Drifting around the Mekong delta

Trip Start Feb 29, 2004
Trip End Apr 12, 2005

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Sunday, August 22, 2004

Well, group tours are usually not my favourite way to travel, and I've sworn several times that I won't go on one again. Well, Vietnam will be curing me of that oath fairly quickly. As the LP says time and time again, the only way to go places and see things here cheaper than a tour is by walking.

So I opted for a 3-day boat+bus tour of the Mekong delta region as a way to get from Phnom Penh to Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City, aka HCMC). All-in-all it was fine and I got to meet some very nice people and see quite a bit of this very beautiful and interesting area in the 3 days, so mission accomplished (oooh, don't remind me of George W!!!). AND I had my first hot shower in over 6 weeks--woohoo!! But, I was reminded (again) of how much it really irks me to be part of a group trudging en masse from sight to sight, eating and sitting and looking and peeing when they tell you to, but at least it was only for 3 days. :)

The delta area is stunning, with canals everywhere you turn and of course boats up the wazoo, practically all of them (the boats, not the wazoos) had very interesting 'eyes' painted on the front prow as protection/guidance. People were very friendly, maybe because it's not generally such a touristy area yet. We saw the requisite temples, floating markets and Cham (ethnic minority related to Khmers) villages, locals weaving stuff, kids playing strange games with flip-flops (a SE Asian specialty?), markets, rice mills and fish farms, so it was quite a good basic intro to the area for a short amount of time and a relatively small amount of money and running around trying organize stuff--and there's the beauty of a tour.

One of the most striking things about Vietnam for me so far (besides how beautiful it is down here) is the HUGE difference between here and Lao and Cambodia. Having just come thru the last two, it's so obvious that they are the poor, unpopulated and wild (as in the land, not the people--as far as I could tell, anyway!) cousins in the SE Asia mainland region--along with Myanmar/Burma. Thailand and Vietnam seem to be the golden geese powerhouses as far as development, infrastructure, economics, standard of living, population and tourism go.

Another huge difference I can see right away is the sheer number of people--something like 80 million here in Vietnam, compared to around 10 in Cambo and only 4 or 5 in Lao. And they all seem to be swerving around on motorbikes and beeping at each other! The roads here are good and wide and they have lanes. People don't always stay in the lanes, but at least the lines are there for reference! And everything from the houses to the cars and motorbikes and clothes are newer and generally look to be much better maintained and kept in working order. It's a strange transition, and I wonder what my impressions would have been like to go the other way, from Thailand and here to Cambo and Lao?

Next, I explore the mad rush in Saigon/HCMC...
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