at each small marina for sightseeing. It was a very interesting and varied time. We visited an apiary, were we could taste delicius tea with honey, see how friendly bees can be (and a snake as well), try local candied fruit and many other. Of course we were insistently offered to buy honey and honey ointment, yet none of us was actually interested.
Still, I think it was very fair from their side, as it is very common to be practially forced to pay extra money for absurd reasons while you travel with vietnamese agencies. In this case, we were just offered to buy things or asked to pay tips for example by the singers at the local music performance or by the rowers at the boat, but no one could feel robbed or tricked in the end. We bought hand made coconut sweets wrapped in rice paper (and then in normal paper), which stack to the candy so tightly you had to eat it as well, but, as you actually eat it every time you try the spring rolls, we didn’t mind that. We were also offered coconut soap, unfortunately the price was absurd.
The next point of the agenda was going along a narrow canal in small wobbly boats. The canal was very crowded, there were hundreds of canoes going in both directions at the same time. It was a very enjoyable experience, comparable to the motorcycle ride through Saigon.
The canal banks were very bushy, there were uncountable palms and bamboos on both sides. It was not uncommon to hit a boat passing by, the canal was not only narrow but also extremely shallow in several places or there ware trunks sticking out of the water. In the end we were asked by the rower for a tip and after having given it we heard that it was definitely to little, yet we pretended not to notice it. Next we reached the restaurant were we were served lunch, rather simple and excluding drinks, but quite OK to be honest. After the meal we had free time to cycle around the little island we were on or fish (or rather feed, to be precise) the aligators in a pond.
The first leisure was included in the price, and as for the other, you had to rent the fishing rod (a bamboo stick with a string at the end) and buy a piece of rotten fish to catch the aligators’ attention. The aligators were wating so still with their muzzles open that they seamed not to be real, but as soon as the fish was close enough the great jaws snapped shut on the string with a loud clap. The last surprise that An Travel had prepared for us was a carriage ride. The horses looked weak and old so it made us feel rather simpathetic than content. Nevertheless,the day as a whole was more than exciting and we were very happy with how it was organized.