Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mỹ Tho + The Mekong

(This post is a follow up from our trip around the world. I will be writing a recap for each place we visited during our 4 month trip. Prior to Vietnam we also visited India, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Cambodia).

Our trip to the Vietnamese country side meant getting up at 6am and taking a bus 3 hours through the city and suburbs to reach the boat quay at the Mekong.

- This time our guide was named Hai. He informed us on why the motorbikes have become so popular. Evidently there is a 120% tax on cars, which easily makes even the cheapest cost $35,000 USD. The alternative motorbikes can be inexpensively knock off Hondas from China costing as little as $250 USD. Thankfully helmets are also easily accessible and cost $1.25 USD. He told us the helmets were very important, because they drink a lot of rice wine after work.

- Once on the boat to Mỹ Tho and Bến Tre (Bamboo Port) saw how active the Mekong Delta is. One of the biggest exports in the Mekong is actually sand, which has made the water as deep as 40 meters. They dredge the bottom and ship it to countries like Singapore. Many of the residents make roughly $1,000 USD annually and 90% of their income is from exporting rice. It costs $200 USD / year for children to attend school, so many families simply can't afford it.

- We stopped at one of the bigger islands, Unicorn Island. Here we got were able to visit a small bee farm where they make honey and sample a cup of tea. Stefan even held the honey comb and thankfully wasn't stung.

- We walked through small orchards to a tropical fruit tasting, which felt tailored towards Western tastes. A couple from New Zealand that we befriended sat with us and the consensus was that we all hate papaya. Many of their fruits are also served with a chili salt, which I enjoyed with my perpetual love of salt.

- After the island visit we boarded a long boat to Turtle Island. The canals along the mangrove swamps were very beautiful and all of the foliage made us feel very small.

- We arrived to the larger boat in time to get stuck in a major storm. When I say rain, I mean pouring rain as in “I feel like I stand in the shower with my clothes on” type of rain. We had been lucky so far with the rain, but it rained every day in Ho Chi Minh City. Somehow up until this point we were able to avoid getting wet, so I guess we kinda had that coming for us.

- Even though it was still was 90 degrees, we were happy not to have luggage with us to get drenched. It was even kind of fun. Definitely a moment where it is good to have a sense of humor and a good laugh. Getting off the boat we all knew there was a slim chance we'd have an inch of dry clothing by the time we arrived to the local coconut candy making area.

- There aren't too many industries around and it's evident the people of the area are resourceful. Coconut candies (Kẹo Dừa) are made on the island and many women gather around folding them into their paper wrappings with lightning fast speed. We bought some to support them and send back to family.

- At the final island of the day we stopped for a quick lunch and were startled to see this bull trying with all of his might to keep his head above water. Thankfully after we ate someone had tied him to a tree instead.

- The island lunch consisted for some 'Elephant ear fish' (Tai tuong), which is a local speciality. There were plenty of stray dogs doing speaking the universal dog language of trying to look sweet in hopes of getting some scraps.

- For the way back to Ho Chi Minh City, we decided to take the speed boat, which took about 3 hours. The trip was nice, we were able to see the sunset and all the things that people transport on the Mekong.

- Many of the families even live in their boats - complete with dogs, which is really difficult to comprehend. People on the banks would wave and children would get especially excited. I can't envision what our lives look like to them. We get bused in, we wave, and are probably seen as rich and unconcerned.

All in all, it was a funny day, not really what we thought it would be, but nevertheless a fun one.

Next stop... Hong Kong!


Lane said...

Stefan is so brave for holding those bees, but that is something I would love to see in person! Great post and pictures as always! xoxo

JoernandAllison said...

It looks like funny was the best way to describe the day. So very different to the life we're used to. The rain sounds crazy, and my heart really sank when I saw that poor bull :( Fortunately, someone was looking out for him!

JoernandAllison said...

PS. Your Hong Kong post has really good timing- Joern and his parents will be there next week!

Emily said...

Hong Kong is a crazy place - sweltering temps, loads of people, and an interesting cultural mix. I'm sure he'll have a great time.