Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Day 04 - Mekong I


Rice turns to popcorn as it meets heated sand. This was then used to make honeyed sweets. No Mekong Delta tour is complete without visits to several local craft-making sites.

Baaaa Baaaa Baaaaa: this was some of the language we needed as we were herded from street to bus to boat to shop to local craft industry to boat to bus and finally installed in the cheapest hotel they could find in Can Tho today.

We rarely touch organised tours. But it's very hard to beat two days with a guide in the Mekong Delta plus a night's hotel accommodation for $15 each. It's worth it just to avoid the hassle of arranging your own transport in this region, veined as it is with the Mekong's fingers reaching finally for the sea after a journey from Tibet.

If you're into rice, or water or both, this is the place for you. I like boats and rice isn't bad, so it wasn't a bad place to be. Looking back though, I think we both agree that one day would have been fine. Difficult to think what we would have done with a whole day in Saigon though so probably best we stayed in the Delta another day.

In fact, if we hadn't, we would have missed the best bit: a morning market on the river. But my fingers are ahead of our feet at the moment...

We got into our minibus around 7:30. Shortly thereafter, four hundred other tourists, many of them with rucksacks big enough for transporting a small cow also got on. Once we were all crammed in, the driver took the bus and aimed it southwest. We bounced and beeped our way gradually along route 1A towards Vinh Long where we would board a boat. It was a hot day and I was sitting on the sunny side of the bus. The AC did it's best but failed valiantly. I boiled silently for the 3 hours it took to get there. I offered to serve myself with the orange sauce I'd been making for lunch but they turned me down.

On the way, our guide filled us in with tidbits about the delta, it's history and it's place in the economy of modern Vietnam. All very tourguide-like but I don't think it really enhanced the journey. You could've enjoyed it just as well without any info.

Children loved to greet the boats of tourists. We guess these two were twins.

Once onto the boat, things got much more interesting. We were taken to see a floating market, shown how they tie items they have for sail on long poles above the boat (hanging poles of veg!) and got a glimpse of how they trade boat to boat and live on them. But the market was pretty dead actually and we were promised more the next day. For those who had only the one day, they must have got very different impression of what it was all about.

Sheena enjoys some coconut juice on the Mekong

The scenery was nice. The river was a dark murky green with lots of water hyacinth in places. Sometimes, we were in waterways metres wide, other times miles wide. Shipping varied from little skiffs being rode by old ladies to full blown ships with loads of gravel and sand. It was heaving with activity and life everywhere we went. The riverbanks were lined continuously with palms and houses among them. People waved and kids went wild shouting hello and waving like crazy. We waved and shouted hello back - for the uninitiated, this is how you know backpackers are having a good time.

Boats are rowed standing up in many cases and facing forward. Very different from back home.

Suddenly the boat stopped. We were told we were going to a local house for lunch. Sounded good to our naive little ears. They gave us mountain bikes and we had a fun ride 20 mins through the undergrowth until we stopped not at a house but at a restaurant obviously set up to cater for the likes of us. After a nice lunch Sheena and I decided to ride off and explore on our own. Everywhere people were welcoming and friendly, obviously curious about us, the children especially so. There were so many different kinds of fruit trees everywhere too.


The afternoon carried on back on the boat and we eventually arrived late afternoon at the town of Can Tho where we were to spend the night. As we followed the guide through the town, we kept seeing hotels and hoping they were ours. They weren't. Down a dark dingy alley, next to a building site where they were noisily digging foundations, we were taken into our place: functional, basic and obviously where all the boat trips take their sheep to fleece them. "$5 if you want airconditioning." Those who didn't cough up heard their AC go off shortly after they arrived in their room. We paid but it was a ridiculous amount of money for a country where you can eat dinner locally for less than $1. Still, in retrospect, it may actually have been worth it as the hotel promised "Warm Service - Elegant in performance" on its advertising. Hmmmm...


Nokia cornering an emerging market

The guide took us to a restaurant which was, again, obviously one set up for the purpose. We didn't care. We'd got to know some of the other couples on the tour and were happy to sit on a balcony overlooking the river and talk the night away. We didn't need the help of the snake alcohol they offered us though...


Ho Chi Minh himself stands sentinel in central Can Tho.
That has to be the coolest communist fencing we've ever seen.

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