It is rare to find a tour company that can make you feel like a local when you have been in a country for the first time for less than 24 hours. Thanks to our excellent guide (ask for Hao), my friend and I spent a day experiencing parts of Vietnam that we never knew existed. Far off the beaten track (a two hour drive from our CBD hotel in Saigon), we saw Vietnamese people farming delicious fruits and living in a private paradise on little-known islands of the Mekong River. We met people who are passionate about their lifestyle and their River - and who went out of their way to make us feel at home - teaching us about the local landscape, the culture and the history of a magical part of the world.
We didn't see another tourist during our bike ride or the boat ride at the end of the tour and felt safe at all times - on well maintained bikes and with an experienced and knowledgable tour guide who spoke excellent English. The ride was incredible - mostly flat and easy for someone who is not exactly at peak fitness - always with a pleasant surprise around the next bend.
The paths were well maintained and virtually free of traffic - apart from the occasional scooter impossibly-laden with mountains of Durian or Jack fruit. It was exhilarating to ride across the three Mekong River islands, along winding paved paths, over arched concrete bridges, under canopies of carefully manicured fruit trees and amidst a vibrant jungle.
There were so many highlights of the bike tour: catching a ferry within the first five minutes to hop across the islands... seeing little kids appearing out of nowhere yelling "hello" to the oh-so-white foreigners... slurping ripe mangoes under the shade of a mango tree... eating fresh watermelon followed by a freshly squeezed incredibly refreshing sugar cane juice... a five course lunch with the most generous of hosts who capped off our three hour ride with a lesson on longenberry liqueur drinking ettiquette....
Filled to the brim with an amazing array of "gifts from the Mekong", we then enjoyed a private boat ride along the river, past floating markets with a stop-off at a candy factory where we saw locals making treats by hand from rice and coconut. Notsurprisingly, we didn't need dinner when we finally made it back to the hotel that night (about 6pm).
We loved our trip so much that my mate and I are planning a return trip with our families - probably a longer trip to one of the other cities so we can see more of this amazing country.
Do it! You'll make memories that will last a lifetime - and maybe even make some new friends too.
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