Category Archives: Vietnam

Mekong Delta – the tour guide who could read the future


An hour and a half away by bus from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, I booked this day trip to My Tho the previous evening after having realized once again how little did I read about this country before boarding my flight to Asia. One of the pluses of traveling alone is that you have more chances of being added to a tour even when you book late. ‘It should be enough to get me a feel of the Mekong’, I thought, ‘until my next visit’.

Originating from the Tibetan Plateau and running through a part of China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, the mighty Mekong is one of the largest rivers in the world, so large that it has two tides a day.

The Mekong River - where everything floats: houses, boats, markets, etc.

My Tho lies on the left side of the river and is the first city you reach when heading down to its Delta. Though it was founded by Chinese refugees who fled Taiwan back in the 1680’s, the Chinese population is small today having been forced out by the Vietnamese government in the late 1970’s. This was a history bit.  

The thing with arranged tours is that you have to follow a set program, which was not bad on this trip -diversified and fast enough to eliminate the boredom factor. It included a stroll in the market, a visit to the coconut candy workshop and a bee farm, a sampan ride through mangrove swamps, another boat ride through side canals and finally a stop for a local lunch, all giving a glimpse of the typical Mekong Delta rural life.

The market in My Tho

Pick up point for the sampan ride all the way to where our boat is waiting in the river

Could there exist a fakER smile? ... thinking 'it's your only chance to prove to the world that you did it, c'mon, CHEEEEERS'

Now, I may not be the first to volunteer to carrying a python around my neck. As a matter of fact, not only was I the last, I went so far as to ask for extra time to make up my mind. With my ‘I am thinking about whether I go for it or not’, it seemed I unintentionally managed to baffle the guide, snake handler and around 7 of the group who looked at me as if they never experienced hesitation before!

I may neither be someone who’d give her full attention to the explanation of rice making in the Mekong Delta –regardless whether this area made of Vietnam one of the largest rice exporters in the world, the nation of rice omelette, rice porridge, rice wine, rice noodle soup, you name it.  

But I definitely am the first one to drop it all –bag, money, ID, books, map- and jump in less than a second from the rear end of the bus when the tour guide asks if someone is interested in palm reading on the way back to HCMC. My only concern was: ‘which hand do you need, the left or the right one?’

What he said:

– I already shifted my career path once and will do it one more time before I settle ( true)

– I will earn lots of respect with whatever I will be doing next career wise (crossing fingers)

– I like the art (true)

– I walk in nature when I am looking for answers (very true)

– I look strong to most but am like marshmallows inside (damn true)

– I will get married in my thirties, that’s when I will find love (crossing fingers)

– My finances will always be enough to afford myself a decent life (no millions for me damnit 😦 )

– He refused to answer the children question and did the same later with everyone else (shame I could’ve used some help on this subject which is pretty confusing to me)

– When pushed by the few around me to answer the question of the rich husband, he looked at me and said ‘this is not what makes you happy, you’re looking for a soul mate’

I felt tears forming up so quickly I had to stand up all of a sudden, dismiss them for later, just later and enforce the enthusiasm I had started showing right before that last question -an enthusiasm which as usual gets everyone on board, wherever I am so why would Asia be any different.

The guide was good, so good a guy next to me (read this well ‘A GUY’) was mumbling ‘we need to give him a good tip’. And so we did!


Soup up! The President is here.


A friend and former colleague had suggested I try it. Set right outside the Ben Thanh Market on Tran Hung Dao, it’s not a place I would’ve seen and felt invited to check out without any recommendation.  From the outside, it looks unappealing; once inside, the atmosphere is pretty dull with its fluorescent lighting. The setting is very basic without frills, unless yellow stickers on the windows are considered decoration by new international catering standards.

Pho 2000 restaurant on Tran Hung Dao - clean enough

I sit down and minutes later, order a Beef Pho (pronounced “Feu” like in French). Following the advice of JoeDuck, I ask for the meat to be well-cooked and the soup to be light. She nods her head while writing the order down, giving me the impression she hears this same request quite a few times during the day.

I don’t think much of the signage reading ‘Pho for the President’ below the official name ‘Pho 2000’ while coming in. Not until I finish placing my order and start gazing around the place. The President they’re referring to is none but the former U.S. President Bill Clinton. His pictures are all over the walls. It seems he dropped by to have two bowls of Pho during his state visit to Vietnam in November 2000 -the first for a post-war American head of state since the war days.

Bubba at Pho 2000 in November 2000

The soup arrives quickly, in a big-sized bowl, the biggest I’ve ever seen! Presented in a very simplistic way, the stock base is thin -just like I wanted it, containing flat rice noodles, slim cuts of beef and herbs. On the side, a supply of lime, basil leaves, red chili and bean sprouts, all of which can be added according to one’s own taste. I put in a bit of all four and few sips and chopstick bites later, I was hooked. Now I am not a fan of soups in general and this *was* my first introduction to phos but I loved it! And was already planning my comeback.

My beef pho

Looking around, the place is full of them all: the tourists, the expats and the locals, the latter giving me a sign of relief. After all, locals would know better, wouldn’t they? And if they think it’s good, then it’s good enough. Tables are turning over like crazy, an average of 2 to 3 seatings during the time I am there.  It’s not exactly the kind of place one hangs out in for a long time, reading, watching people, etc. but more a spot one goes to for the good food and good taste.

I feel full but I stay to finish my pho. Yes it is THIS good! I still can’t fathom how Bubba managed to gulp down *two* bowls in one stop! Reading about Pho later in the evening, I got to know that even though it can be eaten at any time during the day, Vietnamese usually fill up on it at breakfast before getting on with their daily routines. Interestingly enough, this dish has its origin in poverty.  

Walking back (yes I HAD to WALK), I had this smile and look which say ‘I know what *you’re* having’ each time I ran into a Vietnamese on the street with a bowl of soup in his/her hands for *I* just had my Pho initiation! And it was awesome!