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Published: June 11th 2017
Day two in Saigon (it seems locals call the city Saigon rather than Ho Chi Minh City). Today was our day tour with Intrepid's Urban Adventures "Mekong Discovery". Susan and I had booked this day tour from Vancouver for today, which is a free day. Eight of our tour group joined us and we had lots of fun.
We got picked up from our hotel this morning at 8 am, and we headed out to the Mekong Delta, about 2 1/2 hours drive. We were pleased it was a sunny morning. The countryside outside Saigon is quite pretty with lush green rice fields. But much more developed than rural Cambodia. After an hour and a half or so, we stopped at the "Mekong Rest Stop" which is a very pretty tourist rest stop, with bathrooms, gift shops, and coffee stands. Both Susan and I had a Vietnamese iced coffee which is heavenly. It is a very strong coffee, sweetened, with milk, served over ice. Delicious. (We had hot Vietnamese coffee yesterday, which is served with sweetened condensed milk, and is the richest, most delicious coffee anywhere!).
We continued onto the Mekong Delta, and boarded our boat for the trip
Mekong Rest Stop
Susan, Natalie and Andrea (Andy)
across the Mekong River. When we reached our first stop, we walked through the jungle and our tour guide Quang showed us different plants and fruits. We had a tropical fruit tasting, which was excellent. Musicians playing traditional music accompanied by singers entertained us.
We then continued on foot to a bee farm (they also grow and sell orchids). We were served honey tea which was very nice. We then boarded our boat again to the next stop, which was a very simple coconut candy making factory. We saw how the candy is made, and sampled different flavours. We bought ginger, and coffee coconut candy. They are delicious.
We then walked through the jungle to where we were picked up by motorbike driven cart, and we were off through the jungle paths, ducking where palm branches and other vegetation overhung the path, occasionally getting whacked in the face. I guess that's why they make us wear helmets! The ride was a lot of fun and the scenery through the jungle paths and village roads was really amazing to see.
Our ride ended at our lunch stop. This was a place right in the jungle where they serve
local food. We started out with fresh spring rolls (made right in front of us at lightning speed by a very efficient woman). There were chicken and Elephant ear fish spring rolls. Very good. This was followed by lovely vegetarian soup, and an assortment of other dishes (a banana fritter, a sort of veggie deep fried spring roll - but different, a Vietnamese pancake (more like a crispy crepe), and fried rice (with tofu for me). All accompanied by a Vietnamese beer whose name escapes me at the moment (last night at dinner we tried Saigon green and Saigon red - I like Saigon green and Susan likes Saigon red).
The weather had been nice so far, mixed clouds and sun. But after we finished lunch, the rain abuptly started. It was very quickly a torrential downpour, accompanied by thunder. I don't
t think I've ever seen it rain so hard, It was just amazing how much water accumulated in such a short time. We waited for 1/2 hour or so at least for the rain to abate, and eventually Quang handed out rain ponchos and off we went for our boat ride through the jungle (the rower of
our boat was busy bailing out all the accumulated water from the inside of the boat just before we boarded). The rain had slowed down at this point, and this short boat ride was my favourite part of the day. The rain didn't affect my enjoyment of the boat ride, it just made it harder to take photos (trying to keep the camera lens dry).
At this point we re-boaded our larger boat for our ride back to the starting point. The sun was now back out. We were served coconut water (fresh from the coconut) on the way. When we got back to the pier where we started we got back on our mini bus for the long drive back to Saigon. You'll see from the photos the number of motorbikes there are in the city. A truly unbelievable number. Most have 2 or more people on board, often whole families. Everyone seems to wear helmets here. And carry all sorts of things on the motorbikes. The motorbikes have their own traffic lanes and when the light changes there is this surge of more motorbikes than you have ever seen in one place before.
We got back
to the hotel just after 5, and had a quick shower before our tour group meeting at 6 for the next portion of our 18 day tour. Our tour leader is Bon, and he seems very nice and knowledgeable. I think he is a very experienced tour guide. We also have four new members of our group, Susan and Nick from Melbourne, Australia (who are on their honeymoon), and Jasmine and Andy from Sydney, Australia. Both are young couples. That brings our group up to the maximum of 16 (we had 14 for the Cambodia leg).
After our meeting we all went out for dinner. We walked about 20 minutes to get to the family-run restaurant, and it was interesting walking through a different area of Saigon. We passed some very nice hotels on the way. Susan and I shared fresh vegetarian spring rolls, and I had a vegetarian pancake (like a crispy crepe, with bean sprouts and tofu inside). You cut off a piece of the pancake, add some herbs (different green leafy sort of basil looking herbs), roll it up in lettuce, and dip it into a dipping sauce. It was really tasty. Susan had chicken with
lemongrass she said was really good. Plus Saigon beer and a delicious iced coffee to finish it off.
Tomorrow we meet at 7:30, check out of our rooms (we have 3 day rooms to use to store luggage and freshen up later before our sleeper train journey tomorrow night). We then head out to see the Cu Chu tunnels (used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war). After lunch we have a city tour including the War Remnants Museum. I think we get back about 3. We want to check our the Ben Thanh market just down the street tomorrow afternoon. We leave the hotel at 6:30 for the train station where we board the Reunification Express for Danang (then we transfer to Hoi An). The train journey will take 17 hours. Apparently the bathrooms on board will be an experience. Bon said this would be the "worst part" of our trip, so I don't know exactly what to expect, but I'm sure it will be an experience!
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