It’s not often that you get treated like a good luck charm, welcomed with open arms everywhere. It’s even less common for this to happen when you’re a red-faced sweaty mess, but happen it did in the waterside villages of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, as we (accompanied once again by Den and Babs) cycled through during the Lunar New Year’s Tet holiday. For mile after mile (and we did a few) we were assailed with shouts of “Hello!” and the occasional “What your name?” from the children and families who lived or were visiting along our route. Some even ran after us, pleased by their interaction with Westerners who, at this most omen-heavy time of year here, symbolise wealth and prosperity, making our passing lucky and full of promise for the locals.

But our celebrity did not come about without at least a bit of effort on our part. Firstly, we couldn’t pronounce our guide’s name. Phuc, which apparently means “happy” in Vietnamese, was himself from this land of the nine dragons, and he lived up to his name (Happy, not Phuc). Cheerfully, he encouraged us with our clumsy handling of the bikes on the narrow bumpy paths, and happy to wait as Babs pushed over every bridge or one of us fell into a bush. He even joined in with a game of cards, although he drew the line at charades.

The rice fields flank the rivers of the delta and the water is a
way of life for the people. Monkey bridges are both practical walkways and playground; boats are houses, shops and status symbols; the waterways are back alleys, washrooms, highways and restaurants. And yet there were still hundreds of people on motorbikes, as even in this watery rural idyll, life struggles to go on without two wheels and a 100cc engine.

Sore bottoms were the only real complaint by the end of the day though, as we dispensed with the bikes and took to the water to head towards our homestay accommodation for the night. Here we were warmly welcomed again and, after a refreshing cold shower, and when we’d got over the fact that a large bath of snakes was just a thin wall away from our bed, we headed for dinner. It was a fully interactive dinner too, with our host showing us the way to make tasty spring rolls and rice pancakes. With fish soup, pork and plenty of the region’s ubiquitous rice, we would only be sorry that some of the cockerels at the house hadn’t gone into the pot that night, as their timekeeping seemed to be noisily askew for much of the early hours.

When our own clocks defied the rowdy birds and we got up, we boarded another boat for a pleasant couple of hours around the snaking tributaries of the Delta. The rivers were quiet due to the holiday season, as was the floating market, but we got a sense of how important they are to the life of the area. Large evil-eyed cargo boats looked expectantly towards future business opportunities. A small boat drew alongside and, like a perculating pirate, pressed us into buying tasty sweet green tea and suspicious Vietnamese coffee. Yellow Tet flowers bloomed from boats, festively festooned and purposefully closed up, their owners enjoying family time on dry land or below deck. Elsewhere, a few traders plied tropical fruits across the water, advertising their wares on the end of a long bamboo cane. It may have been less than bustling, but it was captivating nonetheless.

We cycled a little more to finish our tour, again with shouts of “hello” coming loudly from almost every house. It may have been that our presence as a happy omen was the reason for the warm greetings as we wobbled our way around the narrow roads of the Mekong villages, but it seems that the genuine warmth of the people there was the more likely reason. They probably take great pleasure in making anyone feel welcome.

3 Comments to “Welcoming Waterways – Cycling in the Mekong Delta”

  • LOve the pictures! Can’t believe this was only 2 days ago and we are now back in England! Though my bum keeps the memory alive of course!

  • Fab story- glad you had a lovely time!

  • looks amazing !!! much love x x x