So far in our trip I’d say we were doing relatively well on the parenting front. Daniel was rolling with the punches and adjusting to his new way of life, and I think even enjoying himself to boot. Truth to told, this trip isn’t really for his benefit…it’s for ours. We obviously would love to think that we’re somehow enhancing his life by whisking him half way around the world at such a young age, but realistically he won’t remember much from these few weeks here when he gets older. Still, we were having fun as a family and that’s what really mattered. So we decided to take a slightly more adventurous step and make a short trip to visit the Mekong Delta as our last destination in Vietnam before heading back to Saigon.
We had a few initial concerns about heading to visit this part of the country, mainly because one of the big tourist draws is to check out the iconic morning floating markets . While this would have been an absolute must for us before, I felt pretty worried about how we would deal with a squirmy, whiny and water-averse baby with us on a narrow boat with no infant life jackets and nowhere to go but downstream. Just didn’t sound like fun for anyone. So instead, Jesse suggested we go to a town called Ben Tre, where we would still be able to see the canals but had a few more options on what to do. He mentioned the possibility of doing some bicycle riding or tuk-tuk rides through the countryside, along the canals and through the rice fields, which all sounded great. So we booked an accommodation that had A/C (to help avoid the mosquitos!) which sounded like it could offer some good day trip options for us and figured we’d sort the rest out once we got there.
To get to Ben Tre, we had to fly back to Saigon from Quy Nhon and then either do a 3ish hour taxi/bus/shuttle bus trip or pay a hefty amount and get a private car. For Daniel’s sake, we chose the private car option to just try and get us there as fast as possible. After a bit of an exhausting flight (delayed departure due to the plane being late, delayed landing due to weather issues, cranky baby who missed his nap by 2 hours), we were just happy that the driver was still waiting for us when we got out. Thankfully Daniel fell asleep in the carrier again before we got into the car so we had the first hour or so in peace. When he woke we were able to keep him mostly distracted with food and toys until we arrived. By that time it was already dark, so we couldn’t really see much. When we got out of the car, the driver said “Wait here and motorbike will come to pick you up.” Jesse and I looked at each other. Motorbike?? Parenting mishap #1. We had no idea that the accommodation we booked was about a 1km walk/ride from the main road. Since it was pitch black outside and Daniel was already pretty exhausted, we figure we had no choice but to go along. So Jesse hopped on the back of one motorbike, and Daniel (in the carrier at least) and I on the other. We rode along some concrete paths and passed over a few very narrow (i.e. maybe 2ish feet wide) “bridges” as well. I just held my breath. Daniel seemed to hold himself a little closer to me than normal as well, but didn’t whine or cry out so that was a relief. Obviously we made it in one piece, and just accepted it as a small oversight on our part :)
We really only had one full day in Ben Tre, so after dinner (actually it was a pretty tasty dinner of deep fried elephant ear fish made into fresh spring rolls), we spoke with the manager about what activities we could do with a baby. He said not to worry, that there would be many good options and we could sort it all out the next day. So we headed to bed early as we were all a bit exhausted.
The next morning, after breakfast, we went to sort out our options. The manager walked us over to their fleet of bicycles and pointed out the one with the “baby seat.” I wish I had a photo to show. But let’s just say there was no doubt in either Jesse nor my mind that this would definitely not work for us. The seat was essentially made of thin metal wire that maybe would reach up to the middle of Daniel’s back and the “seat belt” was a single plastic buckle clip around the waist that looked like it was literally tied on to the seat with a double knot at each end. I could already envision Daniel wiggling his way out and falling head first onto the ground before Jesse even put his foot on the pedal. Nope. What else ya got for us?
His next suggestion was to do a private boat ride. This place offered some big fancy day tour boat rides and overnight ones, but those would need to be booked in advance. His suggestion was to just have one of their smaller, covered long boats bring us through the rivers for an hour or two in the morning before it got too hot. It wouldn’t be a guided tour with stops, but we could enjoy the sights and if Daniel wasn’t happy we could just tell the driver to bring us back. This sounded reasonable to us, though we both knew that without an infant life jacket it probably wasn’t the wisest parenting decision (mishap #2). It also meant, from the timing suggested, that Daniel would either miss his first nap or we’d need to get him to sleep in the carrier. But we didn’t come all this way to not see the Delta, so we figured we should just go with it. Thankfully, the boat was very safe, the driver very skilled, and the waters were nice and calm. We were offered some fancy “welcome drinks” of fresh coconut water which were really fantastic (this area is known for its coconuts) and a big basket of fruit to enjoy as well. Daniel started off a bit scared, then seemed happy for a few minutes, then just got squirmy and cranky and eventually fell asleep nursing. Once asleep (I managed to transfer him into the carrier), Jesse and I really enjoyed the ride. It was just nice being on the water, passing by other boats, seeing the coconut factories around and peeking into people’s houses along the river. Sometimes we’d see narrower canals that branched out from the main one, where only small paddle boats could pass through. It felt so different from the other areas of Vietnam we had visited, and I think that’s what made us so happy. We didn’t see anything too exciting, but the boat ride itself still made it all worth the trip to Ben Tre. And it didn’t hurt that Daniel was asleep for most of it!
