Mekong river cruise - day 1
Trip Start Mar 18, 2009
134Trip End Jan 12, 2010
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We began the cruise by sailing past a church and a floating market - the type of wares each boat is selling are strung up on poles ... sweet potatoes, pumpkins, pineapples. First stop was at an old Mandarin house, we saw the tombs of the 5 generations that had lived there and some beautiful old dark wooden furniture inlaid with mother of pearl. In the garden were grape-fruit, limes and jasmin trees and as we left we saw a little sign on a tree: 'Free Wifi'. You can even check your emails here in the Mekong Delta.
Back on board we were given more cold fresh cotton hand towels (we were presented with 20 of these over the 2 and a half days!!) before a stop at a sweet makers, where we watched a man popping rice in a huge wok, like rice crispies. This is then mixed with coconut milk, sugar and ginger to make sweet rice crispy cakes. We sat and had endless little cups of Vietnamese green tea and sampled the various sweets produced; dried sugared ginger, dried coconut, sesame and peanut brittle. We bought some goodies and hopped on bikes and followed the guide on a 20 minute cycle to our lunch stop.
The restaurant was a stunning old Indochinese villa set in the jungle, Le Longanier, we were the only diners there and were served an amazing amount of food: Clear vegetable soup, the best nem (crispy spring rolls) we have tasted in Vietnam with sweet chili sauce, a whole fish presented upright complete with scales, which the waitress dismantled for us with chopsticks and rolled for us with mint and basil into neat fresh rice paper spring rolls, salt pork cooked in a claypot and pork with green beans and rice, yogurt and fruit followed by Vietnamese tea. We had a wander around the garden, saw pineapples growing and had a go posing with a Vietnamese pole. We were glad to not have to get back on the bikes after all that food, a short walk back to the sampan and a 3 hour cruise to Sa Dec. (Plus some tea and biscuits and a selection of fruit).
Every vista on the cruise up to Sa Dec was a potential postcard and we snapped away from the front of the boat; kids waving and shouting hello from the banks, conical hatted women cutting water hyacinth , which is used to make a variety of things from slippers to baskets. We passed under the huge freedom bridge, built with the help of Australia. As we got nearer to Sa Dec we saw brick factories - looking a little like smoking brick oast houses, alongside rice refineries. It seems the two industries are symbiotic, the clay dug out to make the rice paddies is used to make bricks and tiles, the husks that are polished off the rice grains in the refineries are used as fuel in the brick ovens and the burnt husks are then used as fertilizer on the rice paddies.
We hopped off the boat at Sa Dec, where Lan lives and he took us to Marguerite Duras' primary school (famous french author who wrote 'The Lover' - which is also a film ... we hadn't heard of her). Next stop was a Chinese pagoda, we've been in a few Buddhist temples in the last 70 days, even stayed in one in Japan, but here Lan showed me how to pray 4 different ways. First I held two pieces of wood, which looked like large cashew nuts, said a prayer in my head then dropped the wooden pieces - the first time they both fell the same way up, and Lan told me to pray for something else - my second prayer was accepted as the blocks landed one up one down ... I'll let you know if it comes true!
The second way was to pray and meditate whilst shaking a bamboo pot full of sticks, each with writing on, as I thought about all the things I want in the future I had to shake the pot (with my eyes shut) until one of the sticks fell out. We then took the stick to a woman in the pagoda who read my fortune. It didn't start well, the first question, translated through Lan, how old are you ? 28 I replied, and Lan told me that means I'm 29 in Vietnam! There followed an in-depth explanation about my fortune being mixed, there will be trouble between Paul and I (gasp) but only in the short run, in the long run we will find prosperity by moving to another country (excellent).
The third task was to pray to the mother of mothers for healthy children, most Vietnamese people pray here for either a boy or a girl - but I'm not really fussed so I prayed for both, on my knees touching my forehead to the ground. Paul was 'taking photos' throughout and generally trying not to get involved, he did pipe up when the guide said that by praying we would have a happy prince or princess within the year !!! All over Vietnam people have asked us if we are married, Lan didn't seem to know the words girlfriend and boyfriend and spent the whole trip referring to us as husband and wife ("here give this flower to your wife"). At one point when Lan was pushing us to tell him when we would get married and have kids Paul said, in a very reserved British way "People in Britain don't talk about things like that" ! I've been asked my age several times, but I think this is because in Vietnam the verbs change depending on how old you are, so people are used to asking each other so they know how to address them, I refuse to tell people my Vietnamese age, which puts me worryingly close to 30 ;)
Finally we wrote down all the things we hope for in the future on a yellow piece of paper and paid 25,000 Dong for a massive incense spiral which will burn for the next 15 days and nights and the smoke will take our prayers up to heaven - so we'll see if Buddha agrees !
After the Chinese pagoda we went to Lan's local Vietnamese pagoda and were swamped by delightful children shyly practicing their English before getting braver and asking to have their photo taken, then marveling at themselves on the camera's screen. This is the first time in 55 days in Vietnam that the children haven't pestered us for money, and it was a welcome relief. After the ceremony had finished we were invited in and had two bowls of extremely sweet bean soup.
Dinner was the same fare as lunch, but in Marguerite Duras' family home, followed by a pot of tea with Lan on the river bank (where we were mercilessly eaten by mosquitoes). Back on deck we sat in the moonlight as we sailed to our over-night spot on a wider part of the river, where there was a cooling breeze. We feel like we were able to see the heart and soul of Vietnam today, and having a guide to translate and explain what people were saying really enhanced the experience. We felt like royalty!
(We booked our cruise through Asia King Travel on the recommendation of a lovely French couple we met in Halong Bay, les Duponts - merci!)
Where I stayed
on a sampan