Described as the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is the longest river, divided into 9 tributaries. Not especially clean looking, we witnessed the locals washing clothes, bathing & even brushing their teeth by the somewhat garbage strewn riverside. The rich soil surrounding the delta gives way to vast & beautiful lime green rice fields, as far as the eye can see, that produce 3 harvests a year. Riverbanks are dotted with coconut palms, colourful flowers & stilted houses. Orchards of banana, mango, papaya, dragon fruit & pineapple provide the produce available in the local markets. This area is considered rural, but is densely populated & farmed extensively.
Leaving Saigon, we bused our way to the upper Mekong river, first stopping at My Tho for our first cruise in one of the many canals in a hand rowed sampan. We immediately bonded with 3 fellow Canadians from the Vancouver area & enjoyed each other’s company over the next 48-hours. Vivian, Elaine & Bill were doing the 2-day/1-night tour of the Mekong & were returning to Saigon to continue their travels to central & North Vietnam. We on the other hand opted for the 3-day/2-night on our way to Cambodia. Always great to chat with folks who have been where you are heading & we traded travel tips. The quiet, warm, gentle breezes were a welcome respite from the hustle & bustle we had encountered the past several days. Stopping for lunch, locals entertained our group with southern Vietnamese folk music. We also had the opportunity to watch coconut candy being made, from boiling the coconut & palm oil to the end stage of hand wrapping the individual tasty morsels.
After a day of cruising & seeing the various sites along the way (more Buddhas & temples) we were delivered to our hotel in Can Tho. Included in the tour, it is considered a 1-star, very basic, but clean. Trying to find something for dinner posed an interesting adventure as well after a long day. After reviewing the menu we decided we really weren’t up to rat, ostrich, snake, etc. & settled for a bowl of Phu Ga (chicken soup), one of our staples & have become quite the connoisseurs. Next day we were up at 6 a.m. & back on the river by 7, but we don’t mind, cuz “we love the smell of the delta in the morning”! This area is known for its floating markets, with the locals rowing their sampans up the side of the tourist boats & selling everything from soup to nuts.
More cruising & a stop at a local vermicelli business, gave us a whole new perspective on those yummy noodles we have slurped up on our way through Vietnam. Rice flour, tapioca & water are mixed together to form a thin batter. This batter is scooped onto a big round drum looking affair with the heat provided by burning rice husks. The concoction is steamed until congealed, looking similar to a giant rice paper wrapper. From there it is removed, placed on bamboo/straw racks & dried in the sun for about 4-hours. Once dried, each large disk is hand fed through a cutting machine, with the person on the other side gathering & bagging the noodles. One kilo sells for 20,000 dong or $1.00 US & feeds around 12 people!
After what seemed like a full day, we bade farewell to our new friends, boarded a different bus (much nicer-sorry guys) & headed off to continue on with our portion of the tour through the countryside. Our final cruise of the day took us through eucalyptus lined canals as the sun was slowing setting. A tranquil & serene way to end the day.
After an overnight in Chau Doc, this time staying at a -1 star hotel (not sure how ‘basic’ you can get) we were on the river again before 7 a.m. making our way to floating fish farms. Quite an expensive & involved operation for the fish farmer, we watched as family workers churned out vats of brownish fish feed, made up of seaweed, sea fish, rice flour & water that was dried & made into to pellets. The fish are purchased small & raised on the farm for 6-months & can number well over 120,000. Each morning a diver goes below the house, into the fish pen in & removes any dead fish. Up to 20,000 fish can be lost over the growing season. Apparently during the dry season, the farms are floated into deeper waters to sustain the required water level of the fish. Next time you purchase some red snapper, tilapia or Basa (aka catfish-this one’s for you Brenda) from Costco or wherever, chances are Bob & I fed the critters you are eating.
Next up was a brief stop at a Cham ethnic minority weaving village which I found quite interesting as a former weaver. The Vietnamese have a great saying we have heard throughout our travels in their county, “same, same, but different”, which pretty much sums up the loom we saw in action this morning.
Today we made our way up the Mekong to Phnom Phen, Cambodia by fast boat, about a 5-hour trip including passing through customs & obtaining a Cambodian visa.
We bid farewell to beautiful Vietnam, the lovely people & ever changing lush countryside. These people have been through so much & so many continue to have so little. A very humbling, enriching experience that we will treasure the remainder of our lives.