Life on the Mekong River

Trip Start Oct 10, 2008
Trip End Oct 27, 2008

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For $22 per person we are on a 2 day tour of the Mekong River Delta.  The bus is a UN of people: Spain, Israel, Australia, UK, Poland, Netherlands, Belgium.  We're the only 2 from the US...and we haven't seen many people from the US around.

It's a 2 hour bus ride out to the Mekong an Ben Tra and then we board a couple of small motor boats to cruise down the river past tons of large, moored fishing boats (all wood) and floating fish farms.  Apparently the sea bass export biz is down because they got greedy and added fish that only looked like sea bass to the shipments to US & Australia and we stopped buying because of it. 

We motor into a narrow canal that looks like it was plucked from Disney's Jungle Cruise...except the water is completely muddy.  Despite this we see people bathing in it, washing dishes in it, dumping scraps in it...using it for just about everything.  We can pick out houses behind the mangroves and jungle greenery.  They vary from thatched wood huts to 2 story stucco multi-room houses...but even the nice ones are built with large doors and many windows to take advantage of air flow.  It doesn't appear there's a lot of air conditioning.

We pop off the boat on to Tortoise Island and do a little hike to some horse carts that take us down a narrow asphalt path past small shacks and shops...while we're passed my motorbikes and bicycles  (no cars on this little island). We stop for honey bee tea (lime, plus honey made from lychee flowers and tea) which is delish and get the opportunity to pose for pix with a boa constrictor (for some odd reason). 

Then it's off on the boat to check out a place where they make coconut candy by hand.  And we get free samples in their open-air patio/factory.  We get back on the boat to move to another location where we have lunch...which was so generic I don't recall what we ate.

Again, back on the boat, just in time to avoid the start of the afternoon storm.  It's the end of rainy season and high tide, so once we get back to where the bus is parked we have to wade across a slick causeway that is now under water.

Now it's a 3 hr ride to Can Tho where we'll stay over night. The rain becomes a downpour and the multitude of motorcycles pull off the road under any canopy they can find.  We slow down a bit, but continue to drive directly down the centerline of the road, only swerving for larger oncoming traffic on the 2 lane road.  The excitement and near misses never end.

As we near Can Tho we have to take the bus on a ferry....but there's a backup an actual mile long.  It would be a 4 hr delay (and it's about 6pm), but our driver or guide knows a 'short cut' or knows someone to pay off and we drive on the wrong side of the road around the stopped trucks, cars and vans and pop to the front of the line so we get on the next ferry to leave.  (American Express?  No!  Cold hard US dollars?  Yes, yes, yes...don't leave home without them...even if they are a bit devalued, they'll get you all kinds of places.)

We pull into a rundown hostel and get a very clean but ugly room with a clacking ceiling fan.  The a/c doesn't work, but apparently we paid only for a fan.  US$ to the rescue again.  $5 gets the a/c turned on before I climb the 2 stories back to the room.  We leave it on (despite the warnings to turn it off while gone) and head out to a lackluster dinner on the waterfront.  The shrimp are fine, the lemon dipping sauce delish...service horrid.

Now back to a nice cool hotel room for bed and a shower to rinse of the humidity.  Why did I think it would be cooler by the river?
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