For the afternoon, the manager suggested we could do a tuk-tuk ride around the countryside. Somehow in our heads we thought this was a good idea. Seemed safer than a motorbike and would let us get out into the town. So we agreed. I’d asked the manager if the driver could take us to see some rice paddies (we hadn’t really seen any on the trip and they’re always so picturesque) and he said definitely. Of course we had to take the motorbikes back to the main road (oops, see mishap #1) and then when we actually saw the tuk-tuk, we realized that perhaps this was not going to be much safter than that rinky-dink metal wire “baby seat” on the bicycle. It was basically a little pick up truck with a motorcycle at the front and two long benches (that were not secured to the truck, mind you) at the back. We both looked at each other again, saying silently “oh geez,” but still hopped on. The driver was a jovial, friendly old man who probably only spoke a total of 3-4 English words (“Hello!” being one of them) who promptly got us on our way. We rode along the main road first, and I could tell Daniel was scared. He didn’t move his head at all (usually he likes to look all around) and just seemed tense all over. At one point we stopped in front of the local market and the driver pulled over. We thought we might be offered the chance to walk around, but it turned out he stopped just to take a call on his cellphone. We eventually turned onto some smaller roads, which we thought might help Daniel but the roads themselves were about the same width as this tuk-tuk so with motobikes and small trucks passing us along the way, the ride got a little dusty and much more bumpy. Daniel was getting increasingly agitated and started to whine more consistently. Still, we were getting to see some of the smaller, more local areas and it was somewhat entertaining as the driver seemed to know everyone around. School kids followed us on their bikes yelling “hello!” and other phrases (our driver loved yelling “hello!” back to them which we thought was funny) which is always fun. Most of the adults around gave us the usual confused/unimpressed looks, and at one point I asked Jesse whether he thought maybe those adults were thinking “What the heck were you thinking bringing your baby on that rickety tuk-tuk!?” Around that time we’d been going for almost 40 minutes and the driver abruptly pulled over, threw his hand up in the air and proclaimed “Rice Field!” We turned our heads to where he waved to and saw a tiny, slightly dried out, not-so-picture worthy rice paddie and had a giggle. I suspect the manager called the driver to tell him to bring us to see a rice field, which he was now ticking off his list. Not quite the calm and picturesque ride through the countryside that we had envisioned! After the rice field, we decided it was probably best to turn around and head back. Daniel was visibly distressed and was going to begin to cry any second. Jesse Google-translated the words “go back to hotel” and showed the driver. Thankfully, he understood quickly and happily nodded his head. Daniel was in full cry mode by the time we arrived back to the road side motorbike pick-up location for our hotel. We thanked the driver who never stopped smiling the whole time, and then told him that we would walk back instead of motorbike.
The walk definitely helped Daniel calm down. And it was nice for us too, as we all needed to stretch our legs. The manager of the hotel met us on his motorbike shortly into the walk to offer us a ride and make sure we were ok, but we just explained that Daniel would be calmer walking so he obliged and turned around. It was still a bit hot out, but the path had decent tree coverage so we were alright. We passed by some pretty nice looking properties and got some smiles and waves from the locals who we passed by. I suspect not many people choose to walk this route over taking the motorbike, as we didn’t pass any other pedestrians, but it’s a shame because it was a beautiful walk. We spent our time singing to Daniel and trying to make him smile or laugh, and he eventually came around. We also had fun imitating our tuk-tuk driver do his “Rice Field!” hand-wave, which made Daniel giggle. So yeah, even though we may have traumatized him slightly during the ride, we at least have some funny stories to reminisce about now!
We ended our evening with another peaceful stroll around the area, and then headed back to have a tasty Vietnamese hot pot dinner (it had an amazing sweet and sour broth flavored with pineapple and tamarind) back at our hotel restaurant. It was served with huge chunks of fresh catfish, prawns and tender beef. We hadn’t expected the food to be so good! Even Daniel loved the meals there and happily gobbled up whatever Jesse offered him from our meal. We were relieved to see him back to his normal state.
It was a pretty short visit to Ben Tre, but we managed to still see and do what we had planned to in our time there. Perhaps in retrospect this wasn’t the most baby-friendly of stops (can’t say I’d do it all over again), but we still had a good time, learned a bit more about Daniel’s resilience and can laugh about it all now!
Actual Travel Dates: March 26 – 28, 2015