Sidetrack – 3

From time to time, when I am travelling, I feel an inner pressure. Like now. This little German in the back of my head starts nagging: are you making the most out of this holiday? Have you visited all possible cultural sites and seen all interesting places to rectify the amount of money you are spending? If it’s all just about having a good time you could have had that much cheaper staying in Bansko! – I hate this little guy who is trying to make me feel guilty and miserable.

I am here in Hoi An now since the 24th. And I have hardly seen anything of cultural importance – just yet. Obviously, I am not the active sightseer. But I have found quite a few local restaurants and enjoyed different kinds of food and drinks. Now, isn’t that something as well? Can I not spend my money on things that make me feel good without experiencing guilt?

Don’t get me wrong. I do like to learn about the history of a people and to see monuments of their past. It helps understanding what made them become the way they are now. But the historical sights are just a side venue. Because the main thing for me is always the people. My interaction with them, however, is fairly limited when I am on my own and cannot communicate with them. So I am limited to watching them eat and drink – and share this with them. From time to time I meet someone capable of a foreign language which brings me a step further. But these are mainly people involved in tourism business and they look at me not as one of their own but as a “tourist”. And they want to please me which keeps them from sharing their own views and attitudes.

That’s why I have made a crazy move. I got in touch with the boy that was with me on the rice farm as my sidekick. The one with the horrible English. But with a tremendous attitude. I have invited him to join me on an expedition to the Mekong delta. And he has happily accepted. And already talked to his boss in Hanoi to get some days off.

I will pay for his ticket to fly to Saigon (about 120$). We will meet there and then we will venture to the Mekong by public transport (dirt cheap) and stay at a private guest house (even cheaper). His job is to organise the transport and accommodation business. I will pay for expenses, but that’s it. No “guide fee” or so. And he will be the one waving his fan at me when I am hot, hold up the umbrella to protect me from the sun, make sure we are not overcharged in the pubs and restaurants and generally be the link between me and the local people. And we will hire a motorbike and he will be my driver so I can sample the rice brandy, and buy street side fruits at non-inflated prices. Just as it was in the village. And he will greatly enhance my social status with the locals :) With him next to me I will be walking around like a mandarin. I will get the attention of everyone, they will look at me in awe and I will be invited to every house for a cup of tea, hehe. It will make a world of a difference for my travelling. When on my own, without the language, I tend to go for less hassle, expensive options. This solution will turn out cheaper than to hire private transport and to book hotels. More authenticity for less money!

So, while I have not seen every major sight of importance in Vietnam yet (and surely won’t) I am about to have the best trip to the Mekong delta that any foreigner ever had. On my terms. Now, shut up, little German in the back of my head! Or I’ll drown you with some more Cuba Libre :)

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