On the road to My Tho

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Boat trip through water coconut trees in Thoi Son Island, Tien Giang Province

Last weekend I made a trip with a friend to My Tho Town in Tien Giang Province. My Tho is the closest Mekong Delta destination to Ho Chi Minh City, and it takes less than two hours to drive there.

My Tho is a peaceful riverside city surrounded by beautiful gardens, a sublime weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of Saigon.

We expected a relaxing couple of days enjoying a typical Mekong delta orchard. We hoped to experience the tranquil village life of the Delta's endless gardens, where nature's lushness moves quickly and vegetation will swiftly overtake settlements if villagers are not attentive to their gardens. We hoped for nights lit by full moons over the river and bicycle trips on shady paths winding through villages on tiny river islands.

After crossing Rach Mieu Bridge, we reached Thoi Son and luckily came across a small travel agent.

We were approached immediately by the travel agent. We negotiated a bit, and she offered a package for two for VND900,000.

It was a very hot day, and the boat trip to the hotel turned out to be the perfect introduction to the Delta. It was much cooler on the water. The scenic Mekong River revealed its power; a fast-moving, muddy expanse that seemed to take everything with it. We passed large floating tracts of uprooted vegetation and lush islands that looked like they would be overtaken at any moment by the river.

Our lodging, the Con Phung Hotel, was located right on the riverbank. Yet it wasn't tranquil when we arrived. It was mid-afternoon, essentially rush hour on Con Phung. Hundreds of tourists loitering in matching tour company ball caps filled the hotel's garden and made navigating the check-in difficult. There were seas of ball caps in the distance, overwhelming the quaintness of the island with a cacophony of chatter.

We decided to take in the afternoon with a walk around the island. There were several outdoor restaurants among the lush gardens. We passed a crocodile pond, filled with many lazy creatures sunning themselves. Con Phung was a network of quiet paths crossing through villages and skirting the river. Fruit trees were everywhere, and in the distance we could hear the engines of boats working the river, slowly and determinedly. Sometimes openings in the jungle allowed us to see the boats plodding by.

We walked deeper into the island, away from the hotel. There were few villagers out. Most were at home at that hour, preparing dinner. Not many villagers to meet on the path, but we weren't necessarily complaining. It was a moment of serenity, the afternoon temperatures were cooling, and we became aware of the sounds and scents of the orchards. Having grown up in the countryside, my companion pointed out fruit trees, herbs, and flowers. I took the pulse of each new small discovery, smelling beautiful and tiny flowers and leaves I'd otherwise pass, and learned about Vietnam's different herbs and the dishes for which they are the base. If there is one thing Vietnamese cuisine is justifiably known for, it is creativity with herbs.

We were deep in the countryside. No brick walls separated houses. Houses and yards showed a certain restraint and liberalness with space, as none of them intruded on the path.

Here, nature is inescapable, but somehow the locals have tamed it and created a world of idyllic landscapes and scents. Coconut, banana, and mango trees are everywhere, reaching out to the path we were on; we picked and ate fruit from the trees. Wild roses and other plants appeared, beautiful, fed by nutrient rich soil and the ever-present powerful Mekong River.

 
Local musicians sing traditional songs in a garden in Thoi Son Island

The next day, we started a half-day boat trip. Our first stop was neighboring Thoi Son Island's honey bee farm. We saw bee hives in the garden and learned how the honey is created. Then we went back to our table where we were served royal jelly, pollen, tea, honey, and herbal wine.

Our next activity might have been the best. We boarded a small dugout canoe and navigated a three-meter wide stream through a coconut forest. We disembarked and sat down at a shop in another orchard for a fruit tasting. Meanwhile, we were entertained by several troupes playing don ca tai tu, or traditional Mekong Delta music.

Most of the singers were young ladies in ao dai or ao ba ba, charmingly singing southern traditional songs. Some songs were in Japanese or Chinese, depending on the audience. Sometimes they sang in groups of both men and women, as well as children standing in front. They were quite focused on their singing, and moved little. They were accompanied by several artists playing Mekong Delta instruments and locally-made guitars. The performances were simple, but memorable.

It was a sweet ending to a wonderful weekend. After another boat trip, we met our driver, waiting to take us back to Ho Chi Minh City.

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