Three great rivers, three trips

Sunday March 31 2013

By Nafha Maani Ebrahimi

Sitting in a boat crossing the Mekong River in Vietnam, was once upon a time a dream. However, when it happened, it felt like any other river, but with many activities created just for tourist attraction. Apart from fishing that is the livelihood of many people living next to the riverbanks, boats are used to transport tourists to different destinations, most of which are purely dedicated to money generating activities.

A tip for a worthy adventure
For example, to reach our lunch venue, we took a small engine boat which stopped at a factory that made sweets from coconut, then came the turn of souvenirs and other dried fruits and even during a free tea and fruit session, locals were entertaining us with songs, but always had a basket in hand waiting for tips.

We then took local rowing boats, and here too one was expected to pay the locals for taking us across the long channels of water. When we got off, a four wheeled carriage pulled by a donkey was waiting for us. The poor animal that is used to the small light weight Vietnamese people, had to pull heavy weight burger-fed tourists for long distances. By the time we came back to the first boat, we had paid more money in tips than the original tour fee.

Night on the water
A more luxurious river trip was in the backwaters of Kerala-India. Thousands of Kilometres of man-made and natural canals, rivers and lakes connected to each other and used now as one of the best attractions for tourists visiting the region. And who would say no to spending a night on a house boat made to receive a Maharaja! Fully air-conditioned rooms and scrumptious meals with full Indian hospitality.

As we passed through the villages, farmers were busy in their rice fields, women were washing colourful clothes and children playing or trying to do some fishing. A bit of a contrast to the luxurious house boat, but this is India, the land of contrasts, where you can pass by spectacular palace and then find yourself in a slum area. The sunset in the backwaters of Kerala was one of the most amazing I have witnessed, calm waters swallowing the sun while flocks of birds returned to their nests after a long day of searching for food.

Cruise on the Nile
The trophy of river cruises in my book goes to the river Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan in Egypt. Hands down and by far its one of the best attractions that the land of Pharaohs offers its visitors. Though the cruise is on the Nile, the attractions are on the banks of the river. A true journey through history and time starts with very well trained and knowledgeable guides.


From delicious Mediterranean and continental dishes made on board, refreshing drinks on the sun deck of the ship to the tasty local food sold on the banks of the river and in the towns where the ship made its frequent stops. And from food for the body to food for the mind, visiting the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, sailing to Esna and then visiting the famous Horus Temple and much more.

Delightful Egyptian entertainment
If there is one other thing that Egyptians are famous for it is the art of entertaining. hence, once done with the activities of the day, a whole entertainment programme started on board, right after dinner time. One programme that I remember very well was when all the passengers were asked to wear a traditional Egyptian costume called –Jalabiya. It was a fun night where some tourists looked great while others made total fools out of themselves!

These trips have thousands of dollars of annual returns for Egypt and its good to remember that the Nile starts from our beautiful Uganda but the question is: Are we doing enough to benefit from this mighty river Nile? I don’t think so.