In reality, it’s the rice basket. The Mekong Delta, where Asia’s 3rd largest river meets the China sea, feeds a country of 80 million and supplies rice to the rest of the world. Vietnam is the world’s 2nd largest rice exporter (after Thailand.)
We organized a 3-day tour of the Mekong Delta in Phnom Penh (they don’t really try to market it, but you can book it through the Capital Guesthouse.) The first day was spent traveling by boat on the Tonle Bassac to the Vietnam border. Both the Cambodian border posts and Vietnamese border posts were more official looking than those coming from Laos. After lunch at the border, we had another 3-hour boat trip to Chau Doc, a pleasant little town dominated by it’s riverfront location. I was immediately taken with the narrow, little apartment buildings painted in bright colors and the numerous outdoor cafes. They have adopted the Parisian style of sitting with both chairs facing the street, so you can stare at life (mainly scooters) passing by. Since our hotel was included in the tour package, we also had a bit more upscale accomodation than we are used to, complete with air conditioning.
The next morning started early (around 7:30.) We took a traditional wooden row boat in which rower stands at the stern and pushes the oars (which are tied to a lever) in a rocking motion. (It’s hard to describe in words, but it looks incredibly awkward.) We passed a floating village with hundreds of floating houses, literally one family houses on pontoons. We also visited a fish farm where they were breeding cat fish, and a local Cham village on an island. The Chams are primarily Muslim, apparently the Malaysians brought Islam to this area, so there were several nice mosques in the village. From there, we drove to Sam Mountain (more of a hill) where there is a good view of the Cambodian and Vietnamese border. Fabien and I were the only two of the group who went all the way to the top by foot, and I was cursing him the last 15 minutes of the climb. The path up was a set of never ending stairs through a cemetary, then food stalls and souvenir vendors, and finally shrines related to various religions. The border consisted of a few rows of trees separating the rice paddy fields. We made another stop at the Mekong Crocodile farm, where they raise crocodiles for export to China. After a busy day of sightseeing, we arrived in Can Tho, another important city on the Mekong Delta. Can Tho also had a pretty waterfront, dominated by a statue of Ho Chi Minh. We found a cheap little restaurant next to the river, where I had an excellent meal of grilled prawns and mango.
Our 3rd day also started with a boat trip. We visited the Cai Rang Floating Market. There are literally hundreds of longtail boats and barges selling all types of fruits and vegetables, rice, and fish. There are even small boats selling sodas and coffee (floating cafes) and floating noodle shops. We also visited a place where they make rice paper and a tropical fruit garden. Finally, we got the bus for Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) around 3 in the afternoon. We arrived in Saigon last night, a shock from the quiet life of the delta; it’s a big, noisy city. More about Saigon to come.
Tags: BIG TRIP 2005-2006, In English 2005-2006, Vietnam