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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An unforgettable exploration of the great Mekong Delta, Vietnam

The Mekong is a long river that stretches through the borders of 6 countries in Southeast Asia. I’d already travelled on the Mekong crossing from Thailand into Laos, so it was pretty cool to continue the journey on the same river through another 2 countries.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam
The border formalities on the river were quick and painless, and surprisingly informal. As we floated down the river further into Vietnam the scenery started to get really interesting. We saw basic looking houses right on the river built on stilts and rustic wooden fishing boats. Many of the people especially the kids would wave and yell “hello!” as we passed by. The orange sun was setting on the river and our hotel in the small town of Chau Doc was in sight… when suddenly our boat stopped. We were less than 5 minutes away but the boat had run out of gas. Luckily another boat on the river was there to help bring us ashore.
Wooden fishing boats in Mekong Delta, Vietnam
The view from the hotel was fascinating, we could see boats buzzing across from all directions and small little houses right on the river built on stilts. The next day we got to explore the Mekong river in more detail. We visited fish farms where people live and farm fish right in the water. The floating houses are built on top of fish cages. You lift up the floorboards and there they are splashing around underneath the house. The fish are fed a mixture of vegetables and fish bones. It was really interesting to see but it also made us question the healthiness of the farmed fish in the rather polluted looking river. After the fish farms we visited a local Cham village, part of the very small Muslim community in Vietnam. From there we visited a massive food market with fish, meat, fruits and vegetables. There were many fruits and vegetables I’d never seen before, and it was fun to experience the hustle and bustle of a local market that was selling food instead of cheesy souvenirs.

Floating Market
The next day we made our way to Can Tho, a fairly populated area along the Mekong Delta. Along the three hour bus ride one could track the rapid progress of development in the country. Basic shacks built on stilts slowly gave way to more modern looking houses with TV antennas on the roofs. This was also the first time I truly understood how popular motorbikes were in this country.

The road was completely packed with motorcycle drivers who seemed to view lanes and basic traffic laws as mere suggestions. We arrived at our hotel in Can Tho mid afternoon with enough time to have a happy hour drink by the pool and unwind. The next day we had an early 5:30am start to see the floating market on the Mekong River. It was pitch black when we left and the sun started coming up just as our boat arrived. There were hundreds of wooden boats big and small, most of them carrying produce and food. We got to latch on to a boat selling produce and climb onto the roof for a birds eye view of the bustling market while eating fresh pineapple. At this point it was barely 7am and I really had to admire the work ethic of all the merchants who had already been up and working for hours.

After our tour of the market we had a Vietnamese cooking course. We learned how to make fresh and deep fried spring rolls, Vietnamese salad and deep fried prawns. Our cooking instructor was a very kind and patient young lady, although she did laugh at our deformed rolls saying “I’ve never seen one like that before”. We were quite impressed at how delicious our own creations were, especially the deep friend spring rolls. It probably helped that we were very hungry by that point. Later that evening we took a shuttle boat to the city centre to find something for dinner. It happened to be international women’s day which locals celebrated by bringing their girlfriends, wives and mothers out for dinner. 

Spring rolls 
The charming public square by the river was full of mostly young couples, some holding roses or heart shaped balloons that they’d just bought. Everywhere we went people would say hello and some would even strike up conversations and ask where we were from. I think a lot of people like to practice their English and were also just genuinely friendly. For dinner we found a place on the river and I had chicken and veggies with soft noodles. Someone next to me had the crispy noodles which I wish I tried because they looked really good.

Biking in Mekong Delta
The next day we departed Can Tho and made our way towards Ho Chi Minh City. On our way we made a stop in Cai Lay, a small community in the Mekong Delta area. We took a short boat ride down a peaceful narrow river then rode bicycles through narrow little paths that wound through the bamboo forests. As we went children would excitedly say hello to us and wave their hands in the air.

After about an hour we stopped at an old couples house where they had a gorgeous little fruit orchard. We had the pleasure of tasting the freshest and most delicious exotic fruit I’d ever had in my life. 

Our local guide explained to us that the family would work 4 days out of the week then get drunk the other 3 days. I joked that I was going to stay behind, to which the old farmer replied by sitting me in the hammock and singing to me! Trust me it was very hard to leave this little slice of paradise. Our next stop was at a hundred year old house where we had a very tasty Vietnamese lunch which of course included deep fried spring rolls, which we were actually starting to get a little sick of by this point. Once we finished lunch it was time to get back on the bus and continue on towards Ho Chi Minh City.

I really felt like I got a good feel for the variety of people and cultures living in and along the Mekong River area and it was interesting to see how things changed as we got closer to the big city. It was a great introduction to the friendly people and incredible food in Vietnam which would only impress me more as the trip continued.

To find out more about travelling Mekong Delta with ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA(ATA) , you can refer: http://www.activetravelvietnam.com/tour.php?op=detail&tourId=19
 Plus you can become a fan of ATA's Facebook page 


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