Carry on up the Mekong Delta

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June 14th 2009
Published: June 14th 2009
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Mekong Delta and on to Cambodia

The Mekong Delta (Nine Dragon river delta) is this big region the end of Vietnam abut doesn’t always get as many visitors as the rest of the country because it I below Saigon and if you are going north you have to backtrack. Also it isn’t a must-see on the tourist trail. AJ and I decided to do a tour of the Mekong Delta before heading off to Cambodia. I’m not sure how we came to be planning things together, I guess we just hung out together and sort of bonded a bit with Mike and Eddy. In fact, when you share a room with someone for a good few days as well as have a few good dinners and you haven’t gotten on each others nerves yet - I think you’re onto a god thing. Also, important was that AJ didn’t have a set itinerary, a blank canvas for ideas for traveling, so I felt I could recommend things more easily.

Mike and Eddy had moved onto Cambodia the day before and Bonny had gone to the Mekong Delta already. However, Bonny wasn’t having a good time and lots of things were missing from her itinerary. We shopped around at different travel agencies and bought a two day tour of the Mekong Delta as well as a combined ticket to Phnom Penh.

We got on our bus from the travel agency at 7.30 in the morning and immediately we were besieged by another sunglasses seller outside the bus. We thought it was pretty hilarious how these guys hang around offering you them when you’re either a) wearing sunglasses three times as expensive as three times as better than the plastic Chinese made knock-offs they are selling, or b) you’re actually on a bus and they’re outside. The unfortunate fact was AJ wanted some sunglasses but none of them ever fitted his narrow head. Talk about encouraging them! Anyway, we encountered a similar guy at a tourist/rest stop, almost like a sunglasses bandit with his mask over his face and sunglasses in his hand with a board full of them hanging off his body.

The tour itself was a bit boring if I’m honest. The first day we got a boat onto the canal and then moved onto a long wooden boat with a voyage through some canals by locals. That was pretty enough but then we hit the island on the Mekong and it was very much set up for package tourists. A python was brought out and various lemmings put it around their shoulders and stood for pictures. Then we sat down at tables and tried various nuts and sweet things and fruit which were produced on the delta. The honey tea was delicious but the snake whiskey was a bit rough (at 11 in the morning!). We then walked some further through paths of the village, passing stalls and various pap, taking shelter during a brief downpour. We then had a fruit plate from various fruits of the islands, including jackfruit which I’ve never had before. Then music was laid on for us, not an ABBA tribute band but a local Vietnamese family singing various ditties with their homemade instruments. I noticed the men folk had checkered scarves (the scarf of the Viet Cong) but I didn’t have my M-16 with me, so had to let it go.

We then took another boat through some canals to a coconut candy place where they made it with only a few items of industrial machinery. I had a try of the stuff but it was a
Snakes in jarsSnakes in jarsSnakes in jars

more whisky
bit too sweet and sickly so I didn’t buy any. Tight arse John again! Lunch was pretty rubbish, rice and some vegetables, plus we had to pay for the drinks.

Homestay in the Mekong Delta

We drove to a town called Cần Thơ and whilst everyone else stayed at a grubby hotel AJ and I were picked up by our home stay hosts! We were put into a taxi along with two Australian women/muppets and then dropped off at a busy and noisy bridge. We walked in pitch blackness along a canal/river full of trepidation that we were staying right next to this bridge but to our delight we got onto a long tail boat. A really pleasant journey through the canals of this town and AJ couldn’t even take a photo (a first!) although he did try! Our ‘home stay’ was basically about 10 bungalow/shacks on the river with a house behind it. We settled into the basic rooms and then went on over to the house for dinner. We were shown by the woman of the house how to roll fresh spring rolls and then did it for ourselves - our starter. We had a nice big fish
Aj and JohnAj and JohnAj and John

Say cheese!
on our plate which we picked, placed into more rice paper and then made into a wrap. I’m not a fan of big eyed fish on a plate but this was actually pretty good and we ate it with the usual rice. The two Aussie girls were a disappointment; awfully dull, grossly corpulent and one even had a stupid name - after asking her to repeat it she said as if I knew what she meant, ‘Meat -like Pete?’! During the boat ride AJ and I had a meaty tear inducing laugh at that odd moment.. After dinner I couldn’t get a conversation out of them apart from boring future travel plans, so I left the table and took a nice cold shower and off to bed.

We got up at 5.50 the next morning for a visit to the local village market and that was really very nice. The countryside is so different at that time of the morning, cooler, misty and a soft hued ambiance; God that sounded wank. Anyway, it was nice! We crossed a small canal to get over to it, and it was rowed over by a young woman. The market was interesting to see so many locals out at that time of the morning, but also to see what they were selling, fresh produce and fruits and fish, this is what they do in the Mekong, fruit and rice, a largely subsistence existence. We then went back, had breakfast which included the infamous ‘baguette’ - which is what it looks like but it is in fact empty inside, a puff of air. You do get a cheese triangle with it though, so you spread that on, oh and the Vietnamese coffee was very nice (again). It all went a bit tits up after that, as we returned to our room and took showers and started packing for our 7.30 pick-up, the munch kin who took us to the village started shouting to get read as we leaving right away to be picked up. Never mind not being told when we were to go in advance, but to be shouted at as if we were school children pissed me right off. What pushed me into anger was that he did it again, so I gave him some verbal Murtagh along the lines of telling us in advance and not to shout at us for his lack of planning. He gave a bit of mouth back to which ancient and modern Anglo Saxon was employed. What didn’t help was said gross out fat birds (who damn near made us capsize on that ferry) started making a fuss, calling me rude telling me to get a move on! I told them where to fling their meat and fat as well as the midget boy - what unprofessional behaviour I thought.
Anyway, small mercies they were leaving the boat for a separate trip, because I think I might well have shoved a ‘footie ball’ in their pudgy Ricki-Lake-at-its-worst faces by the end of the trip.

Markets n stuff

We got off the boat at a small ramp and a woman was there washing herself in the river water pretty much next to an open sewer pipe, pretty disturbing. Then we walked through the market where live fish were jumping out of buckets and flopping about the ground with no one batting an eyelid. Live crabs crowded into more buckets, as well as snakes and chickens all read to be bought or cooked. The smells were pretty interesting but it was cool to see how a real market works. Unfortunately when we got onto the next boat rejoining the group from the previous day, we were taken to more river markets, then some more, then some that were barely even there and was a complete waste of time. Got some good pics but could have saved ourselves the journey. AJ and I also noticed that our itinerary for the trip had changed, and that cock fighting and horse and cart should have been included but was not. We love animals!

The rest of the day we took in a vermicelli making plant, an all-morning job and then they lay the stuff out onto basket plates in the sun to dry. The highlight was seeing a gigantic pig, but who sadly wasn’t able to get onto his feet properly because he was clearly still a bit pissed from the night before. Bloody pigs, eh? Later on we did more boring boat travel along the Mekong and then had lunch which we paid for, AJ getting some sticky pan cake with rubbish cheese (they don’t do it here). Then we went to a crocodile farm - where we saw some crocodiles behind big walls. They looked mighty mean and silly, some of the others had it to eat, but I thought it would probably taste like prok or chicken like everything else that’s been killed for us. Along the way I got talking to a nerdy Tasmanian couple who were pretty emphatic that Australia was a racist country with its whites-only policy and had treated the aborigines with contempt. From a country that very often feels itself fundamentally ‘special’ this was a very rare admission. We then we had a good old chat about some other serious stuff and also found out she was training to be a librarian! I of course was offered accommodation if and when I got to Tasmania.
Mount Sam was cool for its weird religious pagoda featuring a glowing snake straight out of at theme park and terrific views across the paddy fields overlooking the Cambodian border (scene of a ghastly Khymer Rouge massacre of a Vietnamese int eh 1970s). That is all. But the sweat was dripping off me like a leak. We then drove to a hotel and spent the rest of the evening in the border town of Chu Doc, eating at a fairly nice restaurant where I ate eel (the back bone was crunchy) and I finally joined Facebook.

To Cambodia/Kampuchea

The following morning, we caught a boat to a massive fish farm on the river and watched them being fed, jumping about in the water like mad piranha fish. We then hit a local Cham (remember them?) village, where we saw a woman make silk scarves as if it was straight out of 18th Century England - like a spinning loom and by hand too. What was interesting was that the Cham in this part of Vietnam are Muslim, whereas previously they were either Buddhist or Hindu, but I think this lot came from Malay back in the day.

Then we headed for the Cambodian border, about a 3 hour boat ride along the Mekong River, which was really very nice and hardly any traffic at all. We paid our $22 to the woman conducting our tour and got our passports stamped after a 1hr45 minute wait over lunch. Then, we got on another boat with lots of other tourists and sitting on hard wooden benches sitting across from each other we made the final leg to Cambodia, after three more hours of that, we got a bus
Ferry across the Mekong DeltaFerry across the Mekong DeltaFerry across the Mekong Delta

This was pretty mental, so many bikes adn everyone just driving on like a stampede. Great sunset too...
into Phnom Penh itself. Leaving behind Vietnam…

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