Mangrove Heaven, cruising on the Mekong Delta.

Our last trip in Vietnam involved a 3 day 2 night tour of the Mekong Delta which we were really looking forward to as travelling in that region- although not impossible, is quite tricky. We had been told by our tour agent that we wouldn’t need much money as there was only a few meals to get and drinks so we figured the 477 K Dong ($22) would last us.

The first morning started with a hotel pickup. We arrived down at our designated pickup time of 7.40am and waited, and waited, 8 am came and went, as did 8.15 am. By 8.20 am we were both getting twitchy, having visions that we were abandoned in Saigon we asked our hotel to ring to find out where the bus was. Eventually at 8.40 am the bus showed up, it was an old 25 seater with nonexistent suspension and zero luggage room but the tour group was quite small at 20 people so a large but manageable size we thought.

So off we sped towards our first main stop of My Tho. En route there was a small detour to stop at Vinh Trang Pagoda where there were three massive Buddhas representing sleeping, happy and …meditative (?) The tour guide told us that if we had a photo taken in front of the Happy Buddha we would always look back on it and it would make us happy.

Sleeping Buddha
Sleeping Buddha
Happy Buddha.. Happy Gav?
Happy Buddha.. Happy Gav?
Gav is still not convinced
Gav is still not convinced
Standing Buddha
Standing Buddha

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It is at this point I should mention some of the guys on the tour. There was a couple- who clearly had known each other for a max of three days who started drinking at our first rest stop 90 mins into the journey (10 am) and continued to get more and more hammered as the day went on. They even wanted to bring cans into the Pagoda! By the first day they had managed to insult the Irish, all of England, pale people with tattoos, people with back tattoos, the Germans… Out of the Europeans in the group it was only the french that were interacting with them on the second day. Gav and I quickly banded together with the two Irish girls, the German girl and the Canadian girl.

After the whistle stop at the pagoda (grab your photos and get back on the bus) it was onwards to My Tho for our transfer to the Dragon Boat and a cruise to some of the islands in the delta.

Many boats for tours.
Many boats for tours.
Sand being transported up to HCMC
Sand being transported up to HCMC
Gav got arty
Gav got arty

On the first island they had a coconut candy factory, The coconuts they use are the more mature coconuts over a yr old as they have more flesh than the young green ones that people drink. Our tour guide showed us how to prepare the coconut, extract the flesh, how the milk was made and then the cooking and packaging. Also we got to try some small samples and it was so good we got two packs- one of peanut and one of chocolate- I won’t lie to you-most of it we ate in the hotel room that evening watching Game of Thrones.

First take a coconut and removed the husk using a spear buried in the ground.
First take a coconut and removed the husk using a spear buried in the ground.
Once the outer husk is removed, look for the monkey's face.
Once the outer husk is removed, look for the monkey’s face.
Using a machete crack the coconut on the monkey's nose.
Using a machete crack the coconut on the monkey’s nose.
Place coconut into grinding machine to get the flesh out
Place coconut into grinding machine to get the flesh out
Mix with water and press to get the milk
Mix with water and press to get the milk
Mix the milk with sugar and  a secret ingredient and coook over a moderate heat with mixing for 30-40 mins
Mix the milk with sugar and a secret ingredient and cook over a moderate heat with mixing for 30-40 mins
Pour onto a waxed surface for cutting and shapeing before packaging.
Pour onto a waxed surface for cutting and shaping before packaging.
All are wrapped by hand
All are wrapped by hand

After that there was a rather pointless jaunt up and down the road on the back of a horse drawn trailer. Then for some reason we were made wait for ages but got to try some snake wine- which tasted like a young whiskey. Then it was back on the boat, here we had to wait for the couple to show up who had now added to their costume with some kimonos (the hats they acquired at the temple).They were also very drunk and all over each other- this is a no no in Vietnamese culture- hand holding is fine but performing a tonsil examination on someone with your tongue definitely isn’t.

tasting...
tasting…
tasting..
tasting..
Snake in snake wine
Snake in snake wine

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Anyway so off we zoomed to our next stop, a bee-keeping farm with very docile bees and we got to sample some honey tea. Honey tea is a mix of honey (obviously!), pollen, lemon and hot water. It was really nice but very small and then it was followed by a sales pitch for honey, pollen and royal jelly. It was mostly the Vietnamese, Taiwanese or Indonesians who bought these.

Bees- lets hope no one is allergic.
Bees- lets hope no one is allergic.
Honey tea, mmmmm
Honey tea, mmmmm

A short walk away through a market led us to our next stop for some fresh fruit, tea and Vietnamese singing and the first obvious request for tips.

Singing.
Singing.

15 mins later we were on our way to a row boat to get a trip through one of the small creeks surrounded by palm on the Mekong delta back to the boat. I really enjoyed this bit as it was very relaxing but there was a very vocal request for tips at the end, we gave one of our guys what we could afford before getting off but most didn’t give anything. It made us wonder how well the money we paid for the tour was distributed.  The boat that the two Irish girls were in were demanding $5 tip for the 10 min ride and threw anything less than that back at them so they ended up not giving her anything.

Channel cruise
Channel cruise
Congestion
Congestion
Ah there's the boat
Ah there’s the boat

Then it was a quick lunch and ride back to the dock and to our hotel at Can Tho.

