I’ve seen the YouTube videos. You know, the myriad ones depicting the hellish motorbike traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I was horrified, nervous about their lack of deference to traffic signals and wondering if they got their driver’s licenses out of a cereal box. So on a recent trip to HCMC what did my boyfriend and I do? We rented a motorbike and drove through it. Stoplight, shmoplight.
Our idea was brilliant, off the beaten track and adventurous. We planned to rent the motorbike in HCMC and drive the two hours down Highway 1 to the Mekong Delta. More specifically to a small town called My Tho, the gateway to the delta and right on the river. Easy cheesy.
OK, I wasn’t that naive. We had spent the day before playing chicken with the traffic at crosswalks and knew that if we were risking death on foot, being on a motorbike wouldn’t improve our chances of survival. Still, we were intrepid, negotiating with the small Vietnamese man for the softest-seated motorbike we could find. Then we put on our baby blue and hot pink helmets, stuffed the bag between us and took off.
We arrived in My Tho after three hours of sore asses, potholed highways and filthy faces. The town is small, the market nasty and the buildings crumbling. But we found ourselves in a beautiful hotel with a view of the Mekong, and just down the street from a night food market. Dinner was spent feebly trying to communicate to our waiters with hand signals, but our frustration was short-lived. Turns out, not being able to speak the language at a food market in Vietnam means you get over your preconceived notions of what tastes good and you are served the best of what they offer.
And the best happened to be the most succulent, juiciest and perfectly cooked pork of my life. Love songs and Hallmark cards should be written about this pork. A national day of celebration like July 4 should be created to commemorate this pork. We loved the pork, talked about it all night, tried to decipher the secret to its perfection. In fact, this post will likely spur another hour-long diatribe on our love for the pork. I will spare you a recounting of that though.
The next day we experienced the Mekong and the delta, passing fisherman’s houses anchored into the water, eating fresh fruit while listening to headache-inducing traditional music. And we became practiced at the most valuable skill in Vietnam _ avoiding the pushy sales pitches of every tout in our path. Would you like a pair of authentic Vietnamese sandals? No. Bee pollen that will cure your every ailment and make you look 15 years younger? No. Coconut candy handmade and fired in our very special kiln? No. No. No.
It was actually the last refusal that turned our previously friendly and jovial relationship with our tour guide to shit. Refusing the coconut candy was our undoing. You don’t like the candy??! Why you no buy!? We were ignored, glared at and treated like stupid tourists. I don’t really blame her though. We looked like stupid tourists. A torrential downpour had relegated us to pastel colored ponchos that made us look like cheap condoms. Flattering.
Despite our falling out, the tour was fantastic. We got in a small boat paddled by Vietnamese women down one of the deltas. We reveled in seeing such a remote corner of the world and its lush vegetation, charming tradition and raw beauty. Our battles with a busted headlight, a butt that refused to regain feeling and a maze of traffic in HCMC that inspired frantic prayers for our survival only made it better in the end. Because if you can say that you were were able to enjoy experiencing the charm and exoticism of a small Vietnamese town in spite of looking like a wet condom, you’ve done alright.