I'm actually quite eager to write about my adventures today. Not because they were particularly thrilling, so to speak... don't get me wrong: SUPER fun day... but this entire blog post should be solely dedicated to my tour guide.
Maybe that's his name. Maybe his name in Vietnamese translates to Unicorn. Maybe it's a name he name up. Maybe he's always wanted to be a unicorn. Maybe it's his 'tour' name. I have no idea... but this is the name he gave us when he introduced himself and this is the name that he wanted us to call him, so there you go. Unicorn, it shall be. When he first introduced himself to me, he said, "Maybe we go get me top hat!"and with that, he burst in to laughter. I was left a little befuddled, but laughed along, thinking that perhaps he had mixed up the word 'horn' with 'top hat.' To be honest, he was nothing but entertaining from the moment I stepped in to the van. He either had a song or a movie scenario for absolutely everything. Classic rock was his thing and often times during the tour, he would raise his hands in the 'sign of the horns' and yell "Rock and Roll will never die." Some of us hope it does... but not Unicorn, obviously. As per the norm, he was obsessed with how 'cold' it is in Canada... but oddly enough, he was MORE fascinated with Canadian stars. The conversation kinda went along the lines of... Bryan Adams was Canadian... yes, he was cool. The French weren't very cool at all, and not the same as us Canadians - especially Celine Dion... who sing Titanic, but who care? But Shania Twain was cool.
Unicorn: Shania Twain... I like. She look like you! Me: Like me? Unicorn: Ah yes! Look like your face. Me: I totally agree. People mention the similarities often. Unicorn: She sing so very strong word. Me: Just like me also.
It was deep... dude. And complimentary, I might add. I never conceptualized Shania Twain and I having much in common in the facial department, but who am I to turn down such a compliment? Watch out, next Hallowe'en! An Australian couple joined the tour as well, Jessie and Liana. So just the three of us, Unicorn and our driver, who never spoke a word... we weren't introduced... and I will refer to him as "Indicator Happy" because gosh, that driver loved his signal indicator. We made our way out of HCMC down to the area Cái Bè, south of the city. It was approx. 2 & 1/2 hours... most of it spent trying to manoeuvre our way out of the chaos of the city streets. As soon as we hit the freeway, the mopeds seemed to disappear. Unicorn spoke almost the entire time we were in the van, and zero complaints because he was either informative or funny. Liana was very good at asking the right questions, so we ended up getting both a bit of a history lesson and the lay of the land on our adventure. A couple notable conversations/sayings;
Unicorn: My mom is my hero. Very independent woman. I love her. Very much. Liana: Aww... that's very sweet. Unicorn: After my mom... John Lennon. Imagine no heaven. No country.
Unicorn: (handing us bottled water) Here is some water! For to drink or to shower. You pick. Unicorn: 35 people die in road last year. Me: Wow! That's not bad considering how many motorcycles are on the road. Unicorn: Yes- they did of accident. (pronounced acid-ent) Liana: They die because of ACID? Unicorn: Yes...Not acid... accident.
Unicorn: (looking out on to the passing rice fields) See little tombs in fields? All of us: Yes... what are those? Unicorn: People die... family bury them in rice fields.Brings a whole new meaning to ordering stir fry... Us: Do you want to be buried in the rice fields when you die? Unicorn: No!!! I rock and roll. I BBQ!!!
Once at our destination, a rather large, rickety wooden boat was waiting to take us down the river. Looking at pictures of the Vietnam 'Floating Market', it was a bit different than what we saw today, but we did get a bit of a taste of it in only a full day tour. Unicorn temporarily changed his name to Jack Sparrow for the boat ride and inundated us with Titanic quotes and songs for the entire duration of the trip. Jessie and Liana became Jack and Rose. Like it or not.These old style of boats littered the entire river - and I literally mean 'littered' in both senses of the word. The boats were all over the river, selling their goods - should they be jack fruit, watermelons, rice, bananas... - AND there was a lot of garbage along the shoreline, which didn't really lend to a preferable place to live or vacation. It was beyond poor. After the boat ride, we were transferred to another, small, lower, more rickety wooden boat, that was set to take us up another narrow river. A lady dressed all in the full pattern outfit with the mouth/pollution facial guard rowed us all the way up and then all the way back! I must mention that there were rice patty hats waiting for us when we got in the boat, so I have a feeling we weren't the first to experience this... The 'village' we were taken to was like a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere... lots of tables and then some randoms up on stage.... I really do want to say that they were 'singing'... but it was almost like a high pitched squealing. They stood their, signing their songs, and people in the audience would approach them from time to time and hand them fake plastic roses with (what looked like) money stuffed in them. Tip? A lady came around and loaded up our table with a bunch of plates of different fruits -
tiny bananas, dragon fruit, guava, pineapple, watermelon... and then she asked us what we wanted to drink. We were given three options - Coconut Milk, Sugar Cane Iced Tea or Lemonade. Liana and I chose the Sugar Cane Iced Tea... which turned out to be too sweet to drink. Funny that, eh? Sugar... Then when we were about to leave, a man suddenly jumped in front of us demanding 15,000 dong because the drinks weren't free! Sneaky... very sneaky. There were a few new introductions to my life today... Rice Wine... We were at some kind of rice factory and they were showing us how puffed wheat is made, and coconut candy... all quite fascinating stuff... But then they took us over to the real rice distillery area and we were all asked to try the 'wine'... now, I have tried wine before and this was nothing like it. Hands down... this stuff was like Grapa... crappa... I looked it up and this is what I found;"Consumption of Vietnamese rice wine has serious risks. Toxins leached in to the alcohol from the still, or small amounts of rubbing alcohol (added intentionally to improve appearance) often cause blindness or even death." Thanks for the taste, Unicorn. Beat it. It was awful. If someone offers it to you... keep walking...
