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Trip Start Jan 22, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Saturday, December 8, 2007

We've landed and our mission of meeting the Viets planned over a year ago comes to fruition in front of the post office - hurrah. The city once and perhaps still known as Saigon is the capital of the south, mad motorbike riders are flying left and right carrying all manner of things and people, it's noisy polluted and damn hot. It appears that the new government law of wearing helmets on motos has worked since from one day to the next almost everybody suddenly is wearing them, of course their usual cap or hat is still on underneath. Now they just need a law to stop the motorbikers hassling tourists with their endless cries of "moto, motorbike" which we are quite capable of seeing. Surprisingly Christmas appears to have taken root in the hearts and minds of the locals who are all coming out to play with the riendeer and santa displays, it's probably to do with how kitsch xmas displays are.

Compared to China we expected the language to be easier since it is written in a "latinised" alphabet and was invented by a French missionary back in the 18th Century. However the missionary was a merciless kind of guy who had it in for us and most of the letters sound nothing like their phonetic equivalent, who'd have thought that for a 'd', 't' or 'r' you'd need to pronounce 'y' or 's'!? So, apart from some older generation who speak French, we are back at square 1 with communications although we can more easily recognise written words.

The Mekong Delta is a series of islands something like an archipelago where the river runs out to the sea. It's full of lush greenery, fruits and rice, in fact it produces enough rice in its three harvests to export to countries like China. The fruit is cheap, you can get 1kg oranges or 2kg watermelon for 50 cents/Euro, however for meals you have to hunt around since they are into exploiting the tourists by artificially inflating the prices or pricing in dollars. Prices in foreign currencies should be banned, if you don't print it then you shouldn't use it.

We fitted in My Tho (the gateway to the Delta) with the Viets our visit took in the river, several islands, rowing on canals, fruit, honey, bannana wine and sweet tasting. The most amusing island holds the "coconut monk" temple, a normal guy until his 50s when he ate coconuts for 3 years, took nine wives and converted 200 monks. Our guide spoke English and told us that after the war he got sent for military service to Cambodia. He was insistent that we know about mines and the difference between those used in Vietnam and Cambodia. Apparently they kill you dead or take off a leg in Vietnam whilst those in Cambodia are dirty Chinese ones which can poison you. On the subject of poison, Guillaume had a nasty looking red rash which spread rapidly over his body during the day, he insists it was an allergy. Maybe so, however we had a violent, somewhat different but equally colourful reaction to the food a few days later in Chau Doc which held us up a couple of days.

Further down the Delta in Vinh Long we met a Belgium guy, Didier, who we accompanied to Tra Vihn, he was as fanatical as any asian with his photo taking, snapping every person we passed during the day. He could also be quite handy communicating by gesture, imagine the sign for drinking followed by pointing at your transport - it means petrol required :) We visitied one or two temples of Khmer structure here and chatted to the monks for a while, they told us how their religion is the same as in Thailand and it seems the architecture is similar too.

On our way to Chau Doc we had to put up with a sweaty bus, fermenting fish until finally the odours gave way to roasting coffee. There is a fairly substantial Cham community on the river here, they've built several mosques to worship in and appeared really friendly. The women wear flowery dress and the men sarongs, kind of Malay or Indonesian. A number of floating houses are peppered along the waterside, in theory they don't float away, however it's unlikely that they could withstand a real storm. At some 200m elevation Sam mountain (more of a hill) offers views of the rice fields and perhaps, on a clear day, Cambodia (4hrs by boat), the land is really flat which reminds one of Australia.
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