Lost in Vietnam

Ben Tre Side of Delta
Somewhere along the delta

My time in Vietnam was definitely a day by day thing. I was living the book definition of “going with the flow”. So of course on a sudden whim, a friend and I decided that we wanted to go to the Mekong Delta. After some quick research, we found that the Ben Tre side of the Delta was a good and close destination. Both of us not being planners, we were just kind of like “okay let’s do it”. The next morning, she got a sim card, and I sat in McDonalds using the free wi-fi. We googled how to get Ben Tre, referencing the routes of previous travelers and taking suggestions from Wikitravel. We found that there was a cheap bus that would take us directly from Ho Chi Minh to Ben Tre where we could get to the Delta. Pretty simple.

The bus station was not in walkable distance, so we caught a taxi from McDonalds to Windsor Plaza Hotel which was said to be near the bus station. This is where the trip started to get a little shifty. I don’t think I can even convey what happened in full just through a blog post. The bus station was located a little far out from the center of the city so we were warned multiple times when we arrived to keep our belongings close. We were standing outside of the hotel looking up our destination when one of the workers told us to go inside and look because it’s dangerous to have our phones in hand outside. This was an extreme amount of caution that we had yet to experience while closer to the city center. Even our taxi driver made sure we stuffed everything in our bags and zipped it up before we got out as he repeated the words “pick pocketers” several times. Which is quite ironic because our taxi driver in a fit of movements and a chaotic exchange of broken English would steal around $70 worth of dong from my friend. She wouldn’t notice till about ten minutes later.

The people at Windsor Plaza Hotel were super friendly and helpful. We told the guy at reception where we were trying to go expecting a simple point in the right direction. But he was so detailed, even calling the bus station to confirm the price so we were not cheated. After graciously thanking him and the door man who lead us in, we headed directly to the bus station. We bought our ticket at the expected price, got on the bus, and headed straight for Ben Tre.

This bus was made for and catered to locals, so all the exchanges happened in Vietnamese. I am jumping ahead, but this is different from Myanmar where some bus lines were obviously used to having lots of foreigners. There would be a time where we stopped mid-trip at a Bahn mi stall. The bus driver came down the hall and everyone started handing him cash. I thought everyone was buying a Bahn Mi, but when they started handing cash over to the actual Bahn Mi guy, I became confused. Immediately after handing over the cash, a bahn mi would be given in exchange. My friend awkwardly tried to buy a bahn mi, hilariously muttering out the two words “Bahn mi?”. But there was a short moment of silent confusion before the Bahn mi guy just turned around and descended from the bus. The sandwiches smelled so good and I wish I had been more aggressive about trying to figure out how to get my hands on one.

After two hours, we arrived at a place that was obviously not along the Mekong Delta. We asked the ladies at the counter to direct us in the right direction, but they were very confused. I tried exchanging the word “delta” for the word “river” and something seemed to click. She repeated Mekong river to us with some slight confusion, and I repeated it back to her while nodding. When I sensed that original confusion in her, I should have acted on it. Because while she got us on a bus to the Mekong river, it wasn’t exactly where we wanted to be. The bus literally dropped us off on the side of the highway at some random part of the river. But the good news was, we made it.

Obviously not our intended destination

Here we were, on the side of the highway with no grasp of Vietnamese. None of the locals around us spoke English and we would have to use a combination of charades and google translate to communicate. While wandering for help, we came across an area along the river that was advertising Delta tours. I’m actually not sure if this place was really a tourist agency, but the lady who greeted us spoke no English and kept trying to sell us crocodile hunting tours. Further in, men lay fast asleep in rows of hammocks. It became apparent that we weren’t going to get help here. We spent a long time playing charades with people. Every local told us that we’d have to take a motorbike, but we were trying really hard to avoid doing so. Eventually with a stroke of luck, one lone taxi came passing by.  We flagged the taxi down and found ourselves back en route to the Delta.

Supposed tourist agency in the middle of nowhere.

 

Vietnamese Iced Coffee
Sitting down to eat after being lost for some time.

My friend found a hotel that booked tours on the Delta so we headed towards there. Unfortunately, when we got there, the tours were finishing up for the day. The man behind the desk suggested for us to come tomorrow morning, but that was not possible. We asked him what else we could do around here and he suggested getting bikes from the hotel and taking the bike route around the Delta. But since we weren’t guests at the hotel they refused to let us rent one because the only had a limited supply for their guests. The only choice we had was to keep on walking and find other options. In the end, we found a man at the docks who agreed to take us down the river for an hour. He said an hour wasn’t enough to see much of what the Delta has to offer, but we were desperate to experience something since we came all this way.

Mekong Delta
The sun setting as we approach the end of the boat ride

It was an interesting boat ride. The guy who actually took us on the ride was not the same man we made the agreement with. Throughout the whole boat ride, this man did not say a word to us. At one point, he started looking for some peculiar spiky looking fruit. When he first pulled in to the trees and picked up his machete, we were very confused as to what was happening. Pretty soon we realized he was looking for fruit, particularly something that lay in the interior of the fruit. Our tour down the delta became a hunt for whatever this peculiar fruit had to offer. Whatever it was, he never found it.

Searching for this treasured fruit.

Our short tour ended as the sun set in the distance just in time for us to catch the last bus back to Ho Chi Minh. While our trip to the Delta was unorthodox and quite messy, we still ended up where we wanted to be and doing what we wanted to do. The trip back to the city was very smooth. And upon our arrival back in Ho Chi Minh we happened in to a Coffee Shop that was hosting an event in celebration for Valentines. It was the cutest cap to an adventurous day.

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