Vietnam is very similar to the Philippines. The climate is hot and humid, lands are mostly for farming, and the people are warm and friendly. This went to my mind when Water Buffalo Tours (WB) let us experience what it was like to be a Mekong Local for a Day.
More than the usual Mekong Delta Trip for tourists, WB arranged for us a private, in-depth, and non-touristy tour.
We were picked up by the very charming guide, Thuan around 7:30am. Riding a Mercedes Sprinter (and once again feeling like VIPs), we headed out to our very first destination: Cao Dai Temple. This temple is a place of worship for a religion uniquely for Vietnamese. Only here will you see statues depicting Jesus, Buddha, the Sages, and maybe Saints too. They also featured a painting depicting the Sun Yay-Sen, Victor Hugo, and Nguyen Binh Khiem — whom they recognize as Saints, signing a covenant between God and humanity. This religion is quite similar to Buddhism – ultimately doing good works, such as ancestor worship, peaceful living, prayer, and vegetarianism – to be able to go to heaven. Search this religion in Wikipedia if you wish to find out more about it.
In our tour, we only met one group of tourists – another group that was led by Mr. Khoi Nguyen, the managing director of Water Buffalo Tours himself! He’s a very nice and affable guy, and it was quite obvious that he loves his country.
Our next stop was Can Duoc Market. Here you will see a simple rural market where ordinary Vietnamese citizens get their daily food. I got to see a live duck being carried away, knowing in my heart that it’ll be food later on. The people here were quite friendly. Some old women touched my face without permission, smiling and talking excitedly to one another in rapid Vietnamese. Thuan said they found me pretty. Ha!
We then took a short ferry ride on My Loi ferry to cross Vam Co river. I thought we would get off our car to take it, but the car went with us – it was my first time to ride in a Ro-Ro (Roll-on/roll-off ship)! There was a hawker on board, and we got to try the big rice cracker with meat floss. Yummy!
Then, we went to a furniture workshop. It was uninteresting at first, for it looked like an open air showroom along the road, which it actually was. The nice thing about the place was the cultural implication. Vietnamese people worship their ancestors. What this particular furniture workshop specialized in, is the making of the very special altar for the departed. Almost all houses in Vietnam have one. The value of materials used, and the intricacy of carving details will determine the price of each cabinet. This also serves as a status symbol for the remaining family members.
On our way to Tan Hoa, we were fortunate enough to see a Chili nursery this time of the year. They were using leaves to create them. Very organic and ingenious!
Finally, we arrived at a local village, and met Mr. Khoi’s mother and brother. We were supposed to enjoy an easy bicycle ride around the town – because that was how they used to travel around it, but because only Fil knew how to ride the bike well, we opted for the second best thing: jump on the back of a scooter and tour the village for fifteen minutes. Who toured us? Obviously not just Thuan. He got local help from visiting neighbors. The good thing about not riding the bicycle was that you don’t get tired. The disadvantage of this was that you don’t get information about what you see around the village, because your driver doesn’t speak English. I had an advantage though. I hopped behind the back of Thuan’s scooter. Thuan, was really kind enough to explain everything we saw and answer all my questions. The village was simple and the people were CONTENTED. That state of mind is hard to find in this ever materialistic world.
Because my driver was our tour guide, he knew exactly what stories to tell, and where to bring me. We even made a quick stop to a place where they make incense sticks.
Finally, it was time for lunch, and off we went to Tan Thanh beach for a seafood lunch. When I said beach, I wasn’t mistaking it for the shore of Mekong River. It was really the beach – opening up to the South China Sea! In our trip, we had actually touched South China Sea! The food was excellent. We ate and ate until we couldn’t any longer. But, Thuan, our guide remembered the water coconut we got from a street vendor along the way. He asked the servers to serve it with ice and we had an instant dessert. It was good!
And what beach trip would be complete without a short photo shoot session?
Finally, it was time for us to visit the Upper Mekong River. In my opinion, this was the anticlimactic part of the tour, instead of the highlight. We cruised along the river, and transferred to a smaller boat to wind through a clean and isolated looking creek of Tan Tach. We got off the boat and were led to a small souvenir shop that specialized in sculpting Coconut wood. To show our support to their local economy, we bought some stuff. Again, my portable electric fan became very helpful.
We walked out of the small village, and there was our vehicle, waiting for us! We rode back to Bich Duyen Hotel, passing through Rach Mieu Suspension Bridge. I was glad that the traffic was light, and this tour was organized very efficiently.
At first glance, it seemed that Philippines and Vietnam are exactly alike. But after experiencing this day, their difference became obvious. I cannot help but admire the simple life of the Vietnamese, and how they use their surroundings to their advantage. Similarly, I began to appreciate my kababayans (countrymen) more in their quest to have a better life for the next generation. I noted how respectful the Vietnamese are to their elders, to the point of worshipping them, and I was glad that a lot of Filipinos are Christians who believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven.
Venturing to a non-touristy area, even to a seemingly familiar setting, will open your mind and make you learn new things. I hope that someday, I would be able to go to another place, and experience being their local for a day.
* read my other blogs about Ho Chi Minh:
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