Where in the world would you expect to watch a man take the shoes off your feet, produce a manky old toothbrush, dip it in some soapy water and then scrub the mildly dirty rubber on your footwear for less than two minutes, all before looking you dead in the eye and demanding twenty-five of America’s finest dollars for his time? Well that, dear readers, would be Vietnam.
Ah Vietnam, my favourite country in South East Asia. The scenery is breath-taking and with so many different landscapes awaiting your exploration it’s hard to find yourself feeling bored. The people, however; seem to come in two forms; either incredibly kind, generous and hospitable (as is usually the case), or they appear sour, annoyed, rude and seemingly there only to rip you off. It’s hard to find a mid-point average between these two polar opposites.
Whilst in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) my friend Emilija and I took a day trip to the Mekong Delta which has long been a dream of mine and a thrill to check off my bucket list. The price for a whole day’s excursion was only $17.50 and included the 2hr bus journey there and back, lunch, several boat rides, tea at a bee farm and our very own tour guide for the day. The tour also offered the chance to stop off at some truly beautiful places along the way, perfect for photo opportunities. I think you’ll agree the price really puts my experience with the shoe shine scammer into perspective. The two prices are incomparable. Fuck I hate being ripped off, I’m a student on a budget and it sucks!
Whilst visiting the Mekong Delta questions were raised as to whether I’d be able to take a banana boat down one of the streams that stems off from the main Mekong river. This is something which I wanted to do very badly indeed. The tour guide seemed to think I’d be unable to manage in those conditions with my wheelchair, but I argued my case that I hadn’t come all the way across the globe just to be stopped at the final hurdle, and so I got to enjoy the ride through dense jungle, floating on water which I was told is infested with crocodiles (some debate as to whether this was fictional banter from the tour guide or not), as we passed locals along the way who all seemed very amused by the fact there was a wheelchair bobbing along the river whilst a white disabled guy in a traditional Vietnamese hat struggled to take a selfie as a keepsake.
A few days before we were due to fly up to Hanoi, my friend and I took a two day stop off in the coastal town of Mui Ne. I almost got very angry with the tour operator who we booked with in Ho Chi Minh City as after she had informed us there were beds available on the sleeper bus I went ahead and booked a hotel room for that same night, only to be then informed there were no beds left on the bottom floor of the bus and she was unwilling to let me take a bed on the top floor due to her concerns that I could not climb up the small rickety ladder. I’m continually surrounded by concerned individuals who see the wheelchair and automatically assume I’m helpless. I don’t mind that they care so much, in fact, it’s humbling, but seriously, when I tell someone I’m fine and that I know my own limits, I really just wish they would listen to me.
We promptly left the small shop and proceeded to go from one tour agency to the next frantically looking for a bus ride down to Mui Ne. In the end we had to settle for a late departure and didn’t make it to our hotel until well after 1am. Tired, grumpy and actually quite annoyed by the reality of being able to lift myself up onto the top bunks and therefore acknowledging that we could have left for Mui Ne a whole lot earlier.
Whilst in Mui Ne our luck with tours did not continue as we shelled out $25 for what we’d hoped would be a half day jeep tour of both the white and red sand-dunes and the local fishing village. The truth was we got a whistle stop (taxi-esc) ride from point to point. Not to be put off, once we got to the magnificent red sand-dunes which seemed to sprawl on forever and reminded me greatly of some kind of desert scene, I crawled up the largest dune, just to grab myself a perfect picture of my lonely wheelchair looking out across the sand. Epic.