There are times during our travels when, if we are open-minded enough, we get to see things which truly change our lives and our way of thinking. I am not speaking of a pretty temple, or an ancient palace, nor a memorable meal in a local restaurant. I am speaking about something which is so different from our own lives that we cannot but be hit by it like a slap in the face.
This happens when we travel to see the dynamics of different people, living very different lives in corners of the world which seem a million lights years away from our own.
It is not hard for me to understand why my short visit to the backwaters of the Mekong Delta touched me, and changed me, though it is complicated to put it into words. Maybe it was the quiet little villages where proud roosters filled backyards and colourful local clothes were hung out to dry in the lulling tropical sun. Maybe it was the pleasant silence broken only by the comforting sounds of insects whiling away the afternoon, or the river-side ‘bars’ where people gathered to watch TV on hammocks instead of chairs.
Perhaps it was the sight of rickety-looking straw river houses built half on land and half on stilts, and the sight of men patiently trying to install satellite dishes onto these structures.
It definitely was the locals who, while I put-putted along the river in my boat, broke into big grins at the sight of a foreigner, and waved so hard that I couldn’t but do the same.
And again it was the men, women and children bathing in the caramel-coloured water of a river which encompassed everything and everyone, like so many other rivers I had the chance to visit around Vietnam – the one a couple of hours away from Hanoi which carried local pilgrims to the Perfume Pagoda to pray for a good year, and the one in Hue on which we travellers enjoyed leisurely cruises while locals laboured away extracting silt from the river bed to be used in construction, and women washed their carpets, shading their faces from the sun with the iconic Vietnamese conical hat on.
But all this didn’t just feel like light years away from my life, it also felt so distant from something as Vietnamese as Ho Chi Minh city, which, while being only a few hours away, could have been in a completely different country.
Excited as I had been about visiting these little channels of the Mekong Delta, in my head I thought that the highlight would be a trip to a bird sanctuary where thousands of storks congregated before sunset. While that was beautiful to see, in the end what touched me most was instead the chance to witness how different a life can be to my own, and how, despite what would seem to us a hard, boring and basic existence, all I could see around me was a river of smiles.
This tailor-made tour was made possible by Buffalo Tours, which operates customised, guided private tours in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. 18 years’ experience and 250 employees in ten offices worldwide (including eight in south-east Asia) offer local expertise and destination insight to create bespoke holidays including accommodation, transfers, flights, cruises, day trips and excursions. Buffalo Tours is a Vietnamese travel company, which means that the profits made stay in Vietnam and the local region.
Editor’s note: Buffalo Tours sponsored my Mekong delta tour, but as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @www.theartofslowtravel.com. All rights reserved.