Of all the fish joints in all the Mekong Delta, you had to walk into mine

Can Tho Travel Blog

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Firstly a mini-blog from Alex: "The Meking Delta, yeah it was good, a bit flat, could have done with some more submerged boats"!!!

So we've been off on a Mekong Delta tour for the last three days exploring the sights and sounds of the nine rivers, countless backwaters and thousands of canals that separate themselves from the Mekong River (which due to its separation there isn't actually a river called the Mekong in Vietnam) on the final leg of its six country journey, emptying themselves into the South China Sea in a fit of silty glory.  We found the first day incredibly touristy, I don't know why they don't just install some kind of conveyor belt round some of the islands, but by the end I reckon we had discovered and had journeyed that little bit further, discovering a taste of what exactly the Mekong Delta is and what it means.  It would be far too easy to view the delta as this beautiful patch of land and waters that needs to be protected, but the delta is so much more than nature, it is work and life for millions of people, not just for the locals but for all of Vietnam.  The fine balance between economic exploitation, growth and preservation of the Mekong's soul and the livelihoods it provides and protects are found here.  Its not a national park, not a protected space, it is as it always has been, a place to make a living.  Sometimes in life, you've got to appreciate people putting giant suspension bridges that dominate the skyline for tens of kms!  But then maybe something needs to be done with all the boats carrying piles of sediment away from the delta (which ultimately causes subsidence) in order to "reclaim" land in places like Singapore.

In terms of the scenery, the river was wider than I imagined, I had expected more, narrower channels.  More trees too, less reedy.  Flat as a pancake though, and very beautiful, yet the major rivers were fairly well lined with houses, shops, settlements, factories.  A lot less open nothingness as I had envisaged, which should have been obvious really.  Why shouldn't such rich fertile lands with easy transportation routes be actually used!  Shows what I know eh!

The first day involved being shown round a series of government selected sights designed to showcase the glory and wonder of the Mekong, and also to provide a thousand and one retail opportunties.  I feel sorry for any tourist that has done a one-day tour here, and wonder what exactly it is they think they've seen.  The first day included trips to the four holy animal islands (Tortoise, unicorn, dragon, phoenix) where we went to a honey farm to try things dipped in honey, a fruit orchard to try some local fruit, complete with opportunities to buy said products.  We were also "treated" to a local production of traditional folk music.  Its at this point I realise that perhaps I'm being too cynical and too harsh on what was an interesting and informative morning's adventure.  So we went on a row boat ride, and got given conical hats to wear, which made everything allright.  Even if the whole thing had the slight air of taking an Oxford punt from the Isis and racing it at high speed around Dragon River at Chessington World Of Adventures, except without the cool three storey drop at the end.  Fun, yes, but it did feel like a logflume ride.  There was also a chance to watch coconut candy being made, an interesting experience for ten minutes.  The variety of flavours was pretty good.  Although whoever though it a good idea to mix coconut and spring onion into one joyous sugary sweet seriously needs their taste buds examined, or possibly cut out.  Lunch was most excellent and involved an "elephant ear fish" or something like that, in make your own spring rolls, where you dip the rice paper in water, add noodles, leafy stuff and fish, and then roll and eat in sweet chilli sauce.  DROOL!  We then went for a bike ride round the island, only to stop a few hundered metres in as Alex's pedal fell off.  On all the days the afternoon was generally spent heading off to new locations.  It takes a while to get around this place.

On day two we started off by visiting the floating market at Cai Rang.  Not one of the ones you see in HSBC adverts or one of Roger Moore's 007 films, but a real one.  Think wider river, a little less crowded, and engines rather than human powered.  Interesting enough though.  But with a quarter of the vessels tourist boats it lost a little charm.  However, the fresh pineapple was amazing.  Pineapple has got to be the nicest fruit ever, when its in south-east asia.  We continued on to a rice noodle factory to learn how rice noodles are made from rice milk.  Steam, dry and shred seemed to be the general gist.  This was followed up with the rice factory itself to see big machines turning yellow rice into husks (fuel) and brown rice (food) and then further into white rice (human food), rice powder (bird food) and broken rice (pig food).  Finally after a lengthy several hour boat ride, which was very pretty, we arrived at our second hotel, which was floating nicely in the river at the border town (with Cambodia) at Chau Doc.  Luckily this was deliberate, and to be fair, rather pretty with lanterns suspended from the side and an enjoyable dinner from the terrace, with a GB/NZ couple.  We chatted until they turned the lights out on us, at which point, fearing death by bitey insect, we fled for the comfort of bed.

The third day was less touristy.  We visited a floating fish farm where they keep the fish in the river (best place for them in my opinion) but in cages suspended below floating houses.  We visited a Cham village (the Islamic community who once had a kingdom in central Vietnam) and saw some silk weaving, a mosque and a silk retail opportunity.  Along with the flood marks on the local stilted houses reminding us of the yearly flooding that brings both life and destruction to the delta.  Mostly life though, somewhat obviously.

Those heading to Cambodia left at this point, so of the twenty odd people that started our tour on day one (and it was a pretty cool and fun group to be with, mainly thanks to the humerous, outgoing Malaysian family that were onboard) we were down to just five, Alex and I, and three germans.  It was definitely nicer to be in a small group and without following around other tour groups like we had been previously.  So we headed to the nicest pagoda so far, light and airy but still with all the awesome decoration that goes with these Pagodas.  Unfortunatly no pics though, weren't allowed. And then onwards to Sam mountain, one of seven lumps of rock sticking out of the delta, and so, despite being just a couple of hundred metres tall, offers some amazing views of the delta over both Vietnam and Cambodia.  The ground looked a little less green though than I was expecting.  Mainly because we were visiting just a couple of weeks after the last harvest of the year, when things are drying out and the remaining rice paddies are burnt to provide fertiliser for the next crop.  Still pretty though.  We got this awesome view from the Cavern Pagoda, halfway up the side.  The Pagoda itself was fascinating andf beautiful and I'm definitely learning a fair amount about Buddhism.  The entire afternoon was spent on the bus back home.  Tiring but a good trip.

Overall it was a good trip despite the initial deficiencies and I definitly think the Mekong Delta is an awesome, beautiful yet functional place to be and to explore.  It just needs a little time, a little peace and quiet to show its true colours, thats all.

Onwards and upwards, as we begin our trip up north.  Until next time.

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Can Tho
photo by: alanmica