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Published: June 13th 2017
Geo: 10.71, 105.11DAY ELEVEN (1/13/13) — Mekong Delta
After breakfast and checkout, our bus takes us southwest out of Saigon and into the countryside. There is a major new highway (hooray!) and on both sides there are oodles of rice paddies. Many contain mausoleums right smack dab in the middle of the fields, where families bury their loved ones.
Vietnam was the #1 exporter of rice in the world in 2012: 7.5 million tons. Much of the rice is grown in and near the Mekong Delta. A large part of the land is too wet or muddy to operate machinery; so a majority of the farming is still done by hand. Sometimes water buffalo - used in place of machinery - are a part of a bride's dowry because they are so important to the rural economy. Outside of the cities, it is mostly an aquaculture. Rice … produce … flowers. There are pineapple plantations. And fishing farms. Most are family businesses.
After a pit stop at a pagoda "happy room", we continue on to Cai Be where we board motorized “Mekong Queen” sampans to cruise through small villages along the banks and floating markets for an authentic look
at daily life along the river. Each boat has a specialty or two and they run a sample of their produce up their flag pole to advertise what they have for sale today. One has melons, another pumpkins and turnips, still another marigolds. It's fascinating to see the aquatic commerce for all the people who live on the river or on stilts at river's edge.
We are using “Whisperers” today (the headsets that keep the guides from shouting and from disturbing others, and that improve our ability to hear them). These are quite valuable and should be considered for other segments of the trip.
We stop at a workshop to sample the wares. One vendor makes candies … we watch them roast the peanuts, cook the caramel, pop the rice and actually roll and cut the candy before it goes through a wrapping machine. Another woman makes rice wrappers … some are used to wrap spring rolls, and others turned into chips and crackers. The region is also famous for a wine (somewhere between sake and brandy) that has a dead snake in the bottle … I guess like the worms in Mexican tequila. Patrick and other folks sample it
but I don't think anyone bought any.
We sample small pieces of candy that is made from coconut; we try the rice chips. We then head into the Disney-like store at the end of the tour. Ok, it's really not like Disney; they take advantage of a captive tour audience and dump us into a commercial operation where they hope we will buy their goods. Maybe Walt learned from these folks.
Back to the boat and a trip across the VERY wide Mekong River (wider than the Mississippi River at St. Louis) and stop for lunch at the home of a local farmer who serves up traditional foods of the region. The home is labeled Muoi Huong; we are served a 6 or 7-course meal on an outdoor patio. Many items are exotic but quite fun. The first is a deep-fried whole fish … scales, bones, eyes and all. It is presented impaled on stakes so that it looks like it swam in. We eat the fish as spring rolls. There are tiger prawns, other fish, pho-type soup, and tempura vegetables (including a pumpkin flower which is VERY tasty). Dessert is fresh fruit … with a few new varieties.
head out, the owner brings out his 10-foot python. Jackie Knight (the youngest member of our traveling brigade), Frank Gundlach and Patrick all parade around with it hanging over the shoulders and exploring some amusing parts of their anatomy.
Back on the boat and back across the Mekong River. This is a part of the itinerary that has been changed … for the better. Folks who traveled last year spent 8 hours on the river and one of their boats broke down, so the excursion was even longer. We traverse the last four hours of our trip in air-conditioned motor coach. Good move, Tauck.
Twenty million Vietnamese live in or off the Mekong Delta. We are told that there is little or no manufacturing and jobs are hard to find. Most make a living farming or fishing. Because food supplies are readily available, there is no fear of hunger so most families are quite large.
Our bus stops at My Thanh, where we take a commuter ferry across the Mekong. We walk on and walk off, contending with hundreds of scooters. The bus takes a different ferry and picks us up on the far side. We stop at a nice rest
area that has marble walls and we are happy with the “happy room”. I know I will like it when I notice the symbol for the ladies' room is a 4” high heel. We get cold beverages and an ice cream and continue on for another two hours on the bus.
We arrive at the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel in Chau Doc Town, in Giang Province. It's a 4-star hotel overlooking the Mekong. Our room faces the river and we have a porch with magnificent views. A team of employees is on the front porch, waving us welcome. We meet Cheryl and Dave on the patio for drinks and dine in Bassac, the main dining room. Food is quite good; conversation and atmosphere relaxing.
Let's go back to my close from last night: I don't think that Vietnam is ready yet for prime time tourism. Ten years ... maybe. The hotels, especially the Intercontinental in Saigon, can compete with any in the world. But Vietnam should be viewed as an experience, and expectations should be tempered. The reasons I say that:
1. Depressed economy that doesn't provide enough funds for tourism
2. Infrastructure is lacking; many roads are in poor repair;
sidewalks and streets are a thrill ride because of the mo-peds; polution is an overriding issue.
3. This is a developing country that verges on Third World. Maybe not Hanoi and Saigon but much of the countryside.
Don't get me wrong … I am glad we are here and we are enjoying Vietnam as a destination. But not everyone would.
FACEBOOK BLOCKED: I tried to load my photos on my Facebook page and I cannot access it. I tried several search engines. I finally went to Google and it seems Vietnam has blocked Facebook, particularly in certain regions. There is an elaborate workaround but since I will be in Cambodia tomorrow, I will wait and try to access then.
“There are no dress restrictions for tomorrow. Other than those imposed by polite society.”
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