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Vinh Long, Sa Dec and Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta

February 10th to 14th

sunny -30 °C

I'm afraid this entry is way behind time as I wasn't able to get it done before I went to China where I had not access to the internet.

Once landing in Can Tho from my flight back from Phu Quoc, I took a motorcycle taxi straight to the bus station so that I could get to Vinh Long that evening. I had no wish to stay in a big city at this point and Vinh Long is a smaller and more rural area. It took a bit of time and yet another guardian angel showed up speaking English and showing me where the buses left from. I was just getting on the local bus, when I realized that I didn’t have my wallet. I had no idea where it was but suspected I must have left it on a desk when I was trying to use my phone for translation with the bus agents. I quickly made my way back and at first didn’t see it, but then looked down at a drawer and sure enough the Futa agent was keeping it for me safely. Amazing. I felt relieved as there was quite a lot of money in there, though I keep larger bills, 500,000 Vietnamese Dong worth about $33 CND in my money belt. You can imagine money is a bit challenging with all those zeros! So back to the bus stop and sure enough I was able to catch another one soon after. The place where people often stay on Vinh Long is called An Binh Island which is just across the river from Vinh Long. On the bus, which had wifi amazingly, as it is local, I was able to book a room for the next few nights. Going over on the ferry is quite an experience as there were just so many motorcyles. In fact there were three ferries working flat out carrying passengers, bikes and there riders and the occasional car.

It was like this the entire time I was there, but I think that it was extra busy because of TET and the local people just enjoying themselves with a day on the island. I had read that it was a very serene island and it was other than the numerous motorcyles, zipping by endlessly on very narrow sidewalks. It was a bit nerve racking at first, but as always I get more used to it.

My guesthouse was run by Mr. Nam Thanh and he was delightful as was his wife. She was the best cook! I could have been happy eating there a long time….

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The gardens at Nam Thanh Guesthouse

I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the island a bit and at one point even took out a bicycle, but it was a bit scary when I had to pass a motorbike. It is precision driving here for sure! I discovered a fabulous spot down on the river for the sunset where there are fishfarmers. They have their little houses on platforms and then the nets in which there are 1000’s of pink fish. I have no idea what they are but they are numerous and I guess pretty lucrative. The sunset that night was amazing. The sky lit up as you can see.

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Fish farms

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Some kids nearby that were delighting in having their photos taken

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One gorgeous sunset....

I took the opportunity to go on a early boat with a couple from France so that we could go out on the coconut lined canals. As part of the trip you visit places like the coconut candy making place which is all done by hand and also a place that was raising bees and harvesting royal jelly and bee pollen. Each place gives you tea and a sample of what they are selling and of course there is lots of other handicrafts and general tourist stuff for sale. Usually I don’t enjoy these organized tours but it was fun and perhaps because it was just 3 of us and the boat driver. I discovered the best Jasmine tea I have ever tasted and could not help but buy some. I hope that what I bought is the same as I tasted. It was amazing! We visited where the floating market usually takes place, but because of the holiday all that was there was a woman in a boat selling fruit and making coffee or café as they say here. I have had more café sua, which coffee with milk (often over ice) than I care to think about, as it always comes with sugar as the milk is that delicious sweet condensed milk. I have to say I am a bit hooked…. There is so much sugar here, I swear that even the toothpaste that I bought which is bubblegum flavor has sugar in it! It is a bit weird but it does the trick.

The best part of the trip for me was when we were in a small boat with a woman who rowed us through the canals for about 20 minutes. I loved it!! And I wanted more…… of course.

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One of the beautiful sights that morning on the boat trip

I was happy at the Nam Thanh Guesthouse and so decided to stay another night. I had a wonderful walk around the island and did not get too lost. I chose not to ride a bike as it was not very relaxing and in the end I really enjoyed the slowness of the walk. I have discovered a new app called maps.me which tells me at any given time where I am in reference to points I put on a map or towns and such. It is incredibly handy and has given me more confidence to explore. I found the people really friendly that I met along the way. They are all in such a festive mood and it is not unusual to see whole families playing games together. Very sweet. I spent about half an hour on a bridge, watching 3 boys jump off and then climb up the bridge and jump again. I finally got a decent photo or two of them. I am not sure I would swim in that water, but they seemed to love it.

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There was a lovely little temple not far from me that I visited. The Quan Am statue was very impressive.

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Locals on An Binh Island

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You never know what is coming around the corner!

Supper was lightly battered shrimp and lots of fresh greens. Wow, it was amazing. Most of the tourists at the guesthouse were European, so I didn’t really meet anyone, but I was content just being there. The next morning Mr. Nam Thanh booked me an early morning small boat to go out by myself on the small canals on the island. This is not usual for tourists to do but I wanted to see what it was like and I had a great trip, though I do have say that as the water doesn’t have much current, there was a fair amount of garbage floating in the river. I was so delighted when the boat motor stopped and the boatman, started to row. It is such a wonderful experience to hear the birds and be immersed in that other world.

