…Which is guitarspeak for “We’re on the Mekong Delta and I can’t get ‘Purple Haze” out of my head.”
Call me Ugly American all you want, but I dare you to come from my generation, take a boat up these admittedly gorgeous rivers, and NOT think of every Vietnam War movie you’ve ever seen.
We’ve just finished up a two-day tour of the Mekon Delta, primarily so Natacha could get an up-close look at the noted Floating Markets of the Mekong. Pretty great things to see: boats from all over VN and Cambodia carrying all kinds of produce, selling to boats from all over. The good news is we saw two of them. The bad news is that they start at 2 AM(!), and by the time we got to them (11 AM and 8 AM, respectively), they’ve started to wind down.
(Photos at some point, promise)
But we had some good times nonetheless. The ass-early-morning bus they poured us into at Ho Chi Minh City hauled us three hours to a riverboat, which sped us up the delta. On the way, we saw how people lived on the delta. I’ll post some pictures when I have a chance.
We passed one of the (tail-ended) floating markets, which consisted of, well, boats that sold things,primarily produce. You could tell selling boat and what it sold because it had a long pole with the items in question attached to it. I pineapple boat had pineapples on their pole, etc. I noticed no one sold wide-screen TVs.
Although we didn’t see too much, I was impressed with the idea of these floating markets. The Mekong delta consists of rrivers, tributaries and islands galore, which means that people come in from miles around to buy & sell at these things, even as far as Cambodia, as the border isn’t too far off.
Our 2 day/1 night tour also included yet more gorgeous Mekong river-and-jungle scenery, and stop at a couple of islands. One was a tourist trap where they showed demonstrations of how they made puffed-rice ( like popcorn but with hot sand instead of oil) and coconut candy, a fillings-tugging taffy that was flavor-free and generally horrendous. Natacha and I ditched the demos and found a coconut to drink.
Island #2 was lunch and bicycle rental. We grabbed a couple of bikes and Natch found us a side road where we could bike along the delta and over to some villages not on the tourist path, thank god. Again, it was a pleasure to see how people lived on these tiny islands: bathing in the river, poling longboats here and there, letting their oxen get a cool dip in the waters.
Oh, and did I mention that our guide was a compete tool? Obviously going from some sort of corny-joke-laden guide script with jokes like:
“And remember, when you leave bus, take bag with you. Take camera with you. And take wife with you, because driver single. HA ha ha.”
“And remember, make sure you have hotel key. If you lose key, you can come to my room. HA ha ha.”
And other relatively misogynist yuks that surely play with the rubes from the midwest.
We also hit a land market with some fantastic produce. And people selling a lot of snakes. To eat, use their venom, and god knows what else. But there they were. Snakes. All kinds. For sale.
By the time we’d hit Can Tho, where we spent the night in an under-construction guest house, we’d developed a little retinue for ourselves: A (slightly) older, terribly attractive French couple living in New Caledonia who adored travel so much that they’d taken their infant children up mountains and what not. Good to know that’s possible. Also met an equally adorable young couple, he from Finland, she from Italy, who had been maintaining a long-distance relationship (he in Fin, she in various NGO gigs in various countries) since meeting in an international college program in Malta several years back. I told them my cousin had spent something like seven years in a long-distance relship, and was now living with her man and they’d just had their first child. It’s hard to tell if a story that ends in a nice now-they-have-a-baby ending has any sort of positive effect on kids in their early 20’s. We had some nice meals with these folks and spent a pleasant evening along the riverside in Can Tho. Where they have a lovely statue of Ho Chi Minh apparently wearing an incredibly thick suit.
Next morning we got up around 6, let’s say, and still got to the Can Tho market too late to see much floating-marketing going on. Granted, the market was open. There were boats, and they were selling their pineapples and what not. But it was 9AM, the market had been open for a whopping 7 hours already. Cruising around in our 12-person boat full of gringos, we were just another target for the pineapple boat to sell their wares to at a drastic mark-up.
We also took the boat to a rice factory–a legitimate one this time, with dangerous-looking processing machinery that, were it the West, they wouldn’t allow tourists anywhere near. After that it was back to the bus and a too-long trip back to Saigon.
But what was so striking about it was this place we were, that we boated through. The place I’d seen in some of my country’s most critically acclaimed movies: Apocalypse now, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, hell, even Forrest Gump. And I was IN it, fortunately in a much more aesthetically and politically pleasing context. Well, it just affected me is all. I guess in that holy-shit-I’m-walking-through-Scorsese’s-New-York way I used to get in NYC. But Jake Lamotta never napalmed the Lower East Side.