dimanche, septembre 06, 2009

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Floating Food Stall

The Mekong Delta is a region in Southwestern Vietnam and as its name suggests is where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of tributaries. It is a very fertile region (e.g. rice fields, shrimp and fish farms...) that allows communities to work and live in it and is not to be missed when one is in Ho Chi Minh City. Some of its better-known towns include My Tho, Cai Be, Can Tho and Vinh Long. One could also enter Cambodia from the region and in fact many Khmer people historically live in the Delta.

We visited the Mekong Delta with Sinh Café. The coach left De Tham street at 8am with a guide whose English could barely be understood and a load of tourists from France, Spain, Malaysia, Singapore...and also Vietnam itself. And these Vietnamese would be the friendliest and most generous of us all on board, often buying fruit to share with everyone. Actually, I probably would buy something too if I could speak Vietnamese, had researched into the prices of pomelos and dragonfruit and were not afraid of being kotok (cheated).

Housing and shops in the Mekong Delta

The coach was airconditioned and quite comfortable. I slept all the way to the Cai Be floating market. Woke up to board a boat (took a pill to avoid being seasick) and prayed all the time I wouldn't fall into the water as it looked really dirty. Those people did everything in the water : wash their clothes and dishes, pee and poo, and even bathe in it. At the same time, they also throw their plastic bags and rubbish in it - even if most of the time the stuff won't even float away but will stay near the bank.

Making rice paper

Making rice puffs - with the silt from the Mekong River

One good reason to spend at least a night in the region is so that one would be able to visit the bigger floating market the next morning. Otherwise by the time one arrives from HCMC any floating market would be almost over and there wouldn't be much to see. We visited factories where they made rice paper, coconut candy, banana biscuits, rice puffs etc. Then we had lunch in a simple restaurant (with clean toilets - very crucial) in an ecological farm that you reach by boat, eating soup and rice with grilled pork, or at least I thought it tasted like pork. It was followed by 2 ladies singing a few sad-sounding Vietnamese songs to music pulled by 2 Vietnamese men on traditional instruments.

Vinh Long market

We had 30 minutes to explore a land market in Vinh Long which seemed very long in the heat and pollution. Throughout this trip we would be given a little time to explore other similar markets (all looked and smelled the same after a while) and we would all be waiting desperately to return to the coach. The fruits and vegetables in these markets looked really fresh and wonderful - but nobody could buy them since they were bulky besides I'm not sure one is allowed to import such things into another country.


Our hotel Hoa Phuong (2*) in Can Tho was a basic no-lift 4-storey building. But the rooms were clean and had ensuite bathrooms and airconditioning. And a hot buffet breakfast in the morning.

Finding dinner was difficult though as we couldn't eat in the streets and couldn't find a restaurant either - at the beginning. After walking around for a few hours, we finally found a few beer gardens that also served food to a mainly local clientele. The food looked quite good, though we ordered the wrong things (language barrier) and ended up leaving most of the food uneaten. This reinforced Hub's desire to only eat Pho in the same restaurant a few days in a row when we returned to HCMC.

No matter where we went, the scooters and their honking followed us. No matter where we went, crossing the road was a hazard.

Sacks of pumpkins, potatoes, sweet potatoes...

The next day, we were brought to visit the Cai Rang floating market in 2 motorised sampans. It was interesting seeing them work and live in their boats, including sending smses with no evident fear of dropping the phone in the water. We also visited a rice factory/husking mill, Vietnam being one of the most important rice exporters in the world. Then we visited an orchard and got to taste some fruit as well. It was a pity that our guide didn't bother to make much commentary during the trip, which probably also explained why nobody tipped him at the end - or it could be the reason why he couldn't be bothered to make any commentary in the first place (catch 22 situation). Our half-day HCMC guide on the other hand was very good and this guy was of course tipped quite heavily at the end of the excursion.

Mekong Rest Stop in My Tho - expensive one-stop for most Vietnamese souvenirs and imitation branded bags

We had enjoyed our excursion to the Mekong Delta though I suspect that it wasn't as colourful or busy as the floating markets in Thailand (from pictures I've seen). In any case, Vietnam is a really long and beautiful country which would merit another trip in the near future.

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