A Travellerspoint blog

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 Comments (2)

Phu Quoc Island

February 6th to 10th

sunny 25 °C

Phu Quoc is a sizeable island just off the south of Vietnam and it is located in the Gulf of Thailand. I came here anticipating that I would enjoy this little tropical vacation, but it has been a little different than I expected. I chose it as a the place to spend the actual beginning days of TET and in fact, it was a good choice as there are so many tourists, that most of the tourist infrastructure, hotels, restaurants etc. were open. The first night I stayed at a place that was right on the beach called the Vung Bao resort. Resort in these parts doesn’t mean that it is that luxurious and in fact it didn’t even have hot water! Normally, hot water is not an issue on a tropical island, but in fact the time I was here, the weather was actually colder than normal and the locals were really feeling it. I chose the resort because of the beach as the water was free of jellyfish (that sting). As much as the beach and the water were lovely, and my room was comfortable, the staff were not as friendly as they often can be and the food was pretty mediocre and expensive. But, being isolated, from the town there really wasn’t a choice to eat anywhere else. There was one young man who was really helpful at Vung Bau and I was grateful for that.

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The beach

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A photogenic swing on Vung Bao Beach

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My cabin at Vung Bao

It has amazed me how different each place is I stay and I see clearly that the atmosphere is really created by the attitude of the owner. Those owners who are running their guesthouses because they want to offer an experience that people will enjoy are really lovely to experience. However, those who are just interested in the money that comes in, usually the staff are not very friendly.

I had the staff call me a motorcycle taxi to get me to my next place and when he showed up he wanted to charge me 2/3 of what a taxi would cost which seemed pretty over the top. He was not going to budge so for some crazy reason, I found myself walking out with my roller bag onto the gravel road in the middle of nowhere thinking that I would find a way. Unbelievably within 5 minutes there was a guy with motorbike and an extra helmet that they have to use (regardless of the fact that the chin strap is almost always completely loose, so the helmet is no protection at all!) and off we went for a more reasonable price. We did go a very off the track way, but interestingly, I mostly trust that I will get where I am going safely and I did.

The second and third nights I spent at Duc An Guesthouse, which was run by a family and was the complete opposite of Vung Bao Resort. Long, the owner, really took me under his wing, making sure that I had food (as it was Tet and a lot of the usual eating places were closed), treating me to Vietnamese traditional food and inviting me for lunch with his family that were there on TET, though his wife and daughter were in HCMC at the time. I found myself eating meat, as there really wasn’t anything else to do. The food just arrived on my table on the verandah. I am glad that that only lasted for a few days as it didn’t really agree with my system…… . I actually was amazed that I was so flexible given that I have not eaten red meat since 1988! The other thing that was really sweet about Long, is that, the first afternoon, when he saw I had a camera he immediately came over and offered to take down to the beach to photograph the sunset. So off we went to discover Long Beach, which is as it says, long and beautiful except for the string of hotels, each complete with their deck chairs in front, which are side by side for the entire length of the beach! I almost didn’t want to be there.

Duc Anh Photos of my room and the gardens

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My beautifully presented towel!

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Sunset the first evening on Long Beach

Long was the saving grace of my Phu Quoc time. It really touched my heart. I found I had tears when I left. The gardens around the house were lovely and the room very comfortable. It did give me lots of time to catch up on my blog, which I was really glad about.

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Long is in the middle and Tran was the friendly receptionist at Duc Anh

One of the things that was the biggest disappointment of this island which I had heard was so beautiful, was that there is construction! Guesthouses and hotels are being built everywhere! And then there’s all the rubble and of course garbage which you cannot get away from. I am sure that there are places that are gorgeous on the the island apart from the beaches, they were inaccessible unless I took expensive taxis or by rented a motorbike which I was not going to do. After I left I met a man from New Zealand who is living in Vietnam now and who had been there several times over the past five years, and he also felt it had lost it’s beauty. It is a sad fact that often tourism results in the in the nature actually being destroyed.

On my second evening at Duc Anh, Long took me out on his bike to see the sunset again but took me on a little tour where we visited some of the harbours with the boats. Squid fishing is really big here. You can see the boats at night because of the lights which lure the squid. Here is a close up of the boats with their lights.

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One of the very picturesque harbours

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Long chose a great place for the sunset the second evening

I visited a very lovely little Pagoda just near the guest house on the actual day of TET and many people were coming that day to make offerings of incense.

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The Pagoda

I found a diving group, on the island, called Rainbow Divers, that was willing to have a snorkeler along, as so went out on my third day with them. I so enjoyed snorkeling again after having not done it for awhile. The reefs were not the most colourful or very plentiful with fish, but still I love that quiet experience of being immersed in the ocean world. I would have loved to have some pics, however, I neglected to put the screen of my phone onto the brightest setting and I simply could not see the phone well enough to take photos. Drat! Somehow our boat got a broken rudder during the trip and so our trip home was unusual to say the least. Regularly, they would stop, turn direction and head of trying to navigate the wind and the current without a rudder. I chatted with some folks who could speak English, (most tourists in these parts are European and of course Vietnamese) who were on the trip and that enjoyable. Finally, they decided to take a tow from another boat but that was not successful either as the rope snapped. In the end, they actually tied the two boats together at the side and we got back perfectly, even though it was 2 hours