Meandering Through The Mekong Delta
Xin Chao! Thanks for joining us again as we travel south to Can Tho (pronounced 'Tau'), the epicenter of the Mekong Delta and "rice bowl" of the world. Here life slows down quite a bit (which we craved after 2 days in Ho Chi Minh City) and it's flat and hot. Living along countless rivers and canals that populate this region, locals generally get around by boat (some villages are only accessible by water), visiting restaurants and floating markets to buy their produce and other items. Families live in small shacks built up along the river and are backed by an abundance of greenery. It has been a fascinating area to visit, especially with the contrast to Ho Chi Minh City.
Because of their popularity, Teedo and I along with the Lindoxes opted to stay at a homestay 6 km outside of Can Tho. Having done much research in the US, we stumbled upon a reputable home stay with Mr. Hung and his family where we were given a cozy riverside cottage to stay in for 2 nights. After successfully purchasing bus tickets from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho (you wouldn't believe how many people don't speak a lick of English), we arrived at Mr. Hung's property in the late afternoon. His place had a tranquil feeling with the riverside cottages to the right and outside dining area and people lazing in the hammocks to the left. We filled the afternoon hours talking to fellow travelers and taking cruiser bikes along the path that linked villages and other homes. While riding, just about every Vietnamese person waves to us (Teedo did get the finger though...do you think it means something different in Vietnam? I tried to tell her it meant 'hello' to ease her worry). The children seem to love tourists and all ask 'what's yo nime' (what's your name)? We're not sure they know what it means however because when we ask back they generally give us a confusing stare. The first evening, we gathered with 20-some other travelers for an interactive dinner which included rolling and frying our own spring rolls, creating our own fish and vegetable taco, and feasting on a variety of Vietnamese food that was already prepared. Yum! We're loving the food already.
The following morning we were up with the crowing roosters (literally) at 5:30 am to depart on our 5 hour long Mekong Delta tour, the undisputed highlight of the area. This expansive waterway works its way like arteries and veins through 6 different countries (China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) and is the 10th longest river in the world. In addition, this region of Vietnam is by far the most productive region in agriculture and aquaculture. The four of us hopped in a private boat with Mr. Hung as guide and a friend that he employs to steer. We boat for the next hour in what feels like a massive water highway, making turns, passing boats, houses, and families bathing in the water. Sadly, we also pass by a lot of garbage in the river and along the banks. Funny enough though, we actually cringed as our boat driver littered but later on in the day, a big plastic bag got caught in his propeller. Karma's a b... :)
A few additional turns and the river began to open up showcasing the Cai Rang floating market ahead. Our guess is that there were roughly 100 different boats floating (and set up just like a farmer's market but on water). In order to decipher what produce is on which boat, the owner uses a long upright pole at its bow to hang samples of the goods for sale. Mr. Hung explained that boat owners buy the produce from farmers and then immediately sell it at the floating markets, some boating for over 3 days to try to make a profit at this popular market.
Mr. Hung waved and our attention shifted to a beautifully dressed woman perched on top of her 'pineapple boat.' Ours pulled up and Mr. Hung motioned for us to climb on up. "We invite you," he says which basically means that this is on him. A good view of the market and a pineapple dripping down our chins, we were a happy group. Plus we loved watching our cute Vietnamese pineapple lady, in her colorful garb and calm demeanor, cut her pineapples for a few other boats that pulled up. After our delectable pineapple, Mr. hung 'invited us' to try a few more items...a spicy noodle dish complete with quail eggs and something fried that resembled funnel cakes.
Next up, we docked and by land, he toured us through a rice noodle making factory. It's actually quite fascinating however I can't imagine reading this from home would be that riveting so we'll just provide a brief cultural lesson on rice...First the rice is cultivated, then the husk is removed to expose and separate the brown rice and is recycled as fuel for the ovens. The brown rice is polished to make white rice, the powder from polishing has no energy so it's used to feed pigs which poop and provide the methane that powers the gas for production. Waste kernels from making the white rice is processed to make a whey. The whey is then poured over a hot stone and rubbed out to make a pancake, then lifted off with a bamboo torch and placed on a bamboo mat that gets layered with the pancakes. These mats are lifted (by one skinny guy) and carried outside to cool. When cooled they are cut and made into rice noodles. Have you fallen asleep yet? I have. Talk about the circle of life, the ash from the cooking kiln is then used as a planting medium for the seedling nursery. But wait...banana leaves are torn by hand and held together with pieces of recycled bamboo like toothpicks before planting the seeds. Nothing from a kernel of rice is wasted. Whew! Now if only they can get their garbage removal and recycling program started then I would really call this a resourceful country. Moving on...
The obvious highlight of the day was when Mr. hung pulled out the Vietnamese conical hats (or coolies). Wearing one of those hats was right up there on my Vietnam bucket list along with wearing one of those weird face masks that almost every local wears (why? I'm still figuring it out...)
We arrived back at the homestay around 11am (and we all thought it was about 3pm because we had gotten up so early). The rest of the day was so hot, 100 degrees, and humid that we barely had any energy to do anything so we took naps, read, and took cold showers.
All in all, the Mekong Delta area has definitely left a lasting impression on us. Teedo and I actually didn't add it to our itinerary until late in the game and we're sure glad we did. The people are friendly, the food is delish, the Mekong river and the culture is fascinating, and the relaxing atmosphere was appreciated. We had to part ways from Caroline and Mike when we arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City but it felt so great to catch up with them and share some new memories together. Next up, we head way north (by plane) to the ancient city of Hoi An for 4 days. I have been dreaming of this lantern-filled, yellow-painted town since I first laid eyes on it in pictures.
Alright, it's time for bed for us on this side of the world!!
Until next time,
Lindsay & Teedo