The Delta and the City

Trip Start Jan 06, 2012
Trip End Apr 12, 2012

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Yesterday we spent an amazing day going around the beautiful Mekong Delta. The Delta is Vietnam's 'rice bowl' as it produces more than a third of the country's annual food crop. The Vietnamese refer to the Delta as Cuu Long (nine dragons). It originates in Tibet and covers more than 4000km before it reaches Vietnam (through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia), making it the third longest river in Asia. We explored the river next to My Tho and Ben Tre, which are about 2 hours outside of HCMC. My Tho is a market town located in the Mekong's northernmost tributary and Ben Tre is a laid back province just south of My Tho.

We began the day early and drove through the countryside before reaching My Tho after about 1.5hours. We got straight onto a motorised boat and made our way down the river. My ignorance about rivers meant that my expectations were very different to what I saw! I didn't realise how wide the river would be (with hindsight, considering how big it is I should have expected some diversity!) and was expecting quite a thin river for some reason. I was also surprised at how quiet it was: there were very few other boats (we saw a couple illegally collecting sand from the bottom of the river) and hardly saw any other tourists all day. Firstly we drove past a catfish farm in the middle of the river, which to be honest did not really hold any appeal for me. After about 15 minutes, we were dropped off at Phoenix Island where we were shown how rice paper is made and tried some strange mix of something (not sure what it was but it tasted doughy!) as well as some sweet tapioca. We then visited a 'factory' of handicraft made from coconut trees (abundant in the Mekong) and saw some pretty impressive items made out of coconut eg chopsticks, statues, bracelets. After we had a nice lunch, which included the local favourite elephant-ear fish spring rolls (see photos below!).

We then got back onto the boat and drove for about 20 minutes, taking in the beautiful scenery: the vast river, the small villages along the banks of the river, fishing techniques, bright green reeds and vegetation and a jet ski?! (not sure where that came from!). Our next destination was a bee-keeping farm where we held a placard (no idea what the name is!) where the bees live with about 100 bees just hanging out on it! We then tried the best honey tea I have ever had and some other honey-themed snacks eg honey roasted nuts (so good!). It was then a short walk around the corner where we got a horse and cart to our next stop. I have no idea how this poor tiny horse managed to get six grown adults down the bumpy road, but he/she did. After we sat down to eat some tropical fruits (dragon fruit, pineapple, and some other fruits native to Vietnam that I didn't know the name of but they were yummy!) and listen to song traditional music and singing, which was really lovely. When we were leaving, me and Becky decided to eat some of the fruit that other tables in our group had left, thinking that people had gathered on the 'stage' area to play the instruments. However, when we finally stopped stuffing our faces with fruit(!), we walked to the front and one of the women was holding a snake! So of course me, Becky and Taylor volunteered to do it too. Even though I knew it wouldn't hurt me I was much more intimidated than I thought I would be because it felt so strong, but very very strange!

Next was a slow, meandering row-boat ride down a narrow part of the Delta (much more what I expected!). It was very peaceful and relaxing (epitomised by some of the other rowers we passed who were sleeping in their boats... the Vietnamese do love to sleep!). We then got back on the motorised boat to our last stop, viewing a coconut candy production process. The process wasn't particularly interesting but the eating was! It was quite an unusual flavour but nice at the same time. We also tried coconut wine, which was very strong but a lot better than rice wine (which I really don't like!).

The drive back to HCMC took about 2 hours. We then got the bus back to our district and went for dinner at a 'vegetarian' restaurant down the road... Typical Vietnamese experience! So it's vegetarian but the menu has 'vegetarian chicken', beef and goat on it. We ordered spring rolls to share (so far so good), then I got my 'noodles and vegetables', which had some suspicious items in so the girls tried it and said it was meat(!), then Taylor got her 'goat' but she didn't seem to have any meat at all, just mushrooms... Was a very strange dining experience! On the way to the bus stop we had picked up a dessert from Tous Les Jours, so I enjoyed my amazing baked goods once we got home. The evening was just washing (still have to do the boring things!) and hanging out. All in all it was a great Saturday! The Mekong is beautiful and I wish I had more time to explore it. Time seems to pass much slower and it has a laid back feel. I loved trying all the locally produced foods and snacks, although I felt stuffed all day. It was also nice to escape the city for the day and the breeze was very welcome too!

Today was another great day spent in the city. I got up really early (keep waking up at 6am), had breakfast and got the bus into town. To get to the Ho Chi Minh City Museum (formerly known as Gia Long Palace), I walked past Notre Dame Cathedral where there were LOADS of wedding photos taking place outside. Some of the dresses were incredible. Weddings are a really big deal here and the main road that our road joins has a wedding shop literally every other shop (no exaggeration)... on both sides of the road too! One I reached the HCMC Museum, there were more wedding photos taking place. It is the perfect backdrop because the building is absolutely beautiful. The grandiose and history of the building was in a lot of ways much more interesting than the actual exhibitions inside: built in 1886 as a residence for the governor of Cochinchina, temporary residence for Diem in 1962 after his palace suffered an air attack (during which time the underground tunnels were built), home to the museum. The exhibitions are a series of photos, documents, artefacts and information that covers everything for the economy, art, industry, geography, ecology etc of HCMC as well as two rooms upstairs with information related to the Vietnamese struggle against the French and America. Outside there were tanks, helicopters, planes and cars from the American War. It wasn't as good as the War Remnants Museum but it was a good way to spend a Sunday morning. I then went for a wonder and sat down in the park next to Notre Dame to eat some oranges and watch the world go by (literally the world with the 5m motorbikes in HCMC!). The park was really busy and after about ten minutes three students came up to me and started speaking to me to practice their English! Everyone is so friendly here and it's nice that they just come up to you and want to chat about anything and everything!

I then caught the bus home, went to the bookshop to buy a few gifts for the boys tomorrow and then went to the local market to get lunch. I got a smoothie and a baguette with omelette, salad and the most amazing sauce for... 70p. Epic. You get stared at everywhere in Vietnam but people are particularly curious in local markets so as I was trying to order my baguette (just pointing!), an old lady from another stall came up and started talking to me in Vietnamese (I just replied 'cam on', 'cam on' - thank you) and then peeled a fruit that looked like a small banana but was much sweeter, not sure what it was but tasted pretty good!

I then went back to the house, ate my amazing lunch and then did some boring stuff on the Internet (car insurance hunt!), had a nap, folded my washing and planned my lesson tomorrow. Right on time at 3pm, some of the local volunteers arrived to take me for coffee. I also invited Kevin, so the six of us went to this really cool cafe within walking distance from PH3. I had coconut ice cream and just drank the ice tea that you are given in most restaurants in the south. It was a great afternoon chatting to the volunteers: we got to find out about Vietnam and the lifestyle here and the they got to practice their English. I told them about the students who came up to me in the park and they said a lot of young people go to the park hoping to meet foreigners to practice their English with!

I then grabbed some takeaway Pho Ga on the way back to the house (another bargain, 1) and quickly ate that before some other local volunteers arrived and took me by motorbike to a really cool local night market about 15 minutes drive away. When we got there it was heaving with people (and motorbikes!). It's a really lively market with bright lights and music and crowds. It's a local market so I was the only Western face there but it meant that the clothes, jewellery, shoes and handbags were really cheap. Also, because it's for locals, these were the only items for sale. We had a wonder around and then after about half an hour we went and got some food. There was a limited menu (plus I'd already eaten!) but the food was GOOD (it was also packed so it had a great atmosphere, proving that generally if it's busy it's good!). I ordered ban flan (the flan, ice and coffee flavourings I've had before) and asked the girls to order a drink for me. We all got sam bo luong, which has lots of things floating in it (including something that looked like seaweed) but it tasted AMAZING! It is really sweet and the 'floating things' can only be compared to jelly sweets. I then tried the girls banh beo (pancake, nuts, chilli sauce, some kind of meat), which didn't look very appealing but tasted great, if a little spicy! They also ordered bo bia (rice paper wrapped around lettuce, seafood(?) and potentially other ingredients that I didn't catch as well as a peanut sauce), which were also really good. We then wondered around more of the market and made a few purchases here and there (just one top for me). It was a really lovely evening, it's so nice to be invited to places that tourists don't go to as well as get to know the local volunteers better.

All in all another amazing weekend, especially with regards to eating! I've tried lots of new food and met up with my new Vietnamese friends (friends seem to be made instantly here!). I'll be so sad to leave. The young people here (who I've had most contact with) are so polite, kind, hard working and driven. I'm so grateful that the people I met today have given up some of their weekend to show me around and talk to me (although it's crazy that I only met the two girls I went to the night market with on Friday!).

Can't believe I have under 2 weeks left :(

Weekend facts:
Populations: 87m Vietnam, 10m HCMC
HCMC has 24 districts (bigger than Bangkok)
Slideshow Report as Spam

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Ngân on

Haha, it's great to see you, my friend.
Hope you'll have fun in the 2 week rest ^^

Neelam on

Chess I seriously think your blog should be published as an insight to 'FAR EAST' It is so amazing that when I read it I can almost taste the food, sense the atmosphere and become such a part of your travels. xxxxx

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