We left our base hotel station in Ho Chi Minh City for a few days in The Mekong Delta.
This meant a long chauffeured journey to the delta region. While the countryside was very beautiful, we only stopped twice. The first time was to tour a temple. The second time was to use the restroom. At the rest stop, I had an inspiring conversation with a canadian expat. She was leading a group of foreign students on a field trip. She had taken a teaching position at an english-language school in Vietnam. The students were the children of (presumably) wealthy foreign workers. Work as in highly-skilled. Finance, engineering, the big dollar stuff. My mind spun wildly (it still does) at the prospect of dropping everything and trekking off to Vietnam for several (decades), ahem, years to teach.
The Mekong Delta.
No offense to the wonderful people of Vietnam. But this particular region is probably best described as one of abject poverty. Not in a desperate, crime-ridden sort of way. Mostly in terms of not having much at all. As we waited for a ferry to take us across the Hau Giang River, vendors spotted our faces. Their eyes went wide and they hurried over to the car to hawk their wares. While we were never disrespectful, it was impossible not to feel somewhat sad for them. This was certainly a hard-scrabble existence.
We spent close to a month in Vietnam. In retrospect, I think we could have managed to travel without a guide. But in certain situations (especially early in our journey), it was probably a good thing that we had a guide. Generally, a casual gesture from an indigenous guide to dismiss a vendor will be honored with no slight taken. We never felt in danger. We just never wanted to be perceived as haughty imperialists.
The Mekong Delta provided an eclectic dichotomy. The first thing that struck me was the folly of waging a war with these people. You are reading this story and looking at photos. I have taken a boat ride on the Mekong through dense foliage on an oppressively hot day. Madness. Those gilded men in plush offices, surrounded by aides and bodyguards certainly had no idea what it must have been like for a draftee during the Vietnam War. I am not saying that I do. I am just saying that being there made what I have seen and read about the war much more real.
We were also reminded here that we were still tourists. And not even the exotic kind. There were tons of tourists exploring the Mekong Delta . Lamely, we ate a restaurant recommended by the lonely planet every night. We talked to a couple of guys visiting from their charity work in Cambodia. It's all about one-upmanship in conversations like this: "Oh, you are traveling here for a month? How nice. I've been clearing mines in Cambodia for 2 years."
The Phong Dien and Cai Rang floating markets are truly something to behold. All us tourists, and a bunch of locals pull our boats up to floating vendor boats. Foodstuffs, clothes, you name it. On the Mekong, the family home is a floating store.
One can't help but notice that the Mekong is a "full-service" river. Fishing, bathing, clothes washing, AND the expelling of human waste all take place in this same water source. Also bear in mind the oil, smoke, and gas emissions from the ancient engines on the boats.
Needless to say, we drank a lot of bottled water here.