My last day in Vietnam - a trip to the Mekong River delta

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Asia » Vietnam » Mekong River Delta » Vinh Long
January 31st 2016
Published: February 1st 2016
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HCMC to Cai Be for Mekong River trip

I woke up with the telephone buzzing on my bed side table. My wake up call. I looked at the clock, its 6:00 am. Usually I am up by this time without any wake up call. Last night I was tired. It’s more than 10 days now, and I have been always on the go from the morning until sundown. My body needs a break. I suddenly remembered, today is my last full day in Vietnam…I’m leaving tomorrow. I felt sad. In the past 10 days or so, I traveled many places from the North to the Central to the South of Vietnam. I fell in love with this country and the people. I lied down on the bed for five more minutes, just relaxing and thinking about my journey to Vietnam. Slowly, I glanced at one side and looked at my suitcase. I didn’t bother tidying it up a bit for the last three days. No, I need to get up now and get ready. Han is coming sharp at 7:30 am to pick me up and head out to Cai Be for an all day tour to Mekong delta.

I took shower and headed for the breakfast. Usually I fill up myself with the first meal of the day. The choices are not too bad. After I finished the warm cup of tea, I headed to the room, collected my backpack and came down to the lobby. It was 7:15 am. Han came shortly after 7:20am. She leaves her scooter in the parking lot at the hotel and waits for the van to show up. The van came in few minutes time and we all drove towards Cai Be. It’s about 3 to 4 hours trip depending on the traffic and a short pit-stop.

Han has a good depth of the Vietnam history. In the last few days, we discussed many topics and I enjoy talking with her. We were discussing yesterday’s trip of the war museum. I was a bit rattled yesterday after visiting the war museum and she realized that. She wanted to change the topic, and I suggested let’s discuss about today’s Vietnam, how it has transformed, what people think about the war, what works and what needs change, the feeling of people between Hanoi and HCMC. It’s true, Han said, that the younger generation wants to move on and to them, the Vietnam War is an episode of the past. As a visitor in this country, I wanted to understand the social fabric so that I could make a well-informed judgment about Vietnam. I looked outside; we left HCMC city limit and driving through the small towns. Soon we reached the toll gate for the highway. We hit the highway after paying the toll and the van was traveling smoothly towards Cai Be. We reached Cai Be soon after 10:30 am. In the jetty, we waited until our boat arrived. Han made some phone calls while we waited and we then boarded the boat. Ten people could sit on the boat, but no one else was there other than us. I was happy to hear that the boat was reserved only for us. This is the upper branch of the Mekong River and while sailing south we will visit the floating market. Julie warned me before that since the time the Government completed the My Thuan Bridge, the floating market at Cai Be is not crowded as before. That didn’t matter to me. A relaxing joy ride in a boat on a famous river for the entire day was good enough for me. The rest are bonus. I had one more intention though. I always dreamt about sailing on the Mekong River where the jungles on both sides of the river are dense and a fear of uncertainty what may come out from the dense forest always fascinated me. It is similar to the movie I saw many years ago, ‘Apocalypse Now’ by Marlon Brando. The movie was made on the Vietnam War. On the way, we watched the big boats were coming from the other direction with lot of food products, with loaded bananas and other fruits. They were all heading to the wholesalers. Each boat had a sign showing which province they were coming from and a flag on the roof telling what kind of products the boat is carrying. Han was explaining me all these details on the way. After 30 minutes or so, we came to a canal that meets with the Mekong River. We changed from a bigger boat to a smaller boat. Here comes the surprise for me! I was under the impression that I will see a lot of vegetations on both sides of the canal, probably some jungles like ‘Apocalypse Now’ and I got prepared with my video sunglasses and my camera. I was excited. The boat started. It’s not a power boat, a manual one like a canoe. After the first few minutes, I didn’t see what I was expecting. I see some villages on both sides of the canal, houses, some levee to prevent flood water getting into the houses those too close to the water. I could hear music coming out from some houses. Truly, there is a village up there. I was getting disappointed. There is no Apocalypse Now! Bloody hell! “Han, where are my jungles”, I asked? “That’s all what we have it here, Tab”, Han was apologetic. There comes the 2nd surprise! The water level of the canal was coming down with the low tide and the boat couldn’t move too far. That’s the end of my ‘Apocalypse Now’ journey! We climbed out of the boat. It’s time to see some local villages. Han measured my mood. “Tab, if you want to see some more vegetation on both sides, we have to change the plan”, Han suggested.

I asked, “What do you mean”?

“Well, we may have to go in a different direction, and we won’t be able to end up our trip at Vinh Long as planned”, Han told me with a thought in her mind.

“Is that a problem”?

“I don’t know yet, I have to make some phone calls”.

“Look, I don’t want to be difficult. I just can’t find what I was looking for, jungles on side of the canals, you know. No big deal, just forget it”, I told Han.

But Han wouldn’t give up. She made some phone calls, asked the driver of our van to go to a different point to wait for us and she had to arrange another small boat for the trip. She was amazing! She didn’t have to make any changes to the plan because I asked for. She could just be a matter-of-fact lady saying to me “It is what it is, you can’t find jungles here”. But Han is different. She was extremely accommodating.

