Vietnam 2009 Travelogue

04 November 2009 – day 19 – Wednesday – Mekong Delta

Today we drove our bus from Saigon to the Mekong Delta. This is a very large outflowing of the Mekong river into the ocean, but it splits into many tributaries and covers a very large area. Lee said it covered 16 different provinces of Vietnam or something.

The bus ride was long and boring, but I still got some good shots. As before, I got several candidates for “Overloaded vehicle du jour”.

After a long time, we stopped at a temple of the Cao Dai religion. I had not heard about this religion, but Lee told us a bit about it. He said that they tried to incorporate all the best elements of all the major religions and roll them all into one. I must admit, I had to agree with the principles and Lee mentioned about their faith. Lee didn't tell us a lot about the religion; I had to ask him several questions. He said they believed in reincarnation. Their basic principle is that there is only one God, and that every generation of disciple removed from the founder makes the religion more and more diluted. I agree completely. I should probably google Cao Dai to find out more about them.

The Cao Dai temple was very colorful and cheery. Above the main altar, they have a painting of an all-seeing eye that represents God. It's painted as a left eye, Lee said, to symbolize the more loving, emotional side of the brain.

After the temple, we drove a short distance until we got to a pier where we boarded a boat.

Before we boarded, everybody got to use the bathrooms at the pier. They weren't the western toilets we're all accustomed to. Someone coined the term “Squatty Potty” which I found amusing.

From there, we took a short cruise on the Mekong river. It was hot and humid, but fun.

We boated past row after row of houses that were held up by fragile looking cement columns. The columns were often broken or toppled, and the cement floors of the houses also looked to be crumbling and fragile, as if a storm of any significance would send several collapsing into the river.

We also saw floating fish farms. Each had its own guard dog to prevent stealing.

After a short tour of the river, we left the boat and climbed into canoes.

My canoe had a woman on the back who was steering and paddling with a specially designed rudder. It also had a man in the front who was rowing. I grabbed an oar and helped them row too. The river was fast-moving and by the time we disembarked, I was even more tired, and hot and sweaty. But hey, it was fun and I got good exercise. Along the way, I saw several of what looked to me like polliwogs: small frogs with a tail. I didn't get a photo of them though; I was too busy paddling.

We stopped upstream and disembarked at an island where we sat and had some tea with honey at a small outdoor cafe. A man from the cafe disappeared and reappeared carrying a honeycomb filled with live bees. One of the group, Marty, said she was allergic to bees, but the man said they were friendly bees, and indeed, he was carrying them around with his bare hands and no protection.

One of the bees landed on our jar of honey and I told him the bee was angry and wanted his honey back. He laughed and said that bee was lazy and wanted to take the free honey rather than making new honey.

Pretty soon, he disappeared again, and later he came walking back carrying a good sized python snake. Everyone in our group took turns holding and petting the snake. I joked to Kathy and I could tell everyone at work that I was studying Python (which is also the name of a computer language some of us use at work).

Everyone was laughing and giggling as the snake's tail twirled around and slowly crept into their private parts. I was quite proud of the ladies (well, most of them) who took turns holding the snake. I've known many women in the United States—my niece Michele included—who wouldn't dare touch a snake, let alone hold it.

We walked from the cafe to a nearby factory where they made coconut candy. On the way, we saw several houses that had ceramic dogs guarding the entrance. Some of the people in our group, especially Cathy, became enamored with them.

The candy factor was very interesting. They gave us some samples that were still very warm from the machines that mix the ingredients, and it was very good. Even Kathy liked it, and she does not like coconut at all.

What amazed me was that all the candies were cut and wrapped by hand: a very tedious process.

We walked to the other side of the island, taking photos along the way, where we were met by our original boat.

We boarded and it ferried us across the river to a restaurant on the other side.

There we ate a very good lunch made of odd-looking fish and vegetables.

After lunch, we boarded the bus and took the long, boring ride back to the hotel in Saigon. I occupied my time by taking more photos of scenery and motorbikes.

We had our farewell dinner and said our goodbyes to Lee.

When we got back to the hotel, we had two hours of free time, which we used to organized our suitcases and pack. Tomorrow we say goodbye to Vietnam and fly from Saigon to Cambodia.

Interesting observation about Vietnam for the day:

I've mentioned before that the traffic here is chaotic, with thousands of motorbikes darting every which way. It's enough to make an American crazy. In America, we have an iconic image of a boy-scout helping the proverbial “Little Old Lady” cross the street. Lee joked that many Americans are afraid to cross the constant flow of traffic, so it's more common here to see Little Old Ladies helping timid Americans cross the street.

Overloaded vehicles of the day: