Two days on the Mekong Delta. November 29 - 30, 2015.
29.11.2015 - 30.11.2015 35 °C
We are heading to one of the main tributaries of the Mekong Delta - - by bus
The comma-shaped flatland stretching from Ho Chi Minh City to the southwest of the Gulf of Thailand is the fertile Mekong Delta. To Vietnamese, the region is known as Cuu Long or “Nine Dragons”. The name is originated from the nine tributaries of the Mekong River that enter the South of Vietnam before emptying into the sea. The Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam is a vast maze of rivers, swamps and islands, home to floating markets, pagodas and villages surrounded by rice paddies. Boats are the main means of transportation, and tours of the region often start in nearby Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) or Can Tho, a bustling town in the heart of the delta. We had an early start from Ho Chi Minh City, with our bus picking up other tourists going to the Delta for one or two or three day tours before leaving the city. We travelled by bus for two hours. It was a chance to meet other travellers and to learn that the jewels in the crown of Vietnam were in the north. - The stately Hanoi, the magnificent Halong Bay, the former capital city of Hue, the charming Hoi An ancient town. My "bus-buddy" told me about the beaches close to Hoi An that he described as romantic, quaint, enchanting. My next visit to Vietnam will feature Northern Vietnam.
After a few little diversions - bathroom breaks, snack stops ("Good Grief!"), we finally arrived at a stop where we found a large boat, waiting for us to step onto the deck. Our tour guide (TNK Travel) would prove to be competent and amusing. One by one, each of us balanced on a makeshift gangplank and climbed into the boat. We took our seats and settled in to glide lazily along the slow moving current of muddy brown water of the Mekong Delta. We pulled away but, almost immediately a small skiff pulled alongside, and a young lady held up an aromatic cup of coffee, the pot still bubbling away on the deck of her tiny craft.
Sadly, there were no takers this time. In only a few minutes, another skiff with coconuts and other drinks were offered by a young lady. She nimbly stepped to the side of our boat and offered her wares. Yet another on our shady side - a boy offering bananas.
We continued out into the expanse of the river. This is a water world that moves to the rhythms of the mighty Mekong, where boats, houses and markets float upon the innumerable rivers, canals and streams that criss-cross the landscape like arteries.
A tangle of boats upon the river...............................................Another tour boat, similar to ours.
All forms of other craft motored or paddled slowly past. One tour boat, but an increasing number of family boats, with children, chickens and laundry on deck. Some boats had "eyes" painted on either side of the bow. These are for the purpose of scaring the river demons away.
No demons, but prepared with vintage life saver rings.
With the laundry done and son rocking the hammock, mom and son relax in the shade while dad tinkers with the engine.
This is 'home' for families living for years on the river in such craft.
A skiff full of watermelons. These will be traded or sold to another boat on the water.
This lady is controlling the "make 'n break" engine with her foot, while she uses oars to maneuver it between other boats.
We saw a lady offering pineapples, and pulled up beside. A few of my 'boatbuddies' stepped on board, and we made a deal for some ready-to-eat pineapples. These proved to be sooooo tasty.
A quick job of peeling and slicing. Yummy!
We continued to pass skiffs, some with motors, but all maneuvered skillfully with the two crossed oars.
Off the Beaten Path to find some Culinary Oddities
From the congestion of this little water village, we continued up the river and to the banks on one side. Here we walked the wobbly gangplank again, onto a mud path.
We ambled along , looking at fruit trees, and picking our way through increasingly dense jungle till we came across a thatched building overhung by trees and vines. In the shade there were tables and snacks.
The grill was burning and interesting meats crackled in the coals.
I had been chatting with "Don" from California. He suggested we share a snack. Sounds good to me.
This selection came with a free bottle of rice wine.
Nice! Just dig in.
A salt beef bucket sat beside the chef. I poked my camera in, and this is what I found. Next pic is the menu.
