Many tourists venture to the Mekong Delta on a day trip, ripped off by Saigon prices, rushed and taken to a place filled with numerous tourists, not allowing themselves to take the time to experience real Vietnam. Me? I had the lucky opportunity to spend two weeks in an area of the Mekong Delta where I saw no other tourists: My Tho. My first experience with My Tho was being dropped off by a minibus on a street corner which on first appearances looked like the middle of nowhere. I saw no ATMs, no McDonalds, and more importantly no bars. Suddenly right behind me, a motorbike crashed into another motorbike. Seeing a motorbike crash for the first time right before your eyes is pretty scary, let me tell you. I immediately looked around at my fellow travellers asking if we should do anything or if anyone was a doctor (I was hoping someone was, like they are in the movies), by the time I turned around a crowd had surrounded the main victim and had got him sitting down comfortably giving him water and running around on the road acquiring all his broken bits of his motorbike. After a while the man got back on his bike and drove home, obviously indicating that neither the bike nor he was that injured to complain about. No insurance calls needed.
We began to walk round the town and inspect where we were to live and work – I was volunteering to build houses – for the next two weeks. We were taken to the local market where we saw everything freshly caught and killed sprawled out on scales waiting to be bought.
Fresh vegetables and strange looking fruit were on every stand selling at cheap prices. Walking the streets by the river we saw people creating houses out of nothing, shacks of rusty metal and decaying wood, living over the river in great poverty, but getting by. We had breakfast from food trolleys on wheels, as that’s the only way I can describe them, with fresh baked goods and a smiling woman recognizing you’re order. We ate pork and rice on plastic chairs made for pre schoolers and we went to the food market and ordered dishes by pointing. We were laughed at by teenagers sitting on chairs on the pavement as they never had seen people like us before- I guess we might have looked strange. We went to cafes and when asking for beer got lemonade instead. It seems this sleepy town of My Tho was a sober town which made me appreciate the true beauty of the Vietnamese lifestyle.
I’m glad I got the opportunity to work with local builders and try fresh fruit every day, and play with the families we were building the house for as I felt I was doing something that made the people think I’m not just another drunken tourist- although I have my moments, that I really wanted to spend time with the people and give them something in return.
My tip would be try stay away from the tourist path and organise your own exploration around the Mekong. The smaller the group, the better.