En route from Vietnam to Cambodia
25.03.2012 - 29.02.2012 34 °C
The next morning, we had arranged to meet my friend Tamsin who had just flown out from the UK with a friend of hers 'Fard' for a 2 week holiday. It was great to see a familiar face from home and we had a catch up over a coffee and some pastries in our local bakery. They decided to visit the War Museum, so we parted ways, arranging to meet up that evening and Chris and I booked a 3 day tour of the Mekong river which would include a border crossing into Cambodia. We then had a lazy afternoon catching up with some emails, eating a bowl of local noodle soup (Pho) off a food stall and visited a local market to buy some toiletries before Tamsin gave us a shout to say she was back at the hotel and would I like to join her for a run in the park. I took her up on the offer and we completed 6 laps of the (slightly too small) park, interrupted by 10mins of free aerobics to Christmas music!!?? The locals were playing a game of what looked like Badminton from the distance but on closer inspection, was a sort of bizarre game of keepy uppy with a long, feathery springy shuttlecock looking thingymebob.
After this we all headed out to a night market to eat (and were overcharged again, surprise surprise!) and finished the evening off with some cheap beers on the same street we had visited the night before.
We parted ways, Tamsin and Fard heading north to Hoi An and Halong Bay, us heading south east towards the Cambodian Border. We all hoped we would meet up again in the next couple of weeks in Bangkok, maybe even in Cambodia.
We had to be up early to catch the coach to the Mekong the next morning. The tour bus was a mini bus but pretty comfortable and the tour guide was fairly interesting to listen to. He told us that 20 years ago in Vietnam if you owned a bicycle you were rich, 10 years ago if you had a motorbike you were rich and now if you own a car you are rich (cars are taxed 400% as the roads would come to a stand still if there are any more cars). Also, everyone just rides little Honda Waves as the locals are such tiny people – if you have a big motorbike, they say it’s because you have a big girlfriend!
Anyway, our first stop was at a temple with a very happy Buddha...
Then we got onto little boats and were taken down the Mekong to a little restaurant on the riverside for lunch and an iced coffee. We sat on a table with Ollie a British guy, Shane from NZ, and Florise, a Dutch bloke (can’t get away from Dutch people at the moment!!) we had a good laugh and hooked up with them for the rest of the Mekong trip.
Our next stop via boat was to a coconut sweet making factory, a small business where every part of the coconut is used, The shells are ground up and used as fuel to keep the fire alight that melts the sugar and coconut oil into a sort of syrup that’s poured onto a table and cools to a toffee consistency, this is then moulded into sweet sized pieces and packaged.
I also got to hold some bees (they are very friendly) and taste the fresh honey (which was yummy!)
All aboard some little row boats for a very peaceful 15min ride down a little tributary of the river to an orchard, complete with Vietnamese conical hats.
We saw Jack fruit, pineapples, dragon fruit and all sorts of other local fruits growing. I never knew that pineapples grew out of a little bush on the floor, one at a time and look like they have been spray painted red!
We then sat down and ate a bowl of fruit each and listened to a hideous local band – the music was not too bad but the singing was truly terrible. EVERYONE was trying really really hard to not laugh. We did not buy their $4 CD.
That evening, we were dropped off at our home stay, where Chris and I got lucky and ended up in a little river-side bungalow next to the house. It was really basic, but had a double bed with mozzie nets and a bathroom with hot shower.
It also had a couple of gekos and an unidentified creature that we never saw but who woke us up sounded like a coughing dog – it may have been a duck or bird but anyway it had kindly left us a poo present on the floor in the morning :-/
The homestay family were friendly, and the food was great, it was fun when we had to roll and cook our own spring rolls. It felt far more like a business though then the family we stayed with in the mountains at Bac Ha. But I guess it’s not all bad, as I didn’t have to sleep in the bed next to Grandma this time!!
Up at 6am again, we flopped into the boat which took us down the river to a floating wholesale market where we cruised up and down for 20mins and watched boats full of everything from giant bags of rice to tons of water melons.
Every now and then a Vietnamese woman in a small boat would buzz up along side our boat and then attach herself to it as if we were being boarded by pirates! Luckily she was only selling coffee and snacks and was very happy to see thirsty and hungry tourists with money to spend.
Soon after, the tour took us to a rice noodle making business, we saw the rice sheets being steamed
then laid in the sun to dry
Before being pushed through a shredder and bagged up to be sold to local shops and restaurants.
They also had a pig farm outside and the very friendly pigs seemed happy to see us!
Chris was also fascinated by the very precarious looking ‘digger in a boat’ which was grabbing huge chunks of clay from the bottom of the river and placed onto the riverside. This is later taken away and sold for building materials. How the digger stays in the boat is a mystery!!
From here we visited a rice factory where I missed most of what the guide was saying as I was photographing an amazing old machine that looked like it should be in an old Ratchett & Clank style computer game.
We also found a large set of scales used for weighing rice sacks but we took the opportunity to weigh ourselves for the first time since the bungy jump in NZ (back to training asap me thinks when we get home!!)
(Chris DO NOT insert a pic here !!!)
Time for lunch in a small town called Chau Doc where I decided against grilled rat and fried snake, but thought I would give frogs in chilli sauce a bash. They were surprisingly meaty, although Chris looked a bit disturbed when I used the frogs entire leg and foot as a spoon for the sauce.
From here was a 3 hour minibus journey to our hotel in the border town of Phnom Den/Tinh Bien. There was just time for a quick visit to a temple in the mountains – we debated not going as we were a bit ‘toured out’ by then but I’m glad we did as it was beautiful and very serene. Once inside the temple, a monk pointed me in the direction of some hidden stairs - deciding monks are probably trustworthy fellas, I followed him into a dusty old room with some great old book cases that hadn’t been opened for a long time, a shrine and a hole in the wall that looked like it disappeared into a cave in the mountain side. Bit bizarre. Mr Monk wondered back down the stairs so I poked my head into the cave and saw that it was dimly lit and I could hear running water in the distance. What the heck, I went in and up a long set of stone steps to a little shrine/water feature with a stone seat next to it. I walked passed the shrine and around a corner or two before confronted with yet more stairs and a couple of monks smiled gently as they walked on by.
I carried on exploring and found another couple of little shrines and a room at the end with beautiful golden statues and giant cobra's adorning the walls.
My pics don’t do it justice as it was dark and I had to use the flash but it was a lovely peaceful 10mins in what the monks use as a relaxation /contemplation area.
Finding the rest of the group outside, we wondered around the temple and took some pics overlooking the market town and the guide pointed out the border line between Vietnam and Cambodia which was about 10k away.
It was a great way to say goodbye to Vietnam and happily we finished it on a ‘love Vietnam’ day.
Chris - I have really enjoyed Vietnam. I guess I am biased as I have always wanted to come here but when you can eventually beat your way through all the touts and scams it is a very beautiful place. Vietnam is truly a place of extremes and I will miss the mayhem and freedom that this brings (I am still in awe at the way they can fit more on a 110cc Honda moped than I can fit in a large family estate car!). We have met some truly wonderful and friendly people who are willing to give you their last plate of food or drop of corn wine, but also some totally annoying liars and crooks. You can ask the same person on 2 different days for an item and the price appears to be made up on the spot. ALWAYS haggle, even for beer in a restaurant as we have proved that NOTHING is truly a fixed price and EVERYTHING is fake. I have never felt quite so far from home since we left, but the chaos is somehow intoxicating and I will miss every part of it.