King Cobra Wine... 'Wine' being the operative word...again. They MAKE THIS with the Rice Wine! Apparently it's supposed to be a natural Viagra and Unicorn assured us all that we could have a baby every night if we all drank it. HOW anyone could drink it, is beyond comprehension... but once we found it, it was hard to not see it everywhere. It was difficult to even fathom where they would get ALL these snakes from. Some jars must have had a least 10! Unicorn told us that there aren't many snakes out in the jungle or rivers anymore because the people have either caught them all and put them in to snake farms... or they've eaten them. Or drank them, I'd say...Đừng giết tôi, làm ơn. Elephant Fish... We first saw these today at a Bee Farm, of all places. Jessie was desperate to try and catch a better look at them, so was busy poking them with a leaf, in his desperate attempt to make them surface from their small pool. Unicorn told us to watch our fingers because they would bite them off, but I'm not quite sure if I believe it. I did try to briefly research it, but couldn't get an answer. Turns out that it was Jessie's lucky day, because guess what showed up for lunch? Bee Farm...
Not much of a big learning experience, but we did get served delicious honey tea and they tried to market it to us with a whole sheet on how honey and royal jelly will help prevent Hepatitis A, B, C, D and maybe E? Is there an E? Good thing I already got my Hep shots, so I don't have to haul honey around for another 3 weeks! So... I think I'm full up on the new things for the day. Onwards and upwards...
While we were at lunch, we all discovered that this remote river island restaurant had free Wifi... and we all jumped on our phones immediately. This was obviously Unicorn's cue to get up and announce that he would appreciate it if we all would take the time to write a Tour Review for him. Of course... we all promised that we would. But he meant NOW... immediately... and we HAD to mention "Unicorn." So I took to my phone and started writing... My title was "Spending the day with the one and only Unicorn"... and from there, I wrote a bunch of yarn like 'fabulous adventure, spectatular backdrop, new experiences, great company'... and I even went so far as to include a photo of both Unicorn and myself. The only problem was, as soon as the photo loaded, the review disappeared and couldn't be found again. No biggie. It wasn't like I'd written a book or a BLOG ... I would re-write it later, if it didn't happen to show up again. And if there is one thing that I know about traveling and booking tours on line, they will prompt you a few times to write a review if you haven't already. This was obviously not good enough for Unicorn, because when I came out of the bathroom, he had my phone in his hand and was writing his OWN review. Wish I had actually screen shot it... it went somewhere along the lines of;
Title: Unicorn is great. Review: I have many fun time on tour with Unicorn and he show me many good place.
Wow... I couldn't have said it better... sounds just like me. I was not impressed. I deleted it immediately and assured him once again, that I was perfectly capable of writing my own review and it would be done in my own time. Then my most favourite part of the tour happened... we went for a bicycle ride along the river! I know most of you were probably banking on my favourite part being the King Cobra Wine or the Elephant Fish... but wrong again! Jessie did tricks. Unicorn yelled out things like "I love Rock & Roll" and "Do you want to try my Ganja?" and other random things like that... in between singing "Highway to Hell," of course. Liana and I just concentrated on not falling off. We agreed that we both started off a little wonky... not quite going in a straight line... but then suddenly we became Vietnamese river-path bicycle pros... until the path got too narrow, a motorbike came, there was uneven pavement, we were too close to the river embankment, someone stopped directly in front of us or there was a small elevated bridge to cross.... then it was back to Square 1 and we were once again, shit.
That was the conclusion of our day... back to the van and back to Ho Chi Minh City. We all passed out on the drive back. Jessie and Liana were first drop off... leaving me in the van to speak about...Wait for it... Wait for it...
The Tour Review. Getting old... real quick... Đừng giết tôi, làm ơn.