Mekong Delta Bike Tour
Mekong Delta, Vietnam – October 16, 2018
This weekend I got out of the city and did a two-day motorbike trip around the Mekong River Delta. On Friday, just as I was getting off work, two buddies who I had met traveling exactly one year ago in Thailand, texted me saying that they were in Ho Chi Minh City. They told me they were going on a motorbike tour and that we should meet up when they got back to the city, but I jumped on board the fun-train and decided to tag along.
Staying out until 3:30am for a coworker’s birthday probably wasn’t the best idea when meeting the crew for a 6:45am departure was on the itinerary, but with a little Vietnamese coffee, I was good to go. We slept a bit on a local bus to Ben Tre where we picked up 5 automatic bikes and scooted off toward Happy Family Homestay for the night. Our journey would take us 60km to a tiny crook in the Mekong, about 6km from the nearest town of Vinh Long. The only way in to the guesthouse was by scooter, road-bike, or riverboat.
Our tour guide took us down a maze of back-road Mekong wilderness, on little roads that were only wide enough for bikes fit. The cracked cement path zigzagged over the many canals on 2-foot-wide rickety hand-built bridges. Trunkless palm trees grew straight out of the water, and we were shaded by giant racks of green bananas, super-leafy canopies and big bright orange and yellow flowering trees. Children dressed in colorful pajamas would run out to say, “helloooo,” and river-folk fished with bamboo-rods in the muddy brown waters outside their shaded country-homes.
The tiny white back-roads were super fun to scoot along for the first few hours, but after 4thhour of twisting and turning on craggily/slippery swamp-roads in the heat of the day, I started to feel restless. My neck hurt, my hands were fully callused, my entire upper body was shaking with the hum of the motor, and I had a solid farmer-tan setting in. We got lost a few times down random roads and had to turn back, cutting across sandy fields, muddy alleyways and twisting gravel paths that were only wide enough for our tire-treads. In the end, I was so exhausted from sharply maneuvering my scooter that I lost the strength to control my bike and ended up falling 3x in slippery mud and deep sandpits. Luckily, I stuck my landings pretty well, landing on top of my bike rather than under it. At least I wasn’t like the guy on the tour the week before that launched his bike off one of the little river bridges.
When we arrived at the guesthouse, we were so ready for the hammock chairs and the cold beers that were provided. The place was so safe and remote that we left our bike-keys in our ignitions, immediately took off our shoes and wandered barefoot around the peaceful property. The big white house was set between a jackfruit forest and a fertile flood-zone of floating hyacinth on the Mekong. Thatched roof cottages, thick-cut traditional wooden furniture, colorful statues of Buddha, dragons, and intricate paintings of traditional medicine, chakra charts, and zodiac mandalas adorned the lovely estate.
We hopped in the pool and headed straight to the stilted open-air restaurant that was built over the river. Two sisters cooked us an amazing array of Vietnamese cuisine including, fried rice, satay chicken, Banh Xeo, root vegetable stew, steamed cabbages and (the best)—a jackfruit curry. The brother showed us how to hollow out a banana to make a shot-glass for what he called, “happy water” (rice-wine moonshine). The food was absolutely amazing, but we decided the rice-wine tasted like a cross of plastic bottles and barbecue sauce. For 30k/bottle, I guess you can’t really complain. We played cards, drank about 6-bottles of “happy water” and then jumped off the roof of a boat into the Mekong.
In the early morning, we took a riverboat ride and then hopped ship to smaller canoes that were paddled by petite purple ladies wearing traditional silk Ao Dai. Saying goodbye to our hosts was actually quite sad as I felt so at peace within their sheltered wooden abode. They were such a sweet little family that worked together, cooked together, welcomed guests into their home with bright eyes and big smiles, and enjoyed the simplicities of life from their little dock on the Mekong. We hugged them all goodbye, thanked them for opening their home to us for the night, and headed back along the river-bridging bike path.
The way back took us through several river villages, where bikes were the only mode of transportation and a surprising amount of rural weddings were taking place. Colorful tent-structures housed happy brides and grooms, while drunk relatives and neighbors swayed back and forth, gargling the words to the blasting countryside Karaoke. We stopped at a roadside café where I was thoroughly amused by the “restroom.” A woman grabbed my hand and dragged me through the jungle behind her restaurant. Showing me the way to their toilet, she pointed to an actual pond with two cement foot-piers leading out over the water. Out here, a foot-tall metal box (equip with a waste-bin) was where you squatted and watched as your excrements trickled into the pond below. Turning back around on this little potty-pier was quite a process, as one wrong move, you’d be in deep shit.
On our drive, hundreds of furry red Rambutans (my favorite fruit) clung to the tree-branches of irrigated farms that were dug into the Mekong clay. I was hoping to find a branch where I could pick some for myself, or buy some. We rode past a harvest where locals sat in their straw hats, picking through the red berries. A lady saw how excited I was, ran up to me clinging to a fistful of ripened branches, said something excitedly in Vietnamese and shoved them into my hand. I somehow have really good “traveler’s luck,” I like to call it. At first, I thought the $85 fee for the trip was rather pricey, especially for Vietnam, but as we crossed the Mekong delta on the last wooden bike-ferry and a Vietnamese baby smiled and waved at me, I realized that our trip was worth every penny. Over the last two days, we scooted through incredible countryside, ate one of the best meals I’ve had in Vietnam, rekindled old friendships and made new friends and family to last a lifetime.
Alena Horowitz | Miss Potato