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Published: January 3rd 2015
On Mekong River
We went into a small river armlet by rowing boat. The traditional Vietnamese hats were really nice, without them the sun would really have roasted us!
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in the late afternoon and caught a taxi to our hotel. At check-in the receptionist warned us of thieves in the city and also advised us to avoid certain areas after dark. That was unusual because so far I had always felt safe in Vietnam.
We did not have a lot of time left, so we decided to walk to the market that was not far from our hotel and from there to the Mekong River. We had already gotten used to crossing the very busy streets in Vietnam, but the streets in Ho Chi Minh were different. Here it really was a challenge. There were many lanes and there was a lot of traffic. I mean, really a lot of traffic. We managed to cross most streets, but when we tried to get across a big street to get to the river we were lost. I tried a few times, took a few steps into the super busy street, then got scared and ran back to the pavement. Ultimately a rickshaw driver took us across the street – and of course asked for a tip for his service. On our way back
Brown water, floating plants in the water, and rowing boats with fishermen...
we did not have anyone who could help us cross the street, so we had to manage it ourselves. And we did, and apparently we had appeared so confident that an American tourist had followed us! We walked past the Opera House and Town Hall, had dinner in a not-so-nice restaurant (food was good, however), and returned to our hotel really exhausted.
The next morning our guide picked us up and we went to Cai Be in the Mekong Delta. When we arrived at the river we caught a motor boat that first took us to a fruit farm where we could try different types of fruit and watch a traditional singing and dance performance. Then we went on a small rowing boat and were rowed up an armlet of the river, past mangroves, small huts, and other boats. One could see that water levels change quite a bit there, and I have to say that I found the atmosphere there rather depressing. Still, it was interesting. At the other end of the armlet we got back onto our motor boat and went to a factory where we could see how the locals manufacture coconut and other candies, snake
On the rowing boat I
On the way up a small armlet of the river.
wine, rice paper, and honey. Snake wine really contains dead snakes, but does not taste very nice I think. The candies, however, I liked, and we bought some. Afterwards we had a late lunch in our hotel, a lodge located at the banks of the river Mekong. The travel agency’s plan had been that we participate in a cooking class before dinner, but we decided that we did not want to do any work at all while on holiday, so we spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the view of the river. Only a few hours after our late lunch we had dinner: another meal with several courses, but very good!
The next morning the boat picked us up at the hotel again and took us to Vinh Long where we went on another cycling tour. This time it was exciting because first we had to cycle on normal streets in Vietnamese traffic. Then we took some smaller roads, but on these ones there were still motor bikes and the streets were narrow, so passing each other was sometimes a challenge. Also the brakes of our bikes were ridiculous, so whenever there was a slope I made sure I
On the rowing boat II
Mum & Katha were having fun!
went down very slowly because otherwise I would not be able to stop. Going up a slope was a challenge as well because changing gears was impossible. So I had to make sure to enter the slope with enough inertia, otherwise I had to get off the bike and push it. I was also scared that my mum might hurt herself, but she did a great job.
On our cycling tour we had a few stops. First we looked at a brick factory and learned that people use the soil from the rice paddies for the bricks and that the oven ran for several weeks to burn the bricks. Next we stopped at some fields where we could see how people in the area grow rice and fruit. Our last stop was at a traditional house that was ornamented with rich wood carvings. I have to say I was glad once the bike tour was over and it was good to have some lunch! Afterwards we went to Can Tho by car and checked into our hotel there. Upon check in, we gave the receptionist our passports, as always. He told us that we would get them back later
Brewed in a small factory close to Cai Be. Snake wine really has snakes in it!
on and gave us a receipt. Normally I would never have left my passport with the receptionist, but our guide was with us and said it was okay. So we went to our room, had a shower, and relaxed for a bit. On our way down we asked for our passports and the receptionist told us he did not have them, but the local police had taken them and would bring them back later on. I was in shock and regretted having left the passports with the receptionist. This reminded me of the fact that Vietnam is not a constitutional democracy and that the police are not an institution that you want to get involved with. Later on, fortunately, we got the passports back. But still, this was an unpleasant reminder of something one tends to forget when one travels the country. Again, I would never have left my passport with the receptionist if our guide had not told us we could do this. When I asked him why the police took our passports although the visa we had already should have told them that we were no criminals, our guide told us that exchange of information between different bodies
Evening on Mekong River
The view from the jetty at our hotel.
of government did not work well in the country and that therefore the local police wanted to check our passports themselves. Welcome to reality!
Anyway, the rest of the evening was a lot nicer. We walked along the banks of the river and across the market and finally ended up in a Buddhist temple where a very friendly monk invited us to sit in the meditation hall for a bit. He explained to us that they were very busy at the moment organising a conference and explained a little bit about the temple, Munirangsyaram Pagoda, a Khmer Buddhist temple. We had a very nice dinner in a roof top restaurant with the view of the river.
The next morning our guide picked us up at 6 am and we caught a boat to the floating market. We went past swimming service stations and arrived at the market that consists of many, many boats. They sell all kinds of stuff, but mainly groceries. In order to show what they are selling, most boats are equipped with a long rod exposing the groceries that are sold on the boat. There was a mobile coffee bar: a woman on a boat
Farming in Vinh Long
We went to this farm on our bike tour along the river.
selling coffee and breakfast.
When we got back we picked up our luggage from the hotel and then went to Cu Chi, the famous tunnels that the Vietnamese used to fight against the Americans during the Vietnam War. They were horrible and impressive at the same time. Impressive I found them because the Vietnamese were incredibly creative and clever. There were all kinds of traps for the enemies. They were well obscured and there was no way even for the Vietnamese to see where there was e.g. a trap hole in the ground – except for knowing where it was. Knowing where it was even more challenging because the trap holes were moved around and never stayed in one place. There was a very smart ventilation system for the tunnels: it opened up to the surface hidden in a hill that looked like a termite hill. All the houses were holes in the earth covered by roofs made of leaves. The kitchen oven had a special kind of chimney that made sure that only very small amounts of smoke went up at a time. The Vietnamese made sandals from tyres and some of them they designed in a way
Traditional house in Vinh Long
This was another stop on our bike trip along the river.
so that it looked like someone had walked one way, whereas in fact the person had walked the other way. Thus, I can imagine how horrible it must have been for the Americans that served as soldiers in Vietnam!
When we arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City, we had a quick shower and a very late lunch and then attended the Ah-Oh Show in the Opera House, a very amazing show that is a mixture of traditional and modern dance and acrobatics and that takes the audience on a journey from old to modern Vietnam. It was incredibly good and we enjoyed it very much. After the show we went to a Crêperie and had fantastic crêpes, our main course was hearty galettes and dessert was sweet crêpes. What a fantastic last evening in Vietnam! The next morning we went for a little walk and had coffee in a park just around the corner from the market and then it was time for us to leave for the airport and fly back to Singapore.
What a great holiday in a great country where there is so much to see! What I liked best, though, were the people,
Statue of Ho Chi Minh
... often called "Uncle Ho", in a little park not far from the river in Can Tho.
they were so friendly and warm and I hope they will maintain this, no matter how many tourists there are!
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