A Deep Travel Low
I am mostly a pretty happy traveller and I can bounce back from quite a lot of setbacks. However if you ask my husband to tell you the most miserable he's ever seen me on a holiday (actually possible even NOT on holiday) he'll groan at the memory and tell you it was the day we took a boat trip up the Mekong Delta to stay at a local homestay. Me, river boats and holidays – not a great combination at the best of times but throw in torrential rain and you've to a recipe for guaranteed misery.
We were part of a tour group comprising rather a lot of people who probably should have gone to Thailand and got drunk on a beach. It was a very unusual group since the typical so-called 'adventure travel' tour tends to comprise a large proportion of retired couples and single women over 40. This one was different for having a very young group and more young single men than normal. Testosterone tensions had blossomed over the two weeks, some flirtatious behaviour by some of the party hadn't made for an easy journey and by the time we were due to go to the homestay, I could have comfortably napalmed a good half of the group. Spending two days with them in a small boat would have been torment even if the sun had been shining.
Messing about on the river
We left most of our gear in storage at the hotel, took only what we needed for one night and set off to join the boat. It was a ropey old vessel with a roof but open sides and with shockingly uncomfortable seats. The skies looked threatening and within a half hour of our departure it started to rain. As time passed the rain continued, getting harder and blowing at an angle that took it straight into the boat. The seats were soaked, we were soaked and it was clear that nobody was going to be dry for a long time. Sitting in our plastic bag coats with our belongings getting wetter by the minute we were not a happy crew.Going up the Delta should be a lovely trip that offers an insight into life on and around the Mekong river. Those who've watched too many films about what the locals call 'The American War' will be humming 1970s tunes and recalling clips from 'Apocalypse Now' and other period films and pretending they're off to battle, rather than to stay with a family in a tourist trap on the river banks.
We should have seen all types of human trade and interaction taking place on the river with floating markets piled high with fruit and vegetables. We didn't – clearly the locals were as fed up with the weather as we were. We chugged along the river viewing the world through steamed up glasses, harumphing at the cold and wet miserableness of our situation.
Desperate to pretend this was a tour with some educational merit we were taken off the boat and dragged into a tofu factory to watch tofu production and packing – in the rain. We were taken into a workshop making – of all the morbid items – coffins. We strolled along the banks dodging the puddles and bedraggled dogs and chickens wishing we were somewhere else; somewhere dry where every person we passed didn't look suicidal.
Not Quite the Marriott
After several hours chugging along the water we reached our camp for the night – a place that seemed designed to satisfy all the requirements of a 'who can build the accommodation most attractive to mosquitos' competition. We were split into two dorms – one for the women, the other for the men – each with very basic cot beds. Mosquito coils were placed optimistically under the mattresses - I say optimistically because I doubt the average mosquito can get off the ground in a downpour. We took advantage of the remaining light to set up our sleeping bags, lay out our bits and bobs and to contemplate how much nicer it would have been to be in a decent hotel.
We killed time by candle and lamp light until dinner – a challenge for the non-meat eaters to find what was safe to consume. An ugly big eyed river fish was served but it was difficult to find the bones by the light of our head torches. After dinner the irritating group members knocked back lots of lethal snake wine whilst I crept off to the security of my sleeping bag, leaving a miasma of DEET wherever I walked. I was convinced I wouldn't sleep a wink. My guts were filled with fear of needing to get up in the night for the toilet (I use the term lightly).
The sun will come out tomorrow
I was proven wrong and slept pretty well, waking with the optimism of someone who knows she's heading back to civilisation. We ate a hearty breakfast, packed up all our soggy clothes in our bags and returned to the boat. The return trip was better – it didn't rain, we saw some action on the water, got more of a sense of just how strange it was to live by and on the river and the journey back seemed to fly by. It was safe to take photos without fear or destroying our cameras and if I remember correctly the sun crept out briefly to show its face.I'm not precious about accommodation when I'm on holiday and I don't worry about roughing it. I've slept in places that are filthy, electrically unsafe and have wildlife. I've slept under the stars in deserts, I've stayed in disgusting hotels and in village houses where accommodation was more than basic. Normally I can take it all in my stride. But spending a day and a night on the river, soaking wet and surrounded by people I'd come to dislike intensely put me in the lowest point I've ever been whilst in pursuit of a holiday.
If you have the chance to do a Mekong Delta tour and it looks like it might not rain, go for it but generally speaking I'd recommend to stick to a day trip and avoid staying over. We really didn't see a lot more by spending additional time there overnight although I did enjoy waking up to watch the mothers taking their kids to school and the Delta waking up. My only other suggestion is to check the boat before you agree to go - and try to pick one that's got a bit more weather protection than we had.
Our tour was included as part of a two week package so I can't comment on value for money. By Ciao's other criteria it's not a place to shop, there's no nightlife and once you're there, you're there - the ease of getting around is very low. As for family friendliness, I can only say that depends on your family. I struggle to imagine anyone doing this with kids and grandma in tow.