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I headed off from Vinh Long to a place just west of there named Sa Dec which was just a 45 minute bus ride away. I wanted to go there as there is a “flower village” on the edge of Sa Dec, which I have been told is beautiful. I wasn’t sure what I would find, but in the end I did spend an enjoyable afternoon there. Again as it was the holidays, there were not many people that were working in the flowers, but as the afternoon wore on, I did find people watering their plants and flowers. I loved the little houses, they were really very picturesque. Here are some of the photos I took of the gardens, homes and people that afternoon:

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I had left my luggage at a hotel nearby, and decided to head off to another place called Ben Tre that also was located near canals. Not speaking the language, does pose a problem, as I really don’t know whats what. I discovered when I got back to the bus station in Vinh Long that I could not actually get a bus to Ben Tre (about 70 km away). Drat! But as always, things have a way of working out. I didn’t know wahat an adventure this day would be. Before leaving the bus a motorcycle taxi man got on and with google translate, he told me that he could take me to where the buses go to Saigon and that I could get off at the turn off for My Tho which is the town before Ben Tre. Unbelievably, that XE-OM driver stayed with me for an hour trying to flag down a bus. They were all full with people going home after TET. Finally a sleeper bus pulled up and they were willing to take me at an inflated price. I have a photo for you that I took of the bus.

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There were two layers and each person has a reclining seat. I was on the upper section. It was freezing so luckily there was a blanket. I was nervous that I was going to end up in Saigon (HCMC), but in fact they did drop me off and yet another XE-OM driver was there. But he wanted a lot of money, too much, given the distance of 20 kms. It was 8pm at night and there must have been 5 or 6 people helping me negotiate. In the end a woman who was a passenger on the bus I just got off of, paid for my fair which was half of what he was asking. She was living in the US, so I didn’t feel bad about accepting her generosity. She said “Welcome to Vietnam” It was a really sweet gesture. So off we went with my backpack up front and me on the back. I thought that I had booked a homestay that was centrally located in Ben Tre, but the address took us far from the town, in tiny little lanes, dark with no signs. We stopped at another homestay, but it was not the correct one. The guy there, was drunk, but in some way was trying to help me. He kept on saying “Calm down, calm down” It was really irritating as he was actually doing anything.

He lead us to a place where he thought it would be which was this shack, and the family was sleeping and so he woke him up. This was apparently where the address was, but the man had not received any booking. He did speak some English, but I knew I did not want to stay there. It was way to rustic and isolated, so luckily I remembered the name of a hotel in town, the Oasis Hotel, and we headed for there. The XE-OM driver was pretty fed up by this time so I gave him extra money for his trouble. The hotel was dark, but luckily there was a gateman and he got one of the owners, Lieu, to give me a room. She was a delight. I felt totally cared for. She even made me hot water for tea and booked me an early morning small boat. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to be there. It was quite a day. But again and again, things do work out. That is my lesson on this trip.

Mr Liem was there at 6am on the jetty and off we rowed down the river first of all seeing the sunrise and then heading into the canals. We had 3 delicious hours. Mr Liem is both a boatman but also he speaks English well so it was like have a tour an informal tour guide. It struck me as unusual that he had his head shaved as this is not common here. When we stopped for an early morning café, he asked me what I do for work and I told him about my classes and low and behold for the last 5 years he has taken the Buddhist path of practice very seriously. He even knew about Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. ( In general, I would say that most people here, even though it is a predominately Buddhist country, are not practicing meditation at all. In fact, most times when I talk about meditation they don’t know what I am talking about. It was a surprise.) So here we were in the middle of the canals having conversations about the Dharma. His main challenge is that teachers often tell him he has to meditate for at least 2 hours a day and he cannot do this as he has to work to support his wife and son who is at university in HCMC. I really loved being with Liem. There was something about his presence that was very beautiful and totally trustworthy. He took me to his home where I met his son Dat who was home for the holidays. It was definitely a personal touch.

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The lovely Mr. Liem

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Gorgeous canal scenery

I got back to the Oasis at 9:30 and happily was not too late for breakfast which was the BEST! I had a tomato and cheese omlette made with Emmental (bought from the big grocery store in town) and even had real butter on the toasted baguettes. Not only that I had a big mug of fresh filtered coffee with milk and no sugar! How satisfying.

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The front of the Oasis Hotel where I had breakfast in the morning

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In the Mekong Delta you will find everywhere hammocks strung. Most coffee shops have hammocks that they hang out in.

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One of the very sweet and attentive staff at the Oasis

Ken, originally from New Zealand, and Lieu married many years ago when they met in Cambodia. They moved to New Zealand and lived there for about 20 years so that is why she speaks English so well. About five years ago they moved back and built the Oasis Hotel. It is quite an interesting place as it attracts people who know Ken and they are really interesting characters. There was a lot of good humour and caring shown I must say. It is well placed on the banks of the river.

