Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Saigon Vacation, Episode III: Rolling on the River

Sunday July 4, I went on a tour of the Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta is the breadbasket of Vietnam, it produces about half of the total of Vietnam's rice output. The tour stated that we would get to check out one of the famous Vietnamese floating markets, where everything is bought and sold from boats. I figured a nice leisurely boat ride through the area would be a cool way to spend the day.
The rivers and tributaries that ran into the delta were immense. There were boats everywhere, moving goods up and down the delta for sale in various markets.
There were some surprisingly nice houses on the river.

Most of the houses were a little more modest:

It was a nice leisurely cruise until our first tourist trap at the coconut candy and rice paper factory. Willy Wonka's it was not, but damn they made some tasty candy.

Here's a shot of them mixing the coconut milk with the sugar and opium.
They pour the mix into this contraption to let it harden, and then these lovely ladies cut and wrap it by hand.

They also made rice paper at this place.
Watching this woman, I felt like I was doing pre-production scouting for challenges on the next season of the Amazing Race. That is a tissue paper thin sheet of rice paper and the woman was peeling it off perfectly- no rips, tears, or wrinkles. I could feel my blood pressure rising imagining Phil telling me I had to roll off 30 sheets before I could move on to the next pit stop. This challenge would be yours, Sara.

It was a neat little shop and I ended up buying way too much coconut candy. Upon leaving the factory, we were greeted with angry skies.

Rain couldn't cancel our tour though. We went to an apiary next, where they tried to convince us to buy royal jelly from the queen bee which would make us stronger, more passionate, and more handsome. Like I need that. After the beekeepers we were off to lunch. On our way, the deluge began. The only other time I had seen rain this hard was during last fall's typhoon here in Manila. I made it through that storm by staying in my condo and looking out the window; this was my first torrential rain while riding on a boat. It was awesome.

The ride to where we were going for lunch took about 25 minutes, and the rain did not let up. You can see here how it started swelling up the banks a bit.

Our boat finally stopped and we were told that the restaurant was "only" a 5 minute walk away. Luckily for all the people on the tour, the boat driver had rain slickers for sale at what I'm sure was a reasonable price. This guy had his handy NorthFace rain coat folded up in his backpack- even though I wasn't a boy scout, I know you should be prepared. Through torrential rain we walked, water flooding down the path we were following. It was up to my shins. I was in the sh*t. I managed to keep the upper half of my body bone dry, but the rain was so heavy it ran down my coat and soaked my shorts. It looked like I had gone swimming. By the time we got to the restaurant, I was famished.

We ordered a Mekong special, the elephant ear fish.

It looks a little rough, but like everything else in Vietnam it was served with rice paper, cucumbers, basil, rice noodles, lettuce and fish sauce. You cut off chunks of the meat and wrapped it up with all of those ingredients into an awesome fresh roll. Dipped in the fish sauce, it was excellent. After lunch, the skies had cleared and we headed back to the river.

When we got back to the river, our large tour boat was gone and these bad boys were waiting for us.

In addition to the boats, there were rice hats too. Like Col. Kurtz, I had gone native.

The horror....the horror.

It was a nice low key river ride through a small tributary that fed into the larger water ways. I enjoyed the slow pace of life on display. The tour itself was kind of weak (we never got to see a floating market and coconut candy was on sale everywhere in Saigon), but the boat ride through such a cool area was worth the price of admission.

Tomorrow: Episode IV


Bfiles said...

i'm enjoying your vietnam tour. these photos are so amazing.

Sara said...

Love the hat Justy! I would have loved to do this with you!

Terry said...

Nothing better than coconut milk, sugar and opium. Yummmmy! Don't you think "Fire Breathing" would have been a better name for that fish. I didn't even see his ears.