I mentioned that we spent nearly two weeks in Ho Chi Minh City trying to figure out where next, but I didn’t really get into how we came up with the itinerary that resulted.
I wanted to take a train up the coast of Vietnam from HCMC to Hanoi, but I also wanted to return to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat with Stephanie. Since we didn’t want to backtrack, doing both was not possible. Sure, we could have booked a round trip ticket to Siem Reap, but part of the puzzle has been finding a route that moves us forward. It’s something we’ve discovered to be really important for our psychological well-being: a sense of progress.
During our time in HCMC, we stumbled upon some ads for tours of the Mekong Delta, which proved to be the key to the puzzle. The three-day tour offered an option to end in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, getting there by boat no less, rather than returning to HCMC by bus. It had everything we were looking for: alternative form of transportation, Cambodia, and forward motion. After a few days rest in Phnom Penh, I knew we could continue by boat to Siem Reap and see Angkor Wat. The last piece of the puzzle fell into place when I found a cheap direct flight from Siem Reap to Đà Nẵng, Vietnam (hooray for our multiple entry visa!), where we could pick up the sleeper train to Hanoi after visiting Hội An.
On Feb 7th, we checked out of our HCMC hotel, and boarded a tour bus heading towards Mỹ Tho on the Mekong Delta. We arrived at a pavilion where we listened to traditional music and ate jungle fruits: pineapple, banana, and watermelon, oh my! We took a small boat to a coconut candy factory. We took a large boat to an island on the Mekong Delta for lunch. In other words we did the types of things and visited the types of places that were set up to handle boatloads of tourists all at once. It was kind of lame. The upside was that for a few days, we didn’t have to worry about the logistics of getting ourselves from HCMC to Phnom Penh.
One good decision we made was to “upgrade” the first night’s lodging from a hotel to a homestay. Of course we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into. After arriving in Cần Thơ for the night we got into a taxi that we thought was taking us to the homestay. Our taxi got lost. Eventually he found his way, and dropped us off at a dirt road as dusk was fast approaching. We were told to walk along the dirt path, which snaked its way under an elevated highway crossing a small river. It was like how I’d imagine my last moments before I disappear off the face of the earth. Thankfully at the river’s edge we were met by a man with a boat. The 6 or 8 of us got in the boat, and we started heading down the river towards the homestay.
It was around dinnertime when we arrived, so everyone helped roll spring rolls (we had practice!) as an appetizer. Dinner was make-your-own fresh spring rolls, using rice paper, lettuce, mint, cucumber, tomato, rice noodles, and meat from a whole Mekong elephant ear fish. It was very tasty. We enjoyed beer and chatted with the other travelers, some from the tour, and some who’d come to the homestay due to glowing reviews on TripAdvisor. Finally we slipped off to bed because we had agreed to be up just before 6 the next morning for a tour of the local market.