After spending a significant amount of time exploring Ho Chi Minh City, I wanted to see a different side of Vietnamese culture. I took a tour with Anna of the rural areas about 2.5 hours outside of the city.
The two of us joined a bus tour with two elderly New Zealanders, two middle aged Belgians, and one Canadian our age. The group bonded quickly over our western cultural similarities, discussions about the U.S. elections, and our interest in travel. Considering our group’s varied cultural backgrounds and ages, it was amazing how fast we all connected and became friends.
Our first stop of the tour was a glass and art studio run by local handicapped Vietnamese artists. I was amazed at the talent, ability, and attention to detail demonstrated by the artists. They used knives, eggshells, heat, and their bare hands to create incredible works of art meant to be sold to tourists to support their community. I was inspired and bought a few small Christmas gifts for my family.
While traveling for hours in the van, I spent a lot of time observing the small villages and land in the area. I saw tiny homes that were the size of some fairly large sheds seen in the United States. I also saw mostly barefoot people hard at work outside in the hot 90 degree weather. Other common sights included a lot of stray dogs, unrefrigerated meat for sale, trash, cattle, swamps, graves in the swamps, gorgeous vegetation, and generally happy looking people.
Next, we went to the Mekong River for boat rides. While on the way, I was noticing early sunburn, so I decided to buy a hat before getting on the boat. I found a street vendor and bought a fake Under Armour hat for only the equivalent of $2. The ridiculously cheap merchandise is something I will miss when going back to Singapore. Once I got my hat, we were served a quick lunch (see the fish above…), and then headed across the river.
On the other side of the river, we got to meet tiny communities of people. These people lived in tiny huts near the river. They didn’t speak any English and they traveled everywhere by boat, carriage, or foot. Everyone was incredibly friendly and seemed to enjoy meeting foreigners. After walking for approximately a mile, we arrived to the river boats where women in conical hats waited to paddle us through the area. The scenery was mesmerizing with vivid green plants, light gracefully peeking through the trees, and there were gorgeous flowers everywhere. The culture in these river villages compared to Ho Chi Minh City was like comparing rural Upstate New York to New York City. For places in such close proximity, it is incredible to see the stark differences. People were much more simple and traditional. Modern convinces were all not available, yet nobody seemed to have a problem with it. The community seemed to have a generally joyful attitude despite not having the modern luxuries I am used to.
The next stop was a small and beautifully decorated hut. A group of formally dressed Vietnamese women sat us down and served us fresh, tropical fruit and tea. While we ate, they sang traditional Vietnamese folk songs and then ended with “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands”(I was awkwardly the only person who clapped because nobody in our group could understand the accents). We graciously tipped, thanked them, ate the fruit, and then headed for our next adventure.
Next, our tour guide lead us to the road where two little horse drawn carriages waited for us. The carriages dropped us off at a somewhat hidden entry that lead to a long walkway. As we entered, the tour guide momentarily yelped and jumped because a large, bright green pit viper (poisonous!!) slithered by our path! I was more than ready to turn back, but he convinced us to keep going, but to also stay vigilant. I was completely panicking inside, but trying to play it cool.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kennyboy7/3992874991
At the end of our path, we made it to a tiny shop/home by the water’s edge. Our guide grabbed a honey bee box and pulled out a sheet (not sure of the proper term) of unbelievably docile bees with his bare hands. Shortly after the “demonstration”, we were invited into another hut for honey candy and honey tea from locals.
Finally, after a long day of exploring, we found a large boat and sailed across the Mekong River to end our tour. The view was breathtaking. On one side of the boat was an unbelievable sunset. On the direct opposite side was the supermoon eclipse. I hate to sound over-dramatic, but it was the most surreal view I have ever seen in my life. See the images below.