Our last full day in Vietnam commences with yet another early start. Hey, what’s new? This time, we’re being packed off on a boat tour through the Mekong Delta, some distance South of Saigon.
Starting off on a fairly substantial vessel, we cruise for a while down the wide (and aptly named) Red River, before transferring to a succession of ever smaller sampans, which take us through a succession of ever narrower waterways through the jungle.
The jungle! Wow, this is great. Huge coconut fern leaves tower above our heads. Everything feels humid and swamp-like. There are snakes wrapped around tree trunks. It’s the Real Deal. It also feels like a different country all over again.
For lunch, we eat honey straight off the cone, before being shown around a small coconut candy factory. The whole group is in a buoyant mood, with plenty to distract us from the thought of the long flight home tomorrow, with the long stopover in Kuala Lumpur en route.
The early evening sees us all togged up, mingling with the Tiger Economy Set at the top of the flashiest hotel in Saigon, sipping overpriced cocktails and gazing out at the cityscape below, before heading off for another rather disappointing meal in another rather overdone restaurant. At the end of the meal, Brenda Blethyn hosts a daft “awards ceremony”, doling out “certificates” to everyone in the group. My award is for reducing the Vietnamese medical profession to fits of giggles with that oh-so-witty little boil on my bottom (I knew I could milk this episode for laughs). K gets something for surviving Scorpion’s Revenge. There are final beers and photos on the hotel roof before bedtime. And that’s it. It’s a wrap.
The less said about our ghastly stopover and so-called “city tour” round Kuala Lumpur the following day (useless, indifferent “guide” – torrential rain – massive and unwelcome culture shock), the better. So let’s leave everybody in Saigon instead, pissed and merry on the hotel roof, talking about what an excellent time we’ve had, and what a fantastic country we’ve visited.
Vietnam is our new favourite country, then. You should go. Before all the main attractions get turned into theme parks for the massed ranks of gawping coach parties. But if you do, take a couple of tips from me. Pack a nice soft cushion, and a sheet sleeping bag for the overnight train. You’ll be glad you did.