After five days of shop-tillyou-drop in Ho Chi Minh City, a splendid place for such activity, we were sorely in need of another short holiday to recover from this one.
“Why don’t you travel to My Tho this weekend?” a Saigon friend of mine, suggested. She described the perfect antidote to our days in HCMC: “It’s a peaceful, riverside town hidden in lush orchards.”
Float Market in Mekong Delta, Vietnam
A day trip to Tien Giang Province sounded like a great idea to us – me, this northern girl, and two friends of mine from Los Angeles.
On the road to this town, there was a curious sense of homecoming for me as my father used to work here as an engineer during the subsidy period.
My Tho is around 72 kilometers south of HCMC. Since the 17th century, the fertile land in the north of the Tien River has been reclaimed and developed by generations of inhabitants into an area lush and green with rice fields and orchards, and trade has thrived for centuries along its river banks.
As the road became broader and many small canals, green rice fields and orchards came into view, I knew we would be in My Tho before long.
In the town, we started to stroll aimlessly through peaceful lanes with no names, inhaling the fragrances of garden fruits carried by the breeze. Then we entered a small lane leading to one of the tributaries of the legendary Mekong River. It was noon and we could see the sun shining brightly and proudly on the magnificent river with many colorful boats sailing up and down.
Both banks of the river were bordered by water coconut groves and orchards. It was so peaceful it seemed that it was only yesterday I was walking with my father on the green banks of the river to the wooden wharf looking at pretty goby fishes swimming by.
“It’s so beautiful! I have seen this river in a film on old Indochina and I hope one day we can travel along this river up to Cambodia,” said my friend Robert Sheen.
Accepting our tour guide’s suggestion, we took a boat on the Mekong River and later moved to one steered by a woman in a conical leaf hat, through the red canals were shaded by water coconut trees. It was not difficult to blend into the surroundings with our silence broken only by the slapping sounds the boat made as it moved through the water.
“The water here is red because of the alluvial soil which creates fertile islands like Thoi Son, which we are going to visit now,” said Muoi, our tour guide.
On the island, sitting in the shade of the orchard, tasting its fruits plucked fresh off the trees, listening to don ca tai tu (amateur southern Vietnamese Opera) – it was exactly the experience we wanted. Then we walked around some gardens, listening to the crunch of dry leaves under our feet and watching, but not envying, the hard working tiny bees flying from one tree to another to make honey and pollinate flowers.
As the sky got darker, we had to travel back to HCMC. I was a bit jealous as I saw other relaxed tourists coming into the town. But I knew I would come back to My Tho to discover the place afresh, every time.