Next we went to a village home. On the way, I could see jack fruits, papaya hanging from the trees. It was so tempting. On the way to the home, we found one villager was relaxing lying in a hammock. Once inside the house, the villagers came to meet us fully dressed and performed local dances with love songs. A lady served us with green tea and fruits. I enjoyed the show, although I didn’t understand one bit of the language. That does not matter, it reflects the village culture. I paid them 200,000 Dong and we left to board the power boat again that we came in the morning. The sailor was waiting by the riverside and we boarded carefully over a not-so-sturdy wooden bridge. The next destination was to visit a workshop that makes pop rice. Pop rice is made from the paddies and then candies are made from the pop rice and are sold to the visitors. It’s a nice operation to watch. I have seen this before in India and it was not new to me. But it’s worthwhile to watch it. We left the workshop and the boat started. It was past noon time and we all were hungry. Now the boat was cruising through the Mekong River to the destination where Han has already arranged for our lunch.

OMG, what a beautiful place Han arranged for the lunch. It’s a very old house with acres of properties by the riverside. The backyard of the house where we landed is decorated with some beautiful pink bougainvillea and yellow flowers. They were dazzling in the high sun. Inside the house, there is furniture over hundred years old, old crockery are still preserved in the cupboard. Han was explaining me all these. I came in the front garden. Again, it’s another surprise. It’s a large garden full of big trees. In the middle of the garden, a table decorated with a white table cloth and with two chairs were nicely placed for our lunch. Once we settled down, the lunch was served. There were too many items for one or two people to consume! I am used to take only sandwiches in the lunch time. And I never like wasting food. I requested Han and others to share some food or at least to keep them aside. The Vietnamese are the greatest host, I thought! We took a walk around the garden after the lunch. I loved every inch of the garden. If I am given a chance to live in there, I guess I can stay there forever….so peaceful!

We headed out for our second expedition of boat riding in the canal, as Han has already made the necessary arrangements. This girl is efficient alright! The power boat took us to the mouth of another canal after 20 minutes ride. We boarded another small boat…just like the same one as before. We calculated it right, now it is the high tide, so it was not difficult to sail the boat. The landscape on both sides of the river is full with vegetations and trees…fairly dense.

Han asked, “Are you happy now?”

“Yes, it’s better than before, but you know…”

“Well Tab, I haven’t seen the movie, but you won’t find the ‘Apocalypse Now’ here, if that you are looking for”, Han was smiling.

“I guess, you are right, and that’s a movie, who knows where the shots were taken?”

But I was content. We saw occasionally power boats coming from the opposite direction. They were carrying artichokes, bananas and other fruits and vegetables. The waves from the power boats were hitting us, and we had to make adjustments accordingly. The other end of the canal again ended in the Mekong River. Mekong is a huge river, especially closer to the delta. We changed boats again. It was close to 2:30pm. We now headed towards Vinh Long. “I thought you told me, we can’t go to Vinh Long”, I told Han. “Well, we made some arrangements”, Han smiled. The girl has such an innocent smile on her face all the time! It was so easy to get along with Han! As we were approaching the town, the river split in two branches which are equally wide. The point where the two branches joined is so vast that it looks like an ocean. It’s simply amazing! The boat sped off against the current and slowly reached to the jetty. We climbed down the boat. The sun was leaning to the west horizon in the November sky. Our van was waiting outside the jetty. We headed home.

When we reached our hotel after a short break on the roadside restroom, the dusk was already falling down over a weary city, the neon lights were already shining, and the Ho Chi Minh City was getting ready for another gorgeous evening. Han and I exchanged email address and she left after a hug and good bye. I felt a void. Han was with me for two days, and she became such a good friend. It felt that I lost a good friend to a far away land. I slowly went to my room and took a shower. I was not in a rush; my flight tomorrow to Kuala Lumpur is at noon. But unlike Hanoi where I was rushing to meet a number of people in my last day to say ‘good bye’, I didn’t have anyone to share the evening. I went out, had my dinner and went to the roof top pub to settle down with a coffee and check my emails.

I was waiting in the departure lounge of the Tam son Nhat international airport to board my flight to Kuala Lumpur. I leaned against the glass wall of the lounge. Outside, the airplanes were taking off and landing constantly. But my mind was not there. I was thinking of the past 12 days that I spent in Vietnam. It has been an incredible journey. I traveled to Sapa, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Da Nang, Hoi An, Hue, HCMC, everywhere. I met so many people who have helped me in exploring this beautiful country with their smile, with their open arms. Milu, Duong, May Linh, Alice, Lucy, Linh, Julie, Han, you all helped me in every step in learning your beautiful country, to love and understand your beautiful Vietnam. You held my hand in climbing the mountain for paragliding, in motorcycle rides in Sapa, you taught me how to cross the busy streets in Hanoi, you took me in your scooter around to show the city of Hanoi and take me out for dinner, you spent the beautiful evening with me in Da Nang at the rooftop coffee shop, you took every step with me to the Cu Chi tunnel, in Mekong river trip. You never complained to my hundreds of unreasonable requests like a child always makes and you arranged everything I asked for with a smiling face. You cared for me at every step of my trip to make sure that I am alright. If we fell down from the scooter, you never let me know that you are hurt, but you made sure that I am alright. You all taught me to say ‘Chao buoi sang’ and ‘tam biet’. And now it is my turn to say ‘tam biet’. I am leaving a piece of my heart in Vietnam. I will remember all of you, all the little pieces of my journey to Vietnam when I go back to Canada. I will cherish those memories when I will be walking on the carpet of fallen leaves in a golden Fall afternoon, I will remember those green hills of Vietnam when I walk on a wintry snowy path, and I will always remember my friends whom I left behind. If I may say, and I will, …’sẽ trở lại’, I will come back again.

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