Simple pleasures come in many different forms. For some, it could mean a perfect train commute when you make all of your connections while for others it could be when you see someone accidentally drop money and you pick it up for them. A boat trip to the Mekong Delta holds a mixture of simple pleasures that I discovered with company called Saigon River Tours.
The first of them was a light breakfast of croissants, tropical fruit and coffee as we headed out towards the Delta. We enjoyed another simple pleasure as we sat back and watched the simplicity of life of the local citizens living along the river banks on the Saigon River.
We passed humble brick dwellings, where people ventured out onto rafts to sell fruit and other fresh produce and livestock or to collect water to boil. This market place of river boats was a source of livelihood for many. But not all of it was immediately visible from the water’s edge. Some of the Saigon River’s gems required us to venture inland through the shrubs in order to discover them.
One of these gems was a bee farm which produced honey comb slabs. On the reassuringly forceful instruction of one of the local farmers I stuck my finger into one of the bee-covered slabs for a taste. It was honey suckle sweet and delicious to taste. The farmers then gave us another taster sensation: delicious honey tea.
And just when I thought river bank dwellers could not be any more resourceful, we were taken to a coconut candy factory. Here, about several different things were produced from a single coconut, including candy. In this rudimentary production line, every part of the coconut that was left over from the candy-making extraction was turned into something useful or edible: refreshing coconut meat, soaps, creams and juice. Not a single piece was wasted.
As the saying goes, waste not, want not. And, on this river, locals believe that everything has it’s uses and they seem to want for very little. Even snakes are used for their ability to improve health and virility. To demonstrate their reverence for the snake, the coconut candy factory workers had infused a whole python into a large jar of rice wine to prepare ‘snake wine’. The curled up reptile had likely assumed an attacking position before dying, suggesting that it had a fighting spirit.
Upon infusion in the jar of rice wine, the fighting spirit is then enjoyed as a strong spirit by the Vietnamese. So I knocked back the highly alcoholic drink along with the bits of snake skin that had collected at the bottom of the shot glass. With the strong spirit in me, I went merrily back to the boat and sailed on to another happy place.
We docked at the Mekong Delta in Ben Tre Province and enjoyed some tropical fruits. The charming and friendly locals welcomed us with traditional music of Southwest Vietnam, most notably made by the unusual yet distinctive rhythms of the Dan Gao (coconut shell lute), a two stringed vertical violin with coconut resonator accompanied with intervening pauses by the foot clapper.
After this musical interlude we caught a ride to the Cong Doan rowing boat dock by horse cart. We boarded a rowing boat and soaked up the peaceful atmosphere while meandering along small canals lined with water palms, passing thatch and bamboo houses all nestled in the lush orchards.
The fresh air and earthy smell from the shallow waters filled our nostrils as we rowed down the canal and our solitude was tempered only by the light tapping of the oars against the row boat and of boats passing by.
We ate an island lunch of regional dishes, including a scaly grilled fish, and on the boat ride home we enjoyed a further simple pleasure of passing time with new friends. This tour to the Mekong Delta was about happy people and happy places, imprinting nothing but happy memories of the day that was.
The Mekong Delta was the last of the tourist sites we saw before catching a plane to Nha Trang to relax on a beach and reflect on what an enriching place Vietnam is. The country wakes up the senses and affords its visitors the peace of being in the moment.
And it’s in those moments that leaps of faith are taken, comfort zones are stretched and relaxed happiness is found. Whether it’s being in the peak traffic of Ho Chi Minh city while softly focusing on the scooters as they swarm by or feeling the relaxed happiness of Ninh Binh as you dreamily sail down its waters. This is the essence of Vietnam, of being here, in the present moment, where life’s lessons can be learned or re-learned.