For a bit of a change, the photos in this entry are mostly from Steve's camera.
Yep, really didn't want to leave Le Veranda! It was really wonderful, the plushest hotel I've ever stayed in I think. On the beach one night, we had met this interesting Brit who was a Hollywood scriptwriter by trade. He was staying in one of the small guesthouses next door, but had pointed out that it's the sort of hotel that has world class standards but because Phu Quoc has yet to hit the world stage, you get really good value for money.
The next stop was Can Tho - the capital city of the Mekong delta
where we were to visit family
. The last time I had come to Vietnam was 10 years ago and we had travelled the countryside visiting Mum's Uncle and his family in the middle of nowhere and then Mum's Auntie - also, in the middle of nowhere! This would be Mum and Steve's 5th visit
and we were to do the same thing again.
Lisa and I were really excited to visit the Mekong, it's one of those must-sees of Vietnam. The delta is a veiny network of tributaries that is nearly 5000km long and it's the 12th longest river system in the world - the Nile is 1st and Amazon, 2nd.
For two nights we'd stay with Mum's cousin Mr. Nguyen, his wife Oanh and their cheeky 5 year old, Tuoc Anh. Their house was very impressive by English standards, palatial by Vietnamese standards. We spent the first afternoon eating in a local restaurant and trying weird and wonderful Vietnamese fruits. My new favourite fruit
(it was the NZ sweet kiwi) is the mangosteen which is in-season at the moment. So tasty! Taking off the peel reveals this fleshy garlic-clove looking thing and when you pop one in your mouth it's so sweet and juicy. We also stuffed ourselves full of lychees and tried Durian which was thoroughly foul. It smells like stale body odour, the edible part of the fruit looks like an swollen kidney
and it tastes like sweet Chicken. Rank.
This was to be the weekend of language difficulties as Mr. Nguyen's wife, Wang is the only one who speaks English. Mr. Nguyen is just as I remember him - very warm and generous and ever the clown. This has obviously passed through the genes and their daughter is just the same, very cute, very Vietnamese and very cheeky. Lisa and I were in her room which was decorated all in pink.
Upon advice from Steve, we'd quickly learned that plans were constantly in a state of flux, along with the language barrier you could never be completely sure of what was going to happen next. We had hired a minibus for my trip in 2001 but it turns out this trip into the country would be on the ubiquitous motor scooter. Our first month in South Asia had been a discombobulating intro to this most archaic form of transportation
, not least because their seemed to be little in the way of a highway code. After some getting used to the idea, we thought we could well handle riding pillion but when Oanh calmly asked me to confirm that I could drive
one, I floundered! Since I've never
ridden one, let alone in a different continent where driving is a free for all
. In actual fact, there were three scooters, but Mum and Steve would be riding as passengers on two of them, leaving Lisa and I with the third. I guess I'd have to do it, but after sleeping on the idea, I felt fairly confident, Lisa was not so.
The next morning, I went for pootle round their block on the automatic one and there was nothing really to it. Lisa got on and we all left. Very soon though I longed for the safety of their road! Straight away we crossed a major carriage way to turn left surrounded by beeps from cars, bikes and buses. I was tense
as hell and had Lisa squealing in my earhole often, but she was actually very supportive. We then repeated the same manouvre after a while with no discernible traffic signals. It seemed like I was using the indicators just for a laugh. As time went on, the roads got smaller and it really grew fun. Like views from countless films, we passed alongside rice paddies and through small Vietnamese villages that no tourist would ever visit
meaning we got lots of curious stares. Our first stop off was Luc's house who had been alive when I'd visited 10 years ago. This was the poor family and it was the house that Mammy (my Mum's Mum in France) had grown up in. We had gifts and supplies for them and said hellos and then visited the tombs further down on their land. Oh, did I mention - it was really hot
? I think we found it difficult to maintain our 'family face' when you're consistently sweating but on the whole I found it really humbling and warm experience. We were guests of honour
and although we only had Wang through whom to translate, it was great meeting distant relatives who have lives that are so different to our own. The women were busy preparing food for everyone and I was invited to initiate and oversee the 'bbq' which were two fish propped up over loads of firewood. I was a bit skeptical as to how I'd regulate the heat but I lit it up and soon was being urged to load it up with more wood. Very soon there was a small inferno
and I felt like I was in real danger of spoiling the only decent meal they'd had in months! I was also ridiculously hot, because that's what happens when you stand next to a bonfire
in 40 degrees heat.
'More wood' the Men would gesture, 'More' - by which time the skins of the fish were blacker than night. I kind of ducked out in a cowardly fashion but was really surprised when the meal came out that the fish was cooked fine, if a little under done. Baffling. The meal of noodles, rice, salad, pork and fish was great - all washed down with plenty of icy beer.
The weather changed a bit and we anticipated the afternoon rains so we said our goodbyes and hopped on the scooters again. I was eager to get a bit of a breeze going but we stopped after 5 minutes in a cafe / electronics repair shop for a drink. Turned out to be perfect timing as the heavens opened. The excitement of all that running around had clearly got to little Tuoc Anh and she dozed off in her mother's arms so when it was time to leave, we were all a bit bamboozled when her Mum asked Steve to precariously carry the sleeping 5 year old on the back of the scooter! Now it was Steve's opportunity to ruin the day
.. Jokes ensued.. 'sorry about that, I dropped your child in the Mekong.'
We visited Mum's Auntie (Mammy's sister) but they had a larger house. It was a 30 minute ride through more picturesque market towns and over tiny bridges before we took the hour or so trip back to the haven of Mr Nguen's house. A quick turn around and we were out again to visit 94 year old Thi, who I remember having a Pho stall. That evening we ate at a good seafood restaurant on stilts with Wang's brother, Dr. Nam but I think Lisa had had enough of being adventurous for one day and was weirded out by some of the graphic sea food on offer (they had snakes in a tank
as we entered.) It was a fun evening, not least because of more toddlers, Dr. Nam's twin girls. The three little ones reminded me of my own sister's 10 year's ago. Constant giggling and shrieking. Funny!
I was really chuffed that we made the visit, seeing something far removed from the tourist bus trips that you sign up for in Saigon's backpacker area. It's a really unforgettable experience, and makes you realise that we haven't really got a lot to moan about in the general scheme of things. But of course, that's not to say that these poor folk are not happy. My Mammy escaped this slow life for the bright lights of Saigon
which is where she met my Mum's Father in the '50s, an officer in the French army. It is with him that she travelled to France. She was clearly someone who was out to better her life and speaks disparagingly of some of the lazy men back in the village. In this old-fashioned world, it is the women who do all of the food preparation and cleaning, leaving the men to live a leisurely life. (nothing wrong with that of course! har har
The next day and a bus back to Saigon to enjoy a bit more holiday time with Mum and Steve. But not before Can Tho's floating market. Another early start! But worth seeing all the different traders on their live-on boats selling all kinds of fresh produce on a wide bit of a main Mekong tributary. Here you get to see how massive rivers like this really are the lifeblood as people wash and clean, and cook
using it. The boats have a tall stick on which the good is fastened and lets people know what they're selling. Our private boat cost us next to nothing and was the usual tourist affair but Can Tho doesn't seem firmly on the tourist map. We did see a few fancy live-on tourist boats with a crew of Vietnamese out the back while Westerners with beer guts sit in the front porch. It was great and and one of those moments where you can't decide whether to keep on snapping the camera or just to take it all in.
A long post on an action-packed weekend!