Pam and I do not often take tours, prefering to go our own way and explore at our own pace. But sometimes the tour is the best way to go: the cheapest, the safest, and the most effective way to see difficult to reach places. Yesterday I took the tour to the Mekong Delta. In order to get a good price you have to be prepared to do a little shopping around, which can take some time. I checked out the prices at a few places ranging from 90 to 150 dollars American before I found the same package for $15. That included a motorcycle pickup at my hotel. We boarded a small airconditioned bus for the two hour drive to the start of the delta at a place called My Tho. Those who opted for the cheaper package got off here to tour the fruit orchards and honey farms that dot the delta.

I stayed on the bus for another hour to the northern main branch of the Mekong where we boarded a comfortable and stable boat for a tour of the floating market, an area where fresh produce is brought down the river and sold wholesale to the many vegetable sellers in this region. We had the obligatory tour of the coconut candy and the puffed rice stores, but the rustic and hand intensive production of both operations was quite interesting, and the Vietnamese tea that they served, kept piping hot inside tea cosy that was a hollowed out coconut shell, had a delicate flavour and aroma.

Then it was back on the river to go across to the village for lunch. The Mekong is probably close to two kilometers wide at this point, at least this one branch of it is, and I was grateful for a steady craft and a powerful engine. Across the river we entered a narrow channel, that branched many times before we docked at a little village for lunch consisting of rice, chicken vegetables and a local delicacy called ‘elephant fish.’ It was delicious.

I managed to cop a wee nap in a hammock before we headed out again. The Mekong Delta is tidal, and now that it was low tide we had to be paddled out on small skiffs rowed by a wiry Vietnamese who stand at the back of the boat and row forward, crossing and levering two long oars against each other along the narrow channel. A variety of ducks frolicked and fed in our wake until we reached the next branch of the Mekong where our larger boat lay anchored. Once again we manoevered downriver, the Mekong’s flow now battled by the incoming tidal waters from the sea making for some turbulent water. Safely ashore at Vinh Long we walked through a long market crowded with produce to a small outdoor cafe overlooking the river. We sat sipping iced tea and staring at the river while we waited for our bus to arrive to take us back to Saigon.

The bus trip back was uneventful, but I was happy not to be driving. The roads in this densely populated country are crowded with trucks, and lane discipline is a new concept, most prefering their half of the road right down the middle, thank you. We stopped once at a lovely roadside restaurant, complete with gardens, before hitting the road again. We got into Saigon around 7:30 pm, almost exactly 12 hours after we had started. The tour guide, the bus, the boat, the lunch; all that cost me $15 for one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences. I think I got a bargain.