Outer Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
I checked out early and loaded my bag onto the minivan for a combination Cu chi tunnels and Mekong Delta tour. I paid a little extra in order to do both in one day without switching guides. It was a small group tour with two other groups of two men and two women, which felt a little odd because the guys kept hitting to the women, but that let me talk to our guide more.
To my surprise, our first stop was a tourist trap, but not everything was malicious as there were many very talented disabled artists (long term casualties of war) diligently crafting beautiful seashell based works of art.
The stop helped break up a very long drive to the Cu Chi tunnels, a park made from a small segment of the extensive tunnel networks which were built long before the Vietnam-American war, but were extended in anticipation of use in the war. They even had live fire machine guns (and no hearing protection for any of the bystanders).
Then we headed to a fairly lavish lunch consisting of more than we could eat, but because one of the other tourists wanted to fire a machine gun, the food was a little cold by the time we arrived.
Afterwards, we headed to My Tho, a port city along the Mekong Delta where we took a brief boat ride to a small island and began sampling random fruits and foods off trees and platters. Then we ventured deeper down river and fed fish at a fish farm.
The island also had snakes, which the guide grabbed off a tree and suddenly wrapped around each of our necks before finally abandoning it on another tourist’s shoulder then rushing us back to the van. As we waited for the van to pull up, we encountered yet another unusual sight, a pet pig on a walk with it’s owner.
Once we returned to Ho Chi Minh City, I asked to be dropped off at a tour operators’ shop where I left my bag and immediately began a night food tour by motorbike with a local college student. Since we left later than the recommended start time with others, I got a personal tour and was able to request different types of dishes per the guide’s suggestions.
We went as far out as Districts 3 and 4 to find one of the most popular Banh Mi sandwiches in the entire city, different noodles, Fetal Duck Egg and various other dishes until I was completely stuffed. Luckily, the timing of everything worked out and I was able to return to the tour office just in time to lay down and digest my meals in the overnight bus headed to Nga Trang.
The more expensive tours tend to be smaller groups consisting of tourists who are working professionals on short vacations, so they are motivated to collect pictures and stories to share with colleagues, but mainly as evidence that they went on vacation. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to share many travel tips or suggestions.