Today we left urban Ho Chi Minh City for the rural Mekong Delta. Back on the bus we spent time watching the numerous near misses between mopeds and marvelling at what can be carried on such a vehicle. The traffic in Saigon (and Vietnam as a whole!) is truly manic. Leaving the city behind it wasn’t long before I fell into a deep snooze – before I knew it I was being woken up for a toilet stop (called a ‘Happy Room’ stop by our tour guide – same as with Nat).
A little longer on the bus and we came across an unusual temple. Unusual in that it had influences from Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucian, and Catholicism. Inside there were statues of the figureheads for all four of these major and represented religions. It seems that regardless of your beliefs you were welcome to worship here and maybe for such a small community this was a better way of doing it. Plus the basics of many religions are akin in that you should lead a good life and treat others as you would want to be treated so maybe they shouldn’t be regarded so differently after all.
Arriving in Cai Be we boarded the boat we would use to traverse the Mekong Delta. As we began our journey along the Mekong we saw the famous floating markets selling a range of different fruits. The way they inform others of what they are selling is by hoisting an example of their product up on a bamboo stick so that everyone can see it. With so many boats all crowded together it can be difficult to see through then to find what you are looking for. We boarded one of these boats and saw that not only was the boat their shop but also their living quarters (with the woman sleeping inside and man outside).
We arrived at a small village on the banks of the Mekong and were able to see one extended family (plus some hired help from the village) making a range of local products using very traditional methods. We entered the fish sauce factory (it stank!), tried snake wine which is literally a dead snake kept in a jar of ‘wine’ (very disgusting!) and saw rice paper being made (like when we were in Cu Chi). Moving on, there was a toffee type sweet being made and you could see the beginnings of production-line thinking (though on a much smaller scale) with one person putting the toffee into moulds, with another chopping it into squares, two women wrapping them and another sealing the wrapped and collected toffees in a plastic bag using a bare flame. It was quite mesmerising to watch and made you think that before mechanisation, this is how all crafts/production was carried out. Further on we saw how popped rice was made as well as a noodle type snack a bit like rice crispy squares. Before leaving we were able to sample these locally produced foods and ingredients – further adding to the full sensory experience.
We continued on the Mekong feeling the gentle rocking of the boat, the slightly salted breeze against our faces and watching life unfold before us. Eventually we stopped for lunch where we had a simple lunch of noodles and had another animal encounter. The owner of the establishment had a snake (python I think) in a cage. It was originally covered so I had not noticed it. However, now that there were several westerners milling around he decided it would be a good time to get it out. People started to pose for photos with it (the snake being wrapped around necks, arms and legs). Many were obviously very scared and all reported just how heavy it was – it was massive after all! I wanted Anthony to have a go so I could take pictures, the man beckoned for me to come forward but I was scared – rooted to the spot. He signalled we could both do it and so we did!! Standing as stiff as a board and as close to Anthony as I could the snake was wrapped around us with Anthony having the end with the head!! I was terrified and my heart was beating so quickly but I managed to smile for a few photos before I urgently called out for the man to come back. What an experience!!
It took me a while to relax but luckily there were no more animal encounters. We took our larger boat to join with small rowing boats at the mouth of a tributary. Here we donned conical hats and were taken down snake river by a small Vietnamese lady that rowed our boat. Looking we saw no snakes though plenty of mud fish (fish with front legs which come out of the water and jump over the banks). At one point it was all hands on deck as we became beached due to the exceptionally low water level. However we eventually made it and were able to walk through another village and see some farmed crops before winding back to our boat.
The last stop was what I called a garden centre but was probably more of a nursery. Here you could but trees and plants that would bear fruit including guava, pomelo, jack fruit and dragon fruit to name but a few. Once again it was fascinating to see actual life on the Mekong and to see how the people here lived.
Our Homestay was more of a B&B and not as basic as I had thought it would be having stayed in a Homestay in Borneo only a few months previously. We had a double room with bedding and a mosquito net already set up. There were en suite facilities with a shower containing hot water and towels. There was even wifi!!
The evening involved helping to prepare food (I made a pancake), eating dinner (though not the snails!), listening to a performance of traditional Vietnamese music performed by some locals from the village and drinking tea. As we had an early start the next morning and the quantity of mosquitoes was increasing we decided to retire to the sanctuary of the nets.