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Friday, February 09, 2007

Day 269 - The Mekong Delta

vietnam Actually, I'm crapping myself...


When we still lived at the amazing 5-star Windsor Plaza Hotel, the guys from london booked up a load of stuff for us to do while they were here. And one such activity was a day trip to the world famous Mekong Delta.... hang on. Did i say 'world famous'? I meant never-heard-of-by-anyone Mekong Delta. The guide books are running away with themselves there I think.

Anyway, i'm excited - i love deltas, being a geography kid - so charge my camera to the max and get poised to take pictures of the whole thing. We're grabbed by Lily, our amazingly sweet guide for the day, who whisks us the hour out of Ho Chi Minh City to the frontier of the delta, and chucks us on a boat bound for the other side of one of its many channels. The river itself is filthy - grey and silty and overloaded with barges carrying sand and boxes from one side to the other. Within seconds we've crossed the channel and are on dry land again.

This tour isn't the sort of thing we normally do. Its a fixed format, guided group tour. They usually include numerous trips to places where you can spend your money on local produce, a multitude of activities which involve tipping local people, and a nice meal at a generic 'family-run' business before a comfortable, air-conditioned bus home. OK, I'm being a bit of a prick. This tour was actually SO great - its not my usual style, but its nice to put your feet up and just relax through the sightseeing. And that's what I did.

In the course of just a few hours on the delta, we visited 2 coconut-chew-sweet factories, complete with girls making coconut-chews. We walked around some stalls, selling tacky tourists presents hand-made by the locals. AND we saw a local band perform a few songs while we ate fruits from the delta too.

One of favourite moments was when we got to carry the same weighing-scale styled carrying tools that everyone uses here - its a fact. I've seen these bad boys in action on the streets of HCMC.

[note how two pineapples weigh exactly 2 green things]

we also walked across a tiny bridge, which seemed quite stupid and pointless at the time, but I'm writing this over 2 weeks later and I can safely say guys, vietnamese people take this act quite seriously. I've seen them queue in the streets to do this at one in the town centre, so its not as stupid as it looks. although, it its actual purpose still means nothing to me.

anyway, we then went downstream a bit further, and saw all those things again - coconut chew making, handicrafts, a little band - but at a different location. before mounting a cart, attached to a horse, and riding through the streets of the delta. That was kinda fun. which was followed by me getting to hold the massive python above. which was more fun. No jokes about me handling snakes please - i was actually pretty scared. Its heavy and cold and moves A LOT (for a sedated snake) and kinda launched at me at one point, prompting me to scream a bit and everyone to laugh a lot.

And once that was done, we took a trip up the river in this tiny boat which some women rowed for us. I felt guilty so grabbed an oar about 10 seconds before we got off. sorry girls.

and then we stopped for lunch, where I took one of my all-time favourite and most entertaining photos. Bonnie and the enormous fish we devoured for lunch. which was amazing. and with full bellies and tired feet, we wandered back to out boat and headed back towards HCMC.

OK, so it was super touristy, which I hate. Honestly, I hate it. It feels staged and misleading. After just a few hours on the delta, I have no idea what the real thing looks like. Nor do I know what the real people do there (I believe its a massively fertile land which hosts 3am food markets for the countries south every day - you wouldn't know this from our tour). But I honestly DID have a great time on this one. Just being with the guys was enough to spark the magic, even if I did have too much sprite for one day. And that's all that matters really. Maybe on the way into Cambodia in a couple of weeks we'll see some more of this 'world-famous' delta. who knows.

Anyway, scattered amoungst day trips, days by the pool and wanderings around town are distinctly drunken nights - mostly on the charge of Cat - getting wasted on roadside bars and stumbling around Ho Chi Minh City in search of an open club (we never found one) or somewhere cheaper to drink tequila shots. And then bundling our double room and rolling around laughing hysterically for an hour before skulking off to bed.

And on our last day before heading to Hoi An, a small fishing village in the centre of Vietnam's enormous coastline, myself, Cat and Ady decided to venture into the suberbs and find a pagoda to wander around. This didn't prove as easy as it looks, since the Lonely Planet map shows a dot not actually attached to any roads, and no vietnamese translation for the name of the place to show a cab driver. But a 15-minute cab ride towards the dot and 15-minutes of walking and we found it. Billowing with jostick smoke and with every wall covered in figures of gods, we soaked up the relaxed atmosphere before heading back to the bustling streets.

And just 12 hours later we're at the airport again, this time going 2 hours north on a domestic flght to Hoi An, where we're staying for 6 days before the guys head back to London.

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