Thursday, October 13, 2011

With Katie on the Mekong


On Tuesday night, I met Katie as planned at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City at 11:15pm and a driver was waiting as promised to take us to our hotel.. Spring House Hotel. It was so great to see her... and especially that we get to share this adventure together. It was pretty late by the time we got to fall into bed (Katie had been travelling for 15 hours), but we slept pretty well and woke up a few hours later to find the city well and truly up and at it.

Our window looked out on a park

So we went down at 7am to join the people enjoying the park

This is our hotel... Spring House Hotel
Then we went down stairs to meet Giang, the travel agent from ASC Travel who had organised our itinerary. He is extremely helpful and has a great sense of humour. (In the process of finalising our trip he was joking around and I called him a Ratbag, so that was the nickname he adopted for all our communication from then on.)
Next door is a bakery... so that's where we got breakfast

After breakfast we caught a tour bus and headed for the Mekong Delta for a 2 day tour.
 The bus was full and there was no leg room

There was a first aid cabinet on the bus, but fortunately it wasn't needed
...just as well, really... since it was totally empty!

After an hour or so we stopped at a Lacquerware sheltered workshop for agent orange victims - the same one I visited when I first arrived back in February.  It is a very labour intensive process to produce the various finishes...

creating mosaics out of duck eggshell

nacre inlay

These guys squat and polish all day!

There are so many beautiful things in the showroom, it's hard to choose!

Our tour guide has seen it all before...

Another hour or so later we finally got to My Tho, where we boarded a small boat and headed out on the Mekong River to visit four small islands - Turtle, Dragon, Unicorn and Phoenix Islands.

Yep, I was pretty stoked to be sharing this with my Katie....

The Mekong is a very busy waterway, with boats of all shapes and sizes

The first island we stopped produced fruit and honey, and we sampled their honey tea, honey wine and honey based candies. Then enjoyed some Southern Vietnamese folk music

guitar, dan bau and dan nguyet (2 stringed lute)

We clambered into canoes for a paddle down Thoi Son Canal shaded by overhanging palms.

It is very pretty, but we tourists made it very over-crowded...

That's why they tell you to keep your hands inside the boat...
too easy to lose a finger or two!
Then it was back on the boat for a short trip to the island where they make coconut candy.

She makes it look so easy!

After that, we had lunch in restaurant right next to the river
We sat with a family from Perth

Deep fried elephant ear fish ... a Mekong specialty... looks spectacular, but tastes pretty ordinary.

Then it was back along the Mekong River to board a bus for the long ride to Can Tho City. There were only eight of us on this second half of the tour, so the bus was blissfully empty. We sat on the back seat, because you get the best view from there (and Katie likes it). It is also the bumpiest part of the bus, and every bridge we went over (and there were so many bridges...) there was a big bump when we drove over the expansion joints at either end of the bridge. It wasn't long before Katie and I were giggling every time we became airborn...

When we booked the tour we had the option of staying at a home stay, but since Katie had so little sleep in the past 36 hours, we had decided to choose an air-conditioned room in a hotel. In retrospect, the homestay would have been much more exciting... Nevertheless, we wandered the streets near our hotel till we found a restaurant for dinner, which was nice... especially the dessert...
Coconut sundae and taro ice-cream sundae

Then as we made our way back to our hotel, we found a restaurant down a side alley that catered to the locals, not the tourists... that's where we should have gone! The food looked fabulous and the place was packed... and no doubt twice as good and a fraction of the price.

The next morning we headed out bright and early so we could visit the biggest Floating Market on the Mekong Delta. It was a very pleasant boat ride.

Recent floods have washed away most of the road in front of these houses

I don't imagine it will ever be repaired or replaced.

Flooding must be devastating along the river

By the time we got to the Floating Market it was after 9am, so the busiest time was over.  

Once again I was impressed by the simplicity of the way of life for the people - many of them living and working on small boats. Our lives are filled with so much clutter in comparison...

...but we're a lot more comfortable, I reckon!

This darling little boy just sat still and waved at us as we passed.

They have a simple, effective means of advertising what each boat has for sale - a tall pole with some of the produce attached:  watermelon, onions, pineapples, crabs... whatever,  so it's easy to tell who is selling and who is buying.

Pineapple, anyone?

How about watermelon?

This restaurant was the largest building built in the river that we saw. It even has room for their boat to park underneath it...

Come to think of it, this was the only restaurant we saw... very unusual for Vietnam - usually there are street food restaurants everywhere... but a bit difficult when the street is a river!

I cannot imagine three Aussie teens managing a craft like this on a busy river...

Having good balance goes with the territory...

 After the Floating Market we cruised along the Hau River, down some smaller tributaries and canals. It's fascinating watching as life goes on for the people living along the river-bank...

After a while we docked at a village with a Rice Vermicelli & Rice Paper Factory and a Rice Husking Mill.

It actually flooded here the day before, but life had returned to normal as soon as the waters receeded

Sorting dried fish in the front room

They are very gracious about having tourists gawking and taking photos.
Food on the hoof (so to speak)
( a change from fish )

This is where they husk & grind the rice and make the batter for the rice paper

The rice flour has to be so fine that it will pass through these blue cloth bags

Making the rice paper requires teamwork... It must be so hot in Summer!

Then the racks are put out in the sun to dry... they must move quickly when the afternoon storms roll in!

Next stop was a walk through an orchard where everything was planted cottage garden style... a delightful mix of varieties...
mangoes, lotus and palm flower pods
bananas, pawpaws (papayas), lotus, bittermelons and dragonfruit
Waddayaknow... they grow on cactus!

There were two Aussie sisters on our tour - Maaika & Cheyenne
(They joined us on the back seat on the way back)

There were a lot of other fruit varieties... pomellos, jackfruits, durian, coconuts... Just as another storm rolled in we came to the sampling area and selected some fresh picked fruit to try - yum.

We ate some fruit, took some photos...
Cheyenne, Maaika, Katie and me

chickens and even a friendly goose

Then we sat around and waited, and waited... finally we went looking for our tour guide, and found him engrossed in his third game of chess!

Eventually we were back on the boat, headed back to Can Tho. And speaking of storms, true to form, the afternoon storm rolled in as we were on our way to the next stop, so we dropped down the sides while it poured down.

We were puttering along, when suddenly a large speedboat overtook us as we passed under a bridge. Our driver didn't have time to turn into the wake and our little boat was tossed severely enough to tip all the passengers on the right side of our boat out of their chairs onto the deck. It was pretty hairy for a moment. I hate to think what could have happened if we'd had a full load of passengers on board...

Then we had the long bus ride back to Ho Chi Minh City. This time the Aussie girls sat up the back with us and enjoyed the bumps. We stopped along the way for a late lunch (pho bo), and picked up a bunch of day trippers.

Before we left we had been talking to Giang about booking us into a floating restaurant that's pretty famous for dinner, but by the time we got back to the hotel we decided to just walk down to the Ben Thanh night market and have dinner there so we could crash earlier. Must have been tired... I didn't even take any photos. We did, however buy a pair of gorgeous silk au dai's for Jordan and Bailey as well as enjoying some street food.

And so ended the first two days of our trip!

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