Friday, July 13, 2012

The Mekong Delta Experience

Up at the ungodly hour of 6am choking on the smell of popcorn,  we managed to pillage the breakfast buffet for a bit before our tour van arrived to collect us for our Mekong Delta experience.  One thing I love about foreign hotels is they usually have a little fusion of Eastern and Western breakfast so along with eggs and toast we also had fried rice and wonton soup.

Our fantastic guide for the trip, Tai was a sweet Vietnamese guy, about our age, whose family evacuated from the Mekong to Saigon to escape  the Khmer Rouge when he was 4.

We started off the day with an hour and a half drive out of Ho Chi Minh through the country side.  It was very scenic and Tai gave us the scoop on some of the finer historical and cultural points of Vietnam.

We arrived at the river and hopped in a private boat for a ride around the islands.

We stopped off on one of the islands to watch them make coconut candy.  They gave us some samples to entice us to buy and it worked like a charm- I'll be carting them around for the next two weeks to bring back to NYC for my co-workers, so they will be some well traveled candy.

We hiked out of the candy factory and were greeted by a sort of Vietnamese tuk tuk-  it was sort of like an open air wagon attached to the back of- what else?- a motorbike.

Fun fact from Tai today: one out of two people in Vietnam own a motor bike due to the fact that the only public transit is via bus and the import tax on cars is 150% so only very rich people can afford them.  But I digress, we went on a super awesome ride through the main roads, as well as some back road areas that involved taking some care to not get whacked in the face with passing palm fronds and such.  They dropped us off at a bee keeping farm where we got to sample fresh honey in tea with lime & a bunch of fresh native fruits.  It was the perfect mid morning snack break.

After that we scooted on over to the river where a tired old woman shuttled us up the river in our funny hats in a rowboat.  It was very cool and relaxing experience for us, probably not so much for her, as evidenced by her loud sighs.

After that we got back in our main boat and our driver took us over to our lunch spot, where we arrived just in time for the sky to open up in a torrential downpour.  Luckily by the time we were done feasting on a whole fish, spring rolls, prawns, assorted noodles, fried rice, chicken and a mushroom hot pot,  it had cleared up a bit.

From there we took a short ride in our boat back to the mainland and jumped back in the van for an hour and a half ride to the river.  While we were driving the rain started up again in full force.  I couldn't imagine being the one out of every two people in this country riding around in that nonsense.  I was watching them, thinking to myself, what could be worse than steering your motorbike through this with just a poncho to protect you from the elements, when a man in just a t-shirt scooted by and that answered my question.  It was then further confirmed it could infact be worse when a shirtless man went by a few minutes later.  The kids were loving it though- every 10 feet there was a group of cute little Vietnamese kids splashing in puddles and running around getting soaked.

We arrived at the town, put on our appropriate weather gear and trooped it up the street and over to the dock where we boarded another boat for an hour long cruise to our homestay.  The ride was really interesting; there was so much activity along the riverside.  We saw businesses and residences and all kinds of boats- from industrial looking ones to simple long boats to houseboats with laundry and whole families hanging off them.

We finally made it to our home stay, though I would use the word loosely.  I was envisioning an actual family with a home- instead we are chilling in mosquito infested open air dormitories in the jungle.  But they have equipped our beds with mosquito netting and I have bathed in deet & am wearing clothes that, if not particularly seasonal, offer less surface area for them to get at so I am hoping for the best.

We had about an hour and a half to rest and then it was time to stuff our faces again.  The family who runs the program was all in the little outdoor kitchen cooking our approximately 10 course meal, so that was pretty awesome.

After dinner it was time to retire to our netted abodes and get ready for another early morning.

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