This weekend, we decided to spend our day on a tour. Yup. We are not very good tourists, honestly because most of the time we’d rather be figuring it out on our own. One reason we wanted to take this tour is to explore the roads and stops for a possible cruise bicycle tour from Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho. My Tho (pronounced as “Meeh Tho”) is a town where we rode the boats to the islands.
The van ride to My Tho has a 16km freeway stretch that does not allow motorbikes or bicycles. So, we’d have to figure out the others road alternative for that freeway stretch. It’s about a good 90km from Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho on a bicycle according to some bike touring companies.
We were picked up from our hotel by a lovely man named Denny. Denny was our tour guide for the rest of the day and have scheduled a full day of activities for us. There were a couple from Germany and a family with two young boys from Australia also in the tour. Denny gave us a lot of information about Vietnam on the way to My Tho. He asked me if I was Vietnamese because I did look like one according to him. We then had a conversation about my family escaping the war in 1975 and he talked about how tough life was in Vietnam after the war. Years later, Vietnam figured out that free enterprise and capitalism is much more progressive compared to the restrictions earlier on. He also talked about the differences between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. We’ve never been to Hanoi after about 11 months living in Vietnam, we are bad tourists!
Our first stop was the temple built in the 1800s. We heard monks pray, had ice cream, took photos and then off we went. On the way to the ferry, Denny explained the 4 sacred animals which were also the islands we were visiting next. I am not going into the details of our itinerary however, will go into more of my observations during our tour.
Vietnamese people are very hard working people. The whole tourist industry in My Tho is quite good. They get thousands of tourists visiting everyday. A lot of the people in each island actually live on the island. The locals, like anywhere in the world do this for a living. I was hesitant at first to do such tours because of the stories I’ve read about locals pressuring for tips but I am glad I did it because I did not experience such things during our tour. Just imagine doing the same thing over and over each time for more than hundreds of tour groups everyday. I am sure it gets pretty tiring but it is their livelihood.
The surrounding river pathways are kept clean, even the places we’ve visited like the coconut candy factory, fishery, traditional singing while having fresh fruits served are well maintained. There are a lot of small souvenir stores on the island as well.
Tourists bring in money. The tours are very organized and on schedule which makes it a lot convenient to those on a very compressed schedule while visiting Vietnam. These tourist come to see places then leave to the next one. There is no time to really dig into the lives of others living in Vietnam. That is how it goes.
It is very different for me when I am back in Vietnam. This is the country I was born in. A place still called Saigon by many. Everytime I see a Vietnamese person, I see my Vietnamese relatives and remember living with them. I have been detached from my culture yet I am back here but for a different reason.
Denny spoke to me in Vietnamese and I can barely understand him. He told me that my Vietnamese is very broken. I totally agree with him. It is so broken but I am able to survive and it’s getting a tiny bit better. It’s very slow to get better and I am trying my best.
Denny and his family were wealthy before the war. Right after the war, his family had to move away to the country to survive. His grandmother owned a large rice factory but at the time of hardship, she was only able to send a limited amount of rice per law. His father had tried to send him to the US at a younger age for a better life by embarking on a small fishing boat but eventually was caught by the law.
In my opinion, there is no better life in the US. A person’s life is not dictated by places they live in but the attitude they have towards their life. Obviously, to us abundance is not necessary a good thing. Denny works as a freelance tour guide so he is flexible to take days off if he wants to. He has a family with a 8 year old child and lives in the wealthiest district. We would find that quite a good arrangement.
We really enjoyed the trip! Denny spoke very good English and explained things very well. I had so many thoughts while looking at the river water as we rode to each island. First, how a war can break people’s spirit, how a war can also bring new hope.
Here in Ho Chi Minh City, the weather pretty much stays the same everyday. The city has 12,000,000 people and it’s growing. The city is quickly progressing, in lightning speed. However, the small tours to the Mekong Delta probably won’t change much. A lot of the Vietnamese culture is starting to disappear but some help keep it in tact. These tours are people’s livelihood and also a way to keep the old Vietnam around, hopefully for a while.