We had been told that the snake is good but that the skin is a bit tough. On the other hand, rat was assured to be very tasty. Both Don and I found that to be quite true. We had not been warned that rice wine is not the usual 12% alcohol drink. We sipped and refilled our glasses till it was all gone. The equivalent to straight gin. It went well with rat.
Paddling along tributaries of the Mekong
The 'rice bowl' of Vietnam, the delta is carpeted in a dizzying variety of greens. We continued on through the plants and along winding paths.
After picking out way for a while, we came across a spot where there were small boats waiting for us.
Four passengers to a boat plus a paddler. We set out and took a left through some tall reeds and bamboos.
Think of this as a roadway, linking villages, markets, craftspeople and a few tourists.
We moved almost noiselessly past the river banks. In the shade, this man had fish cages that he was planning to sell at the market we had left earlier in the morning.
We watched the reeds and tropical trees moving slowly past us in this dense shrub, moving through shady overhangs and back into the sunshine. So relaxing, I could just be lulled off to sleep.
We continued for quite some time and then the stream became wider. We saw a thatch structure - a good looking restaurant. I think we were in for a treat.
This time we spied fish on the coal grill. The smells were wonderful. We were shown to tables set with gleaming silver and white tablecloths. Now, that was a surprise.
Crisp grilled and spiced outside......succulent inside - the fish was divine. Plenty of other dishes were placed on our table - sticky rice, bamboo shoots and morning glory shoots. And unidentified wonderful other bits and pieces. The local beer washed it all down quite well.
Now, I think we were all lazy. We relaxed for some time, and then back out to our larger boat, parked just around the corner from where we had docked. Another lazy hour of relaxing, watching boats and enjoying a game of tiles of some kind, played by some of the local passengers, punctuated with laughs and the exchange of money.
The Rice Noodle House
There was one more stop for us. A little place that makes rice noodles.
Approaching the building we passed large rice sheets, sitting in the sun drying.
Large bags of rice lined the room. In the centre of the open room, under a large thatched roof, pots of rice boiled, heated by a fire fueled by rice husks. The grill was also heated by a fire made from the rice husks, of course!
Just like Aunt Jemima.....
And a little help from my friend.
You must stretch it and pat it and mark it with......
Looks like I "cut the mustard". KUDOS to me!!!!!
After drying in the sun, the sheets of rice are ready to be cut into noodles.............. on their way to Sobey's.
Done with our noodles, we took a path through an area filled with banana trees. Do you know the trees should more correctly be called banana plants because they don't live for years like trees do. Bananas will produce one crop of fruit and then die. In late summer, the flowers form fruit, which ripens in early spring. We were told that one small shoot should be allowed to spring from the mature banana tree and all others should be removed to ensure fruit production and next year’s crop. Read more : http://www.ehow.com/facts_5595890_life-cycle-banana-plants.html
I chose to merge my two days on the Mekong River into a single story, but it gives the flavour of our trip. We've had two quite full days of sights. Along our way we stayed overnight in Can Tho City. Some passengers had opted for "home stay" in a local person's house. I was happy to relax in a fairly modern hotel and just 'vege out.' We had been on the move for most of the time, enjoying a combination of new sights and experiences, and lazy relaxation on the river.
By now, we 20 travellers had spent 2 days seeing sights and chatting with each other. We trudged along through the banana plants and finally wound our way to our bus. We would now travel back to Ho Chi Minh City. Two hours in air-conditioned comfort and perhaps a chance at more culinary oddities along the way!
We rode in comfort
It is easy to feel like a big fish swimming in amongst a large school of capelin, all swirling effortlessly around, in front and behind.
This is how it looked through the front window of our bus, approaching the city.
We arrived in the city by supper time, and headed back to our various hotels. A night of comfort, and probably some exploring the busy tourist district. Tomorrow would be half a day in the city followed by overnight bus. Now, that would be another adventure!
A great network of tunnels extends below Saigon: The Cú Chi Tunnels, to be visited tomorrow............Be sure to click on "next" for the next entry of this travel blog : )
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