The Mighty Mekong

Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
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Trip End Jul 21, 2010


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Where I stayed
Floating Hotel

Flag of Vietnam  , Cần Thơ,
Friday, October 9, 2009

It's been a roller coaster couple of days. Friday we left Saigon in the
morning to explore the Mekong Delta – the plan was simple take a
bus to the area hop on a boat and travel the Mekong into Cambodia.
However, five minutes after we pulled away from the curb we were
informed that all of us had bought “standard” boat tickets. The
standard boat to Cambodia takes 8 hours, has no English speaking
operator, and no bathroom. But if we each paid $5 we could upgrade
to the “fast boat” which takes 3 hours, has an English speaking
operator, and yes a bathroom. So of course what do we all do –
fork over the extra money for the “fast boat.” And of course
throughout our journey the nickle and diming didn't stop from what we
call now Shady Tours Inc. For example, in our floating hotel we were
informed that all of the rooms had fans – but if we wanted we can
pay $7 for the upgrade to A/C and we would be safe from the
malaria-plagued mosquitoes. No, we didn't pay the extra $7 and no
there weren't any mosquitoes although the bathroom was definitely the
scariest bathroom we've had to date.

Luckily the scenery was beautiful and we had gorgeous weather. The Mekong is the color of caramel and there are huge green vines that float down
the current. Against the blue sky, white clouds and green coconut
palms the area is enchanting.

On the way we see floating markets – boats selling anything and everything to other boats and “floating villages” - communities that are built on top of the water.  Everything is done on and in the river – we saw countless naked brown bodies (children) taking their
daily baths and/or washing the family cows and water buffalo. They
would scream hi and wave – totally unselfconscious. We stopped off around lunch time to one village where everyone seemed to be in a hammock taking a nap – following the locals we do the same after our fish lunch. 

Unknown to us before, we later learn that we have a 2 hour bus ride to get to another boat. Okay – except the 2 hour bus ride turned into a 4hour trek over non-paved roads in a van with no suspension. By the end of the day our backs were sore from being jerked around.

So that was the bad – the good was the view and the time we had to
reflect about what we love about Vietnam – there's been a lot.

#1:
We love how life is lived outside in Vietnam. It reminds me a bit
of spending time at my grandmother's in the summer when everyone is
outside catching up with friends because it's actually cooler outside
than in. That Vietnamese climate is DC summer all year round – and
most people don't have A/C. In fact, most people don't have standard
doors just flaps of fabric – and if they do have doors they are
always wide open where you can see straight into the home.
Everything is communal – there is no closing the door and watching
TV. We saw tons of TVs on elevated platforms blaring some soap
opera and groups of ten or more in plastic chairs watching with rapt
attention. Eating – definitely outside. There are no ovens or
microwaves here so people cook on grills or over charcoal or wood
fires and sit on small stools over small tables with their families
and neighbors. Washing hair, shaving, getting a haircut – all done
outside in plain view. A privacy nightmare perhaps (we wonder where
certain intimacies are done :) - but it definitely makes for a lively
atmosphere – you're never lonely that's for sure – and everyone
seems to know everyone else.

#2:
We love how everyone crouches here – it's truly amazing: their
butts are very low to the ground and their knees point up to the sky.
They learn it young here – we've seen toddlers not yet 2 in the
position. Sometimes it makes my knees ache just looking at them –
but they can do it easily for hours – we've seen some taking naps
in the pose. Another position we like is the motorbike lean –
where the person literally lays on top of the motorbike like the seat
is a hammock. Both men and women do it but we have seen far more men
in the position – and they are in some deep sleeps.

#3:  We love when school lets out and you see all the kids in their uniforms.
Especially striking are the high schools girls who wear the
traditional Vietnamese outfit – the ao dai – white silk trousers
and tunic. Riding home from school on their bikes they look so
elegant. It amazes us how these uniforms stay so clean and
immaculate when they have to bike to school over potholes everyday.
The boys in their white shirts, dark pants and red ties are also
cute.

#4:  We love how everyone wears comfortable clothing – especially the women
in their pajama -like outfits. Some of them are fancy and look silk –
others are some polyester blend. But the key is: it's loose and
lightweight for the climate. Some younger women walk around in
straight up no-doubt about it cotton pajamas. It's great. Topped
off with the conical hats – its something so distinct and makes
Vietnam so different.

#5:  Last but not least, we love how women are involved in everything! We have
passed by many construction projects where we see women (in their
pajama garb) down in a trench shoveling dirt with her male
co-workers. No big deal. Women are the shopkeepers, the butchers,
the cooks, the fishermen, the rice laborers, the water buffalo
herders, the construction workers, the electricians – they were
revolutionaries (there are several monuments dedicated to women
soldiers). And you can sense they are proud of themselves, and
rightfully so.

So as we sat looking over the Mekong eating another delicious meal and
sipping our Vietnamese iced coffees – another thing we adore! - the
crappy bus company woes just melt away and we can all enjoy a good
laugh.

Today, though more than made up for the ups and downs. It started off a
little rough – our “fast boat” looks as though it was made in
the early twentieth century; the bathroom was in a metal compartment
with a hole (for real); and the engine looked like it was made from a
lawnmower. There was no A/C in the seated area and yes it was hot –
so we sat on top of the boat. And no, there wasn't a sitting area on
top of the boat – we just walked on top, went past the exhaust pipe
and sat down. It was like we were Huck Finn on the Mississippi! We
had such a great time waving to everyone – and everyone waved back
smiling at the crazies on top of the boat. And we actually got a
breeze along with some sun (as you can tell from the photos). It was
thrilling – and a great way to be introduced to Cambodia. Along
the river we could see tons of rice paddies, very ornate pagodas, and
bamboo-thatched houses on stilts – all leaving an impression that
we will never forget.
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