Monkey bridge- I was the only one to do this.
Monkey bridge- I was the only one to do this.
Ah a hammock- only 15 mins in this after lunch
Ah a hammock- only 15 mins in this after lunch
Gav the photographer
Gav the photographer

The following morning was an early start as we were due to leave at 6.30am to go to the Floating Market, in reality we didn’t leave until well after 7am due to someone sleeping in until 7! The floating market itself was quite interesting to see and vendors would drive up and pull along side to sell fruit and drinks. All the families lived in a floating village that was the Market and the kids work rather than going to school.

Floating Market-Mangos
Floating Market-Mangos
Floating Market-more mangos
Floating Market-more mangos
Floating Market- pineapples and chilld merchants
Floating Market- pineapples and chilld merchants
Floating Market
Floating Market
Floating Market
Floating Market
Floating Market- Pineapples
Floating Market- Pineapples
Floating Market- Seller
Floating Market- Seller
Floating MarketSquash
Floating MarketSquash
Floating Market
Floating Market

After this we went to a rice husking mill which made a variety of rice products including rice paper and noodles, I had a go at the noodle making- possible job option there.

Drying rice paper for noodles
Drying rice paper for noodles
Making the rice paper- the dried rice husks are the fuel to prepare the paper.
Making the rice paper- the dried rice husks are the fuel to prepare the paper.
Stack of rice husks for burning
Stack of rice husks for burning
Removing the rice paper.
Removing the rice paper.
Cute kid- she weighed 10 kg
Cute kid- she weighed 10 kg
Cutting rice noodles- I was the catcher.
Cutting rice noodles- I was the catcher.
Cutting rice noodles from rice paper
Cutting rice noodles from rice paper
Placing the noodles for wrapping up
Placing the noodles for wrapping up
Other tasty rice treats
Other tasty rice treats

Then we went to a fruit farm where the fine for picking the fruit was 100K Dong ($5)!

Gav as a unit of measurement-some varieties of Jackfruit get pretty big
Gav as a unit of measurement-some varieties of Jackfruit get pretty big
Durian- we have yet to try this
Durian- we have yet to try this
Mmmm, Jackfruit.
Mmmm, Jackfruit.
Banana!
Banana!
Mango!
Mango!
Lotus
Lotus
Lotus
Lotus
Pineapple. Looks weird growing like that doesn't it?
Pineapple. Looks weird growing like that doesn’t it?
This was the flower for a plum apparently
This was the flower for a plum apparently
Dragonfruit flower
Dragonfruit flower
They do look like they are roaring at you
They do look like they are roaring at you
Papaya!
Papaya!

A quick cruise back to Cai Rang for lunch the group then split and most went back to HCMC while we headed on to our hotel near the border at Chau Doc.Randomly just before Chau Doc we stopped at a monastery which .up until a few years ago had a single nun living at it. They have now gone to town and built (and are still building) a massive complex complete with a cave temple tunnel in the mountain and views over the border to Cambodia.

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Shortly after we arrived in our hotel. The 477K Dong we left with had been whittled down to little over 110K and we still needed to get dinner and water for the following day. That evening however we managed to get dinner for 30K Dong ($1.50) (Gav got a Banh Mi – a pate sandwich for 10K and I got a fish noodle soup for 20K) and two large bottles of water for 16K, this left us with 52K and was quite possibly the cheapest meal we would have on our trip.

2015-04-21 19.30.52-1
Tasty soup- I put way too much chili in it though

The following morning we were due to be picked up at 6.30 am by a Xe Loi which is a type of cylco only used in the Mekong delta. When our drivers showed up at 7.15 am and took us the short trip to the port I can confirm that it is not at all a comfortable form of travel and also required a tip for both drivers. We ended up having to delve into our dollar reserves for this as we only had that one 50K note and both were expecting a tip so we gave them $1 each.

Xe Loi
Xe Loi- backpack loaded
They are quite nippy in traffic though- that's me miles ahead of Gav in the cream t-shirt
They are quite nippy in traffic though- that’s me miles ahead of Gav in the cream t-shirt

Though we were both really tired we were ready for our final morning of sightseeing before heading to the border. We were due to travel by row boat to see some floating fish villages where over 200 families were farming catfish, then onto see the Champa Villages in the Sarong area (the area used to be part of Cambodia), see people work in the manufacture of Sarongs and finally see a Mosque before heading for the border by speedboat.

Leaving Chau Doc
Leaving Chau Doc
Leaving Chau Doc
Leaving Chau Doc

Shortly after we departed the dock, Gav started chatting to a Dutch guy beside him and very quickly it transpired that this morning tour was not happening and we were going straight for the border as we whizzed by the places that we were supposed to see that the Dutch guy had seen the day before. We were slightly annoyed, but also slightly relieved.

Vietnam exit
Vietnam exit
We all had to get scanned leaving Vietnam
We all had to get scanned leaving Vietnam

After two very easy stops at the Vietnam Exit border and the Cambodian Entry border it was a steady cruise right into Phnom Pehn the capital of Cambodia!

Khmer border control
Khmer border control
Wohoo Cambodia
Wohoo Cambodia
Nearly there! Awaiting our passports to be stamped
Nearly there! Awaiting our passports to be stamped
Phnom Penh!
Phnom Penh!
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