Honey wine, snakes, and a cancelled homestay in the Mekong Delta

Only last night we were informed by the friendly staff at our guesthouse that Bich Thuy is actually closing today. We were a little concerned a couple of days ago when we returned to our room amd discovered that the T.V had been removed and a little note had been left beside it by way of an apology! The staff have no idea why they’re suddenly out of jobs, and I’m a little surprised considering Bich Thuy is featured in the Lonely Planet guide and is one of the cheapest guesthouses in Ho Chi Minh City, but today they said goodbye to their last customers.

Kotoe and I checked out, shared hugs and goodbyes and made our way down to the T.M Brothers Office (where they kindly agreed to let me leave my backpack overnight) so that she could catch the bus up to Nha Trang and I could join the 2 day tour I’d booked to the Mekong Delta ($18 including a homestay). I was a little concerned when I boarded the bus, that the majority of passengers seemed to be just shy of collecting their pension or Vietnamese, and that I wouldn’t be able to make a friend for the duration of the tour.

We took a short bus journey to My Tho where we all piled into a motorboat which transported us through the Mekong Delta to our first point of call : a site where coconut candy is made. The site was also home to several large rose apple trees where Vietnamese men with long poles were retrieving the almost-ripe specimens from branches well out of reach of hungry hands (the fruits from the lower branches had already been picked and eaten or trampled into the ground). Coconut candy is made by boiling coconut milk, which produces a sweet much like a toffee.
My earlier fears were allayed when we made our second stop at a bee keeping farm, where I sat down at the same table as and introduced myself to an Autralian girl called Stacey, who’s been travelling for 13 months, and her mother Susan who’s flown out to travel with her daughter for the final six week leg of her trip. At the bee keeping farm we were able to sample honey wine (which tasted like sweet rice wine) and honey tea (which tasted like thehot honey and lemon your mum used to make for you as a child when you were poorly) and I volunteered to be the first person in our group to hold a giant Python. They’re incredibly strong snakes : as well as wrapping himself around my neck, he also wrapped himself around the arm of the chair I was sitting on, so that when I stood up so that the adjacent gentleman could take my photograph, the chair came with me!
We continued our cruise down the Mekong on several smaller paddle boats, each being rowed by a Vietnamese lady wearing one of the traditional conical hats. The river was lined with coconut palms, which formed an archway over our heads. We were all given similar conical hats to wear and a small oar so that we could help with the paddling if we so desired. We took it in turns to paddle (as we kept getting our oars tangled) our way through the Mekong’s narrow channels to a small riverside resort where we ate a rather unimaginative lunch of rice and salad.
After lunch we continued on to a small riverside village where we ate fresh fruit (mango, papaya, longans, dragonfruit and pineapple), witnessed a dispaly of local southern Vietnamese music performed by a selection of the villagers in traditional dress, and wandered around the handicraft shops selling whatever you desire made from coconut shells, including handbags, jewellery, cutlery, crokery, and hair decorations.
We were taken back to My Tho by boat and those of us who had signed up to the two and three day tours began the very long bus journey to Can Tho, a bustling city with a population of 1 million and the capital of the Mekong Delta. I was surprised to discover that the majority of people on the tour had opted for overnight accommodation in a hotel rather than a homestay in a local village. It’s not every day you get the chance to transiently become part of a local family, and to live life as they do and learn about their cultures and customs, which is why I was very disappointed when we arrived in Can Tho and our tour guide broke the news that the homestay was unfortunately no longer possible. Can Tho had experienced a lot of heavy rain over the past few days (much of it still blocking the roads as we drove in) and the home at which we (myself and a Japanese guy) were supposed to be staying was still waterlogged.
So we were given our $4 refund and allocated a twin room in the Huy Hoang hotel for the night. Instead of drinking copious amounts of rice wine (which is what i was earlier informed I’d be doing), I joined Stacey, Susan and the Japanese guy (whose name i later discovered was Yo-hey) for a meal at The Mekong Restaurant, which was located right opposite the imposing statue of Ho Chi Minh right on the riverfront. The food was good and the waiter even went to the trouble of separating the bill for us unprompted.
After the meal we explored Can Tho a little and photographed some cocky little children who followed us around asking for money. We then spent the remainder of the evening at a little local street cafe opposite our hotel drinking cafe sua-da, sharing conversation and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Photo is of street life in Can Tho, the Mekong Delta.

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