Monday, 2 March 2009

Mekong Delta

rice paddies
On our way to the Mekong Delta we sped past picture postcard Vietnam: lush green paddy fields tended by people wearing traditional conical hats. What a postcard won’t show is the numerous men who stopped their scooters by the side of the road and took a quick whiz on the fields.

Our first boat trip was along some of the larger rivers:

We stopped for lunch, and afterwards were entertained by traditional Vietnamese singers and musicians. I say entertained, but like with traditional Chinese music, I just found it all a bit too high pitched to be enjoyable. However, our guide explained the historical background to the songs, and this was more interesting, especially as I hadn’t realised how important Confucius was to Vietnam as well as China.
view from the riverbank

After lunch we visited a site that demonstrated traditional Vietnamese crafts of rice wine making, rice paper making and popcorn making. We got to try a sample of the rice wine, which tasted like a very cheap vodka, but is not quite as foul as the Chinese rice wine, baijiu, which burns it way down your oesophagus before wrecking havoc in your stomach. We also got samples of Vietnamese peanut brittle, which was being sold at comically inflated prices.

making rice paper

I wandered off down the riverbank, where I saw these rice papers drying over the chicken coop:

That evening we stayed overnight in a town called Can Tho. Our guide gave us instructions on how to get to the road with lots of tourist friendly restaurants, so after getting settled into our rooms, me, A and K set off to find some chow. We began to realise that we had got lost when we were walking along the riverbank, and instead of restaurants, we were looking at tiny little convenience stores and, on the other side of the river, shanties. I was quite glad we got lost though, as we saw this sunset and accidentally had one of our most memorable Asian meals.

This was at a local place, with an entirely Vietnamese menu, and not only did we not speak a word of the language but we didn’t even have a phrasebook. We wanted chicken, so we flapped our arms to mime a chicken, and then attempted to mime eating bread. At first the waiter clearly thought we’d lost our minds, but then he quickly caught on, and brought us a raw chicken wing from the kitchen to inspect. When we indicated that that was quite acceptable, he disappeared and came back ten minutes later with a basket of amazing chicken wings that had been cooked in a mouth watering lemony garlicky sauce. Then he bought us several baskets of equally good fresh bread. Over a couple of beers we people watched as the place filled up, and said hello to some very cute Vietnamese children.

The next day we started by visiting a floating market. The vendors will put a sample of what they are selling on a large pole, and buyers with sail around the market picking their produce.

After inspecting the market, we took trip on a narrow boat through some of the smaller rivers. This was fascinating as it gave us a chance to glimpse at the lives of the farmers of the Mekong, whose simple subsistence lifestyle is so far removed from my own that I find it hard to believe that it still exists.

Our last stop was at an orchard. We were given a fruit tasting plate to start with and I was delighted that no one else at our table liked mango, as I got to eat almost the entire plate by myself. Then we were escorted through the orchard, and tasted a fruit looks like small oranges but tastes as sour as a lemon. We were introduced to this odd looking fruit: apparently this is a small specimen!


  1. wow...I am so jealous of this adventure of yours. But thank you so much for chronicling this experience. I love reading about each day's happenings. Perhaps when I retire, I'll take the time to teach English in Asia and enjoy the same scenery.

  2. It's so different to hear about the mekong delta without the vietnam war slant. thanks for the tour!