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Published: November 22nd 2012
In Hanoi we had booked a three day/two night tour which would take us from Saigon to Phnom Penh. Collected at 8:00am by our tour leader and driver, we said goodbye to the city officially named Ho Chi Minh, but everyone still calls Saigon. After 10 minutes or so, we picked up three young German men who were joining us for part of the tour.
We were driven to a place called My Tho where we were instructed to lather ourselves in insecticide before boarding a small boat. Reeking of Bushman's 80% DEET, we were ready to take on the mighty mosquitoes of the Mekong.
At Xuan Dong Islet, we jumped on bicycles for a leisurely pedal around a village. At one stage we were held up by a group of men carrying a Pepsi refrigerator along the small pathway. They were concerned we would scratch the fridge as we squeezed past, so one man ensured nobody was going to go within a few centimetres of it. This meant I slipped into a ditch. Just one leg. Nothing injured but my pride. I did feel that I needed some sort of disinfection, however, but I soldiered on with
those nagging thoughts of diseases I could possibly have caught in the back of my head.
In between stops at a coconut lolly factory, a bee farm and a ride on a horse and cart, the local guide entertained us with demonstrations of different party tricks throughout the morning. (He'd earn a fortune on the children's birthday party circuit at home). He was a lot of fun and Eleanor was an appreciative audience.
We took a sampan back to the boat after morning tea. Gliding peacefully along one of the canals, we were able to sit quietly and appreciate the mangroves and tropical plants surrounding us. It was a very tranquil atmosphere, broken occasionally by a sampan motoring towards us.
Lunch involved an Elephant Ear fish. Until it was served, I still wasn't sure I wanted anything to do with it. The three young German men had requested no seafood and when it was presented to us like a prize winning trophy, they repeated their request. In reply, they were told, "But it's not seafood, it's from the river!" Despite its name and its looks, it was actually quite tasty. The deep frier probably played a large role in its
transformation into an edible meal.
A long car ride took us to Can Tho, where we were dropped off at our hotel. The Germans were doing a homestay, so they continued on for another half hour.
We spent the evening doing the usual routine: markets, dinner, walk around (not always in that order). The only thing that varied on this night was that the road by the river was being resurfaced. Did that stop anybody from trading? If you answered yes, you'd be incorrect. Food stalls actually on the road didn't budge. It may have taken Dean half an hour to cross the sticky road, but now his thongs have an extra layer of tread.
Breakfast was on the top floor, providing a magnificent view of Can Tho. The sun was out and it felt like 32 degrees already. And it was only 7am! We were picked up promptly at 7:30 for a cruise around the floating markets. The brochure mentioned 'market mayhem', 'colourful', 'bustling', 'chorus of sights and smells'. Clearly this person worked in real estate prior to writing travel descriptions. We were there at 8, obviously too late for any craziness. Or maybe there
Living along the river
I have gained a new appreciation for our home.
isn't any. Who knows, but it was all very sedate.
After the non-eventful market (Dean has pronounced that he is officially marketed out), we were driven to an historic house. A beautifully furnished entrance was a cool and welcome relief from the sun. The garden was filled with orchids and other tropical plants, although that didn't impress the Germans.
The drive back to Can Tho for lunch was fairly quick, so we had half an hour to wander around before lunch. Dean exchanged some cash, while Eleanor and I dodged market ladies. Once we had eaten, the Germans and our guide left us to go back to Saigon. Another driver would take us to Chau Doc.
Three hours later and with the sounds of Vietnamese radio still ringing in my head, we were dropped off at the hotel in Chau Doc. Dean unfurled himself from the front seat, declaring that his back was stuffed. Nothing that a couple of cold ones wouldn't fix, probably. In addition to our usual settling in routine, we found a post office and offloaded some Christmas cards. I also needed some passport photos for my Cambodia visa, so we were sent to a photographic studio
down the road. Absolutely hilarious. Not only did the photographer hand me a comb and make sure I was posed correctly, I was photoshopped! I look 25 years younger. No bags, no blemishs, reshaped and recoloured. All for 40,000 Dong ($2). If I had known about it, I would have had a family portrait done as souvenir. Dean and I could have stood alongside Eleanor, looking like an older brother and sister. They showed us how they retouch the wedding photographs taken in the studio. Completely freaky. But fantastic, at the same time.
We didn't spend much time in the sauna of the tourist market, but did wander along the food markets near the river. Some very ordinary smells, which Dean even felt squeamish about. Some escaped chickens were making a run for it; one even balancing on the electrical wires above the stalls to get away from the knife block. I just kept my head up and didn't look down. We walked along the river and stopped at the flashy Victoria Hotel for a drink. Whilst it was a nice place for a cold drink, we felt conflicted. Here we were sipping overpriced refreshments in a glorious setting overlooking
what was obviously a very poor village across the river. It didn't feel right, so we left after one drink.
We had to be up early to catch a boat to Phnom Penh the next day, so we didn't stay out too late. Dinner was an outdoor affair, swatting away the little flying insects as we ate. It was also a case of what was written on the menu bore only a passing resemblance to what was placed in front of us. It was not a bad experience, just unexpected. We have had a few of these over the last couple of months and usually the food has turned out to surpass expectations. Anyway, we fell asleep with full bellies and a little excited about travelling to Cambodia.
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