I wanted to go out in the boat again in the late afternoon, but Liem knew it wasn’t possible as the tide would be too low so he offered to take me on a trip into the countryside on the motorbike. Lieu had suggested that he take me to this pagoda where there is a woman who is a nun who has not cut her hair since she was about 18 when she fell ill with some disease that left her physically incapacitated. She has not washed her hair and basically it is a solid dreadlock about 6 inches wide and 3 inches high. It sold. God only knows how much it weighs cause it must be 20 feet long or more. She sits on a platform all day and has to be lifted to go anywhere. She simply sits there and people marvel at her. She apparently is now over 80 years old. She was very sweet. I never did understand why she thought that there was eyes and a mouth at the end of her hair as though it was perhaps a snake. She had a flashlight that she would show people. She does not allow photographs as she doesn’t want attention drawn to her. It was quite an experience. What really added to it was that there was chanting happening by a nun and this huge gong that was being rung by a young man who was missing an arm. I loved being there and taking it in.

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Liem was in his element saying prayers and offering incense at all of the statues in the temple. We spent quite awhile there. Liem had brought his son along and he actually drove the bike I was on and Liem had his nephew along as well. It was such a sweet trip, but I have to say spending 3 hours on a motorbike was uncomfortable at times. I guess you just have to get used to it. I loved the ride to the Pagoda because we went on these tiny paths through the coconut trees for many kilometers. I can’t tell you how many bridges we went over. There are rivers and canals everywhere. It was so green and and luscious. I will remember it for a long time.

In the evening after a rest I decided to head over to the night market which was over the bridge, and as I was walking along asking for the directions, this young woman insisted that she take me to the night market as it wasn’t good to go over the bridge on my own. I could see why as there are no sidewalks! She decided to drive me through town and show me the sights. I didn’t feel quite as confident with her driving, but I did get home safely. It was one of those things that my temptation was to say no to her offer, but, I decided to say yes instead. One of the places she took me too was the town central park where they had 10 or 12 backdrops set up that people could take their photos in front of. She insisted that she take my photo in front of a few of them.

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A quick selfie taken of the two of us as she dropped me off back at the Oasis

I find myself starting to feel very home in Vietnam the last few days. I have way less fear about dealing with crossing the roads, I am more comfortable on motorbikes and I feel more open to the unfolding experience. It really is a delightful feeling.

I had a restful morning the next day and then got to the bus station to catch a bus back to Can Tho as I have a flight to Hanoi the following day.
Even though I had not really liked Can Tho the first time, I found myself really enjoying being there and taking in all that was going on. I found a fabulous temple in town and was so curious about these cones on the ceiling. After a few minutes I realized that they actually were incense and all of them were burning. It really was something. The temple was full of people making various offerings that day.

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It was Valentines Day here too. I didn’t think that they would celebrate it, but there were balloon with little hearts inside and lots of roses and teddy bears (of all sizes) for sale.

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A young man just bought this giant teddy bear for his sweetheart and there was only one way to get it home....... It made me laugh

I was walking along the river later in the afternoon and of course there are plenty of people wanting to take you out on boat rides. It sounded like a good idea and it was a beautiful evening. This lovely man, Thon appeared with his boat. Along the way, he picked up his daughter and we meandered along the river, seeing all the sights.

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Low and behold we found a fisherman who was swing his nets. I have been looking for this the whole time I have been in Vietnam and here he was. He even moved out into the sunlight for me so that I could photograph him. What a joy that was.

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I really loved the way Thon knew what I wanted to see and would approach boats and give me a chance to have a little interaction with them. One boat, they were eating pineapple and the locally brewed liquor which I decided to try. I have gotten a bit fearless over the time I think because I really can’t speak any Vietnamese other than a few words and so I have given up being careful with ice (whether it is made from mineral water or not) and other such things. Mostly, I have stayed pretty well so it hasn’t harmed me.

I will definitely get Thon to take me to the floating market in Cai Rang (the Can Tho local market) when I return. He is the best!
It was so busy in town being he last official day of TET and also Valentines Day. Everyone was out. By the time I got home to the Mango Hotel I was exhausted. Bye for now. Dana

Posted by danjali 06:53 Archived in Vietnam

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Comments

So heart-warming, reading about the many kindnesses you have received as you travel and about how appreciative you are of such kindness. And so inspiring seeing how you have discovered your fearless and openness to the unknown! Thank you for sharing these delightful and fascinating experiences, and for your amazing illustrations of the people and places you're encountering. All My Love, Chrisxoxox

by Chris Gilboy

Dana, I couldn't say it any better than Chris already has. I am in awe of your bravery and tenacity and finding and using that to make the very best of every moment you spend there. I am so enjoying your photos and descriptions. Such unforgettable life experiences for you. Thank you for sharing them. Big hug.

by LindaDS

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