With a dip of the paddle into the café au lait waters, we effortlessly glide down the narrow waterways of the Mekong Delta. A strange kind of palm tree that I have not seen before lines the banks, and like feathered plumes they shield us from whatever wildlife may lurk on the mainland.
We row past homes balanced on stilts above the waters, and children run to the door to wave hello. On the left side of the bank, a woman rows past us wearing a conical hat; a load of jack fruits stacked into a pyramid formation on the back of her vessel.
This is the Vietnam I have been looking for.
And that’s when you call bulls**t!
I could certainly tell that story. I have the photos to create said illusion, but the truth is that the last 3 days have been nothing but torture.
Wait, wait, wait. Back up. You just spent three days cruising down the Mekong Delta, one of Vietnam’s most exotic stretches of waterways, how could anything possibly go wrong?
Well, many ways, my friends. Many ways.
I suppose I let my imagination run a bit wild. A three day boat tour of the Mekong Delta conjured up images of me lazily travelling upstream on a steamboat hotel whilst lounging on a hammock and stopping at little villages along the way. An idyllic tropical paradise of sorts without much of an agenda…
I set off from Saigon with grand expectations of a river boat expedition, and what I got instead was one of the worst tours I have ever been on. So today, in lieu of an exotic tale from the Mekong Delta, I present:
How NOT to run a tour company
That’s right. You’re in for quite the
rant treat. (Quick! Surf to a different travel blog while you still can.)
I’m not trying to slander the company’s name in this post, but I will point out where I think Delta Adventures has ‘room for improvement’…
Do not rush people from one site to the next.
Say you’ve travelled halfway around the world to come and visit Vietnam. You want time to soak in the natural beauty, explore the sites, snap a photo or two, right? Wrong! Our schedule would have put a military drill sergeant to shame. We were hustling.
Guide: Okay, we here. This is cave pagoda. You climb 400 steps. Come back 30 minutes.
Me: Wait, 30 minutes?!
Me: You want us to climb up the mountain, visit the temple, AND get back down here in 30 minutes?
I wasn’t the only one rolling my eyes considering we had spent over 2 hours driving to reach this place. You can call me lazy and out of shape for struggling to cover a total of 800 steps in half an hour, but we were also travelling with an older couple that I’m not so sure was able to reach the summit because of the time constraint that was placed on us.
That brings me to my next point.
Do not spend more time on a bus than you do sightseeing.
This was the recurring theme for the length of our three day tour. I understand that there may be great distances to cover in order to reach a destination, but never never ever should you keep passengers on a bus for twelve hours a day (not kidding!) and then only give them 15 minutes at the local market, 20 minutes at a crocodile farm, and 30 minutes to scurry up and down a mountain. (I am not even exaggerating with the times!) Travellers don’t want to nap the day away on a bus, they want to get out there and visit the attractions.
By the grim expressions, slouching postures, and eye rolls, it was clear that everyone stuck on this particular tour was exceedingly annoyed.
In this case, the tour company either needs to cut down on the number of places they try to cover, or choose attractions that aren’t so spread out, even if it means not making it to all the main sites.
Do not promise more than you can deliver.
One of the reasons I was so disappointed by this tour was that they delivered far less than what had been advertised at the agency and on their travel brochure.
On day 1 we were taken to what was supposed to be a bee farm. (I have been to bee farms before and I know what they look like). We were led to two wooden crates, a man pulled out one of the panels where the bees were hard at work, and told people to snap a few quick pictures. That was it. That was the tour of the ‘bee farm’. We were there for maybe two minutes, and then we were ushered to a table to sample honey tea and honey treats (I can’t complain about the snacks!), but the whole aim was to get people to purchase honey based products.
Do not leave passengers behind.
You’d think this is a no brainer. You just don’t leave a paying customer behind in a remote town, in a foreign land, where they don’t speak the language. They paid for a service, therefore you are responsible for them. Yet our guide on day 2 seemed to not care about anyone who lagged behind.
(I’m running down the street to catch up to the guide.)
Me: Hi, excuse me but we are missing a lady.
Guide: Who are we missing?
Me: The Australian lady who lost her ticket yesterday. She’s not here.
Guide: Oh, she’s not here. She’s not at hotel. She disappear.
Me: (Huh?) Umm, I had breakfast with her today. She just thought we might be leaving a bit later. She’s definitely back at the hotel.
Guide: She’s not here. We go.
(Turns back to his cellphone and continues leading everyone toward the harbour.)
I just stood there stunned. He’s just going to leave her behind. I ran back to Sam to see if he could get our tour guide to listen. By the time we both caught up to our guide we were at the harbour and people were starting to get on a boat. Sam tried talking to him and a similar conversation ensued. Just when we were beginning to lose hope, the Australian woman in question came running down with her bag and neck pillow in hand. The hotel receptionist must’ve pointed her in the right direction. She made it on the boat, but not because of our tour guide.
Do not go on long detours to drop off other passengers.
I’m okay with dropping people off along the way; I certainly don’t mind a little detour. However, on one particular day we spent an hour and a half driving to a ‘neighbouring city’ to drop off three passengers who were doing an extra activity, and then we backtracked again along the same route! We drove over the same bridge, saw the same buildings, and got stuck in the same traffic. That was an extra three hours on the bus for everyone else! Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have a taxi take them there?
Do not try to poison me.
Okay, let’s try to end this on a positive note. Technically there was no poisoning involved, but there could have been.
Guide: Today we have free lunch for you. You choose fish, chicken, or tofu.
Me: Okay, I’ll have the fish.
Guide: Fish is not free.
Me: But you just said…never mind, I’ll have the chicken.
Guide: Good. Oh, I forgot to say, chicken have problems.
Me: Huh? What kind of problems?
Guide: Chicken have virus. Chicken sick in China.
Me: Avian flu?!
French tourist: But you can’t get zee flu from eating zee chicken, non?
Guide: Yes, chicken is very sick. You want chicken, I give you pork.
Me: Umm, I’ll just stick with the tofu, thanks…
And that concludes our three day tour of the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam.
Now that it’s been 24 hours, I can look back and laugh about it.