Paddle and peddle power!

Trip Start Oct 03, 2011
Trip End Dec 25, 2011

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Where I stayed
An "Eco-lodge"perched on stilts above the Mekong, and a local B&B
What I did
Cycling through the Delta!

Flag of Vietnam  , Cần ThÆ¡,
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Having signed up for a 3 day/2 night tour of the Mekong Delta with Sinhbalo we leave behind the bustle of Saigon for more tranquil surroundings. We receive an additional bonus as another couple have joined the tour and knocked $80 off the cost. Result! Older than us (but with far more cycling under their belts) Gerard and Natalie will be our companions for the next few days. Our guide, Phu, and driver, Kimh, complete the party.

We drive a couple of hours southwards while Phu excitedly recounts the forming of Saigon, the history and current stats, as well as some facts about the Mekong and it's people. The endearing Vietnamese accent is strong enough to make listening a difficult task, we manage to follow most stretches, however our French counterparts sit hopelessly (but cheerfully) lost despite our attempts to translate.

We spend late morning drifting down the bustling branches of the Mekong before transferring to a small paddle boat and disappearing into the tranquil canals. The latter part of this journey seems stolen from an adventure-book: water-coconut trees spring up from mud-banks either side of the 3m wide waterway. At this stage disaster strikes! Duckweed plants that have been happily bobbing past now sit in front of the boat completely blocking the path. Our local boatman hops to the front and starts work clearing it away, minutes later he's wading waist-deep in the canal pulling at the tangle of leaves and branches. It looks like school is out for lunch as children wave at the stranded vessel from the bridge above. One boy (we later discover him to be family of said boatman) clambers down the bank, and bare chested wades in to help the cause. A few minutes later and the waterway AA has broken through the delta's equivalent to grid lock. We dock just 5 metres upstream from the traffic-jam and are back on dry land.

Our first destination is a traditional Mekong delta house and kitchen where we sample seasonal fruit, accompanied by tea and honey, and is topped off with some rice-wine. It is here where we first see the tradition of honouring your ancestors with a shrine (usually 5 generations past) somewhere in the house. This isn't the lunch stop however, a quick stroll to the other side of the small island reunites us with our larger boat and we cruise to the next stop. The restaurant serves up some more local treats (including an impressive whole fish) and the complex also includes a bamboo bridge to traverse and an intriguing array of monkeys, crocodiles, a python and freshly made coconut taffy.

The baking afternoon holds in store a leisurely (it has to be at these temperatures!) 2 hour bike ride taking in small dirt roads and footbridges, and is only interrupted when we walk our bikes onto a local ferry crossing. As twilight descends we take (another!) boat to our night's accommodation. Branded an "eco-lodge" the open bamboo structure overlooks the river, protruding out on stilts amid a sea of duck-weed. A memorable, if not sleep inducing, night passes to a chorus of sploshing, chirping and scuttling outside the safety of our mosquito net.

Early next morning sees us set out for the most arduous days cycling (Michael's bike is a lovely pink by the way). The heat is already a factor as we make our way past houses and rice fields during the 30 minute stretch to the ferry. After the crossing we visit a brick factory. This is honestly more interesting than it sounds - honestly! The factory employs an almost entirely female workforce and the back-breaking work gives off an industrial revolution feel (health and safety, what?). The kilns in which the soft bricks are placed for a month to cook strangely remind us of the My Son ruins from Hoi An.

For the rest of the day we are mainly saddle based. The narrow paths hug the waterways and are perfectly flat and (just) wide enough for the steady flow of bikes, pedestrians and motorbikes to pass 2 at at time. As we cycle through villages children are eager to wave and many jovial cries of "Hello!"" welcome us - when none are forthcoming Amy looks to initiate the greetings with a quick "Xin Chow- Hello!". The stunning scenery is as persistent as the sunshine. Phu stops us occasionally to point out things growing at the road side (throughout the course of the trip we see pepper corn (yum), papaya, pineapple, mango, jack (?) fruit, bananas, lotus flowers and Betel leaves that older generations of Vietnamese love to chew - it's an acquired taste). Apparently part of the route (we had no idea where exactly we were) can be found here:

That night we had opted for a home-stay which actually turned out to be quite a nice family-run B&B on the riverside. As we were the only guests our French speaking host treated us to a traditional Vietnamese cooking course (this time Michael won the cooking!) on the bamboo shaded front of the house. A well-deserved meal and relaxing evening was just what we needed.

Our final day saw us embark on a boat journey to the famous (well, people come from as far as Cambodia to take part) floating market of Cai Rang. The boats are really floating wholesale shops that carry the goods produced from villages around the area. When all the goods are sold they sail back home for the next shipment. The whole scene is a hive of activity. Boats sell most fruits you can imagine (and some you can't) while tourist boats float inbetween. In addition we see a man selling national lottery tickets and smaller boats housing convenience shops selling drinks and snacks whiz from place to place. To tell what each boat is selling, you look at a bamboo pole at the front: whatever is tied there they have on board. We clamber aboard a pineapple store and partake in a sublime pineapple slice cut like an ice-lolly. Following a short cruise along yet more winding waterways we embark on our final 2 hour cycle. Constant greetings ring out from the houses amid stunning settings. We eventually reach Can Tho which will be our last stop and cycle through the bumpy roads that host driving as crazy as we have seen before. At one stage the locals stop to witness an argument close to the road side - we swerve past the parked motorbikes with bemused faces.

We say goodbye to our group at Can Tho national airport, ready for some R&R on the beach on Phu Quoc island.
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