Our two-day side trip out of Saigon to the Mekong Delta has far exceeded any expectations we may have had. I don't know what we thought but we didn't expect as much as we got.
We were told to be at the tour company office at 07:30 for our Mekong Delta trip which we were following a decent breakfast jusst down the street. At the tour company office, the woman asked us if we were staying in an hotel overnight. That was, in fact, our understanding, but the woman had other ideas. No, much better to stay on the boat. We didn't know you could stay on the boat? She said they had two "rooms" left, and pointed at a picture on the wall that showed a typical, wooden framed bunk bed in the cabin of a boat, "Okay," sez we. Then she wondered why we were at her office as the bus had gone to our hotel to pick us up.
Anyway, after rounding up the participants with what seemed to be a fair amount of confusion (one couple was placed on totally the wrong bus, in spite of their 3 times request for confirmation re the bus they were on, and then had to be transferred mid-Highway to their right bus) our bus finally left the City around 9:00am with 14 passengers on board for "a three hour cruise".
Our first stop off the bus, was to get into a small sampan to be taken for a tour of a busy waterfront area (lots of boats selling stuff) and a little village that is known (apparently) throughout Vietnam for their coconut candy. It was fascinating to watch them make it, but even more fascinating was watching the lady who makes the delicate rice paper in which the candy is wrapped (think 'White Rabbit' candy). Afterwards we went to another area where a guy was making popped rice (puffed rice). His method was incredible. He heats up sand to a very high heat, which causes the sand to turn black. It looks somewhat as though he is stirring blackened oil. He tosses the rice into the burning hot sand and in seconds the rice pops and puffs up like popcorn, then he throws the lot into a giant sieve so that all the sand is shaken out and you're left with puffed rice. We bought some of the coconut candy, of course, but the puffed rice cakes were a bit bland, so left those alone. Bruce, of course, had to try the snake wine they had on offer - blagh! This was actually really an interesting visit, in spite of being herded through there like the passel of tourists that we are.
After this we transferred from our small motorised sampan into tiny 'dug—outs' paddled by a woman who stands on the stern to row. Each canoe took four passengers and we were paddled up some pretty narrow channels until we disembarked at a pretty rustic stop - as in, step carefully over the mud. We had a nice lunch at a house there, though, and although we were offered the 'special' of the fish with a red flowerette spewing from its mouth, we opted for the pork and noodles instead, which was quite good. The house has a bunch of bicycles so after eating we grabbed a couple - talk about rickety-rackety! - and peddled off towards the village. It was a good thing to get Bruce back in the saddle again, albeit he wouldn't actually call it a saddle, let alone a real bike, because he is suffering from severe cycling withdrawal at this point.
Back into our little canoes and back on to a bus for the drive to Sa Dec where we were to board our 'ship'. Sa Dec was a terrific little non-touristy town that has a great street market. Everyone was very friendly, and Mums wanted me to take pictures of their kids so that they could see them and puzzle the kids. We did - one kid started screaming at me as though she'd been dumped in Santa Claus's lap for her first Christmas photo. Our gathering point was at a lovely old (130 yrs) house that belonged to family of Huynh Thuy Le whose romance with Marguerite Duras was the subject of a fairly recent artsy, sepia-toned movie that I did see and never knew its name. If anyone recognizes the pictures above I'd love to know the name of the movie 'cos now I'd like to see it again.
It's a nice little vessel, our 'ship', but we were surprised by our "rooms". It was a long dormitory style thing, with bunks up and down. Presumably the two "rooms" that were still available according the the travel lady were actually "bunks" because we didn't find any rooms on this ship. Soon after we took off we were served a very nice dinner with some real crispy veggies - not the usual limp leaves that are served up as 'vegetables'. That was a pleasant surprise. We have a nice group on board: 4 Germans, 2 French, 1 Brazilian, 1 Chilean, 1 'Murican (thank goodness - hers is the only voice I can constantly hear wherever we are on the boat), 2 Dutch and 1 other Canadian (a Newfie who is teaching in China) besides us. I think I'm getting used to this business of sleeping with a bunch of strangers - and I don't want to get used to it! :)
Up early (5:30) to see the sunrise - very nice thank you very much now can I go back to sleep - followed by a good breakfast and we were all ashore and sitting in a bus to go to a pagoda up on the mountain by 7am. We had awoken in the middle of dozens of anchored vessels loaded with produce - it was the wholesalers market so tons of little boats were constantly go to and fro around us. Very interesting. After climbing up to the pagoda, which was a nice one, it was back to the waterfront and all pile into even smaller canoes than yesterday's ones. These ones take only 2 passengers. We were paddled all around a floating village and went into some of the houses, that surround the fishing caches. We went into one that had over 100,000 tilapia below their floor boards.
It was getting really hot as we returned to our vessel, which was no longer "our" vessel. It had magically grown into quite a bit larger one and our bags had been transferred from the first. We are now tootling down the Mekong heading back towards Sa Dec and Saigon. We are passing dozens and dozens of brick yards surrounded by huge kilns. There's a lot of industry along the river, of course, because of the transportation. Kids are still shouting and waving to us though as we sail by - we are on one of tha more unusual looking vessel around here and they know it's stuffed full of lookee-loos and roughly what time of day it goes by, so they're on the lookout.