A Traveler’s Terrene

You only live once. What are you going to remember the most?

Vietnam: Mekong Delta, Saigon, Mui Ne Recap and Highlights July 10, 2008

Well, believe it or not I’ve tried to post a handful of times, but for some reason certain computers have not liked WordPress, so it has taken me until now to finally find a computer that works! Here is a quick recap of a few places I have been so far:

Mekong River Delta- Although we visited a coconut candy factory, honey farm and a rice paper factory, the highlight of the trip was by far the overnight boat cruise. Waking up at 5a.m. I peared out the tiny window from where I lay on top of a bunk bed. Before me bright shades of yellow, pink and orange splashed across the sky as though a bucket of paint was thrown into the air. Suzanne and I gingerally crawled out of bed and past the dormitory style bunk room where 10+ fellow travelers slept, and made our way to the top deck of the boat. Besides a gentleman from France, we had the deck to ourselves where we happily played the part of two photographers–capturing the changing colors of the sky in addition to the early morning commotion of the floating market.

Sitting in a cloth lawn chair with my feet propped up on the railing and my sarong wrapped around me I watched as a man woke up from his hammock strung off the rear of his boat. Hundreds of green lily pads floated by in clumps, but were pushed aside by the oars of small row boats steered by people from the mainland going to the market to get fresh vegetables and fruits to sell on shore or use in their restaurants. One boat pulled up alongside a larger double story vessel where coconuts where handed out a sun-stained, muddy window. The coconuts soon filled the inside of the smaller row boat leaving only enough room for the driver. Somewhere in the distance there was a loud purr of the motor engine. It reminded me of home and my father. As a child, on warm summer days as I played outside, the buzz of my father’s plane overhead was music to my ears, it was comforting like the distant sound of light jazz coming from an open window. A feeling of excitement would always rush through my body as I heard the engine’s motor come to a halt–this meant that the work day was over and dad would shortly be on his way home. The cut of the engine was also the cue to start dinner. Often times mom and I would sit on the patio furniture outside in the back yard shucking corn and shelling peas, which we had picked earlier from the garden. These simple summer nights were some of my fondest memories, and although a continent away and a decade past, these memories still bring a huge smile to my face.

Farther down the river I watched as a women in a yellow pant and matching sleeveless tank top sat on the edge of the back of the boat bathing herself with the muddy river water by using a red bucket attached to a string that was tied to the side of the boat. Dip and pour…dip and pour. Using the same routine, another woman in a nearby boat washed dishes, not seeming to mind that the leftover liquid in the bowl was of lighter color than the muddy brown water used to clean the bowl.

Besides the occasional karaoke boat and gasoline station (by station I mean 1 liter jugs of petrol lined on the back of a boat), the majority of the boats were selling fresh fruits and vegetables. In order to navigate efficiently through the market, the boats would raise a stick full of dragon fruit, cabbage and potatoes, for example, high into the air as we would a flag. This spear of fruits and veggies signified what the boat was selling that day. Forget banners, reams of paper or expensive printing costs—this was a simplified and Eco-friendly approach to effective advertising.

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) This is a city where there are almost as many motorbikes as there are people. The streets are packed to the brim with motorbikes, petal bikes and the “occasional” car. This is where I learned how to do the famous “Vietnam Stroll”…a.ka. saunter slowly into the middle of the street and let the motorbikes swerve around you. There are hardly any stop signs or stop lights–and, in this developing country anything goes–meaning a two lane street usually implies 5-6 motorbikes lined horizontally, competing against each other to gain the few extra meters of distance in the congested space (just to save 1 minute of driving time). This is where 2 adults and 2 children ride on the same motorbike–where, because they don’t have the trunk space of a car, anything and everything is strapped to the rear including common necessities like groceries and bags of clothing to bizarre objects like medical IV’s, and live pigs in cages.

The men and women looked like bank robbers racing along the paved streets as they escaped the smog filled air by covering their faces with masks that are actually quite fashionable and can be bought in every design, fabric and pattern imaginable. Helmets also follow the same prestige and can be purchased to look like sun hats or even in the same matching fabric as the seat of the moped. All and all, walking, driving and riding in this chaos is a highly dangerous act, but is also the most efficient, cost effective and liberating mean of transportation. (Still–I am trying to keep myself from being ground meat as I have met quite a few travelers with muffler burns or skinned legs!)

Mui Ne Since we were to arrive in Mui Ne around mid-night we pre-booked a hostel and upon arrival were greeted by a room full of “friends”. It was not quite the welcoming you may imagine. In fact, these four legged skirmish creatures, also known as cockroaches, were not quite welcomed by Suzanne and I, but because we were on a “budget”, instead of asking to change rooms we concocted a game of flick and throw. It is quite a complex game, requiring a rolled up piece of paper, a heavy magazine and muffled screams. Being the flicker, I had the important duty of scraping the cockroaches off of the bathroom door onto the bedroom floor as Suzanne hurriedly pushed them out the open door with the magazine. The object of the game was to get rid of of the cockroaches with the least amount of screaming. Apparently we weren’t too good at it, as the hotel manager soon came in and handed us a bottle of raid. We sprayed the room with the potent chemical to the point that my future children may be deformed someday, but at least I would be safe from cockroaches climbing on me while I slept that night. Wrong. Either the mosquito net was not tucked in properly or cockroaches are the smartest insect alive as one pesky creature made it through and woke me up in the middle of the night as I felt it crawl across my shoulder. Needless to say we checked out the following morning and surprisingly found a new hostel, cockroach free with a 90 degree view of the ocean for the same price! We spent the following 2 days in luxury, lounging on lawn chairs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

On the second morning, we even rose from our slumber around 5a.m. and moved to the lawn chairs to watch the sunrise. The fishing boats the locals used were nothing like I’ve ever seen before, they were like little 1 man teacups floating in the water. Knowing that I would get fresh seafood, that night I splurged on an expensive dinner–spending $6 dollars for the most incredible chile/garlic bbq tuna fillet. (Typically I stick to the $1-2 dollar options of rice, noodles or fruit). One of these days I might even go “crazy” and splurge on the $10 lobster…we’ll see, as bad as I want it…in my mind that is still 2 nights accommodation!

Delat, Natrang, Ho’An, and Hanoi are still to come; however, I am being kicked off at the Internet cafe and I leave for a 2 day home stay at a minority village outside of Sapa tomorrow so I won’t be online for a few days! In anycase, I wanted to get a few things posted and more to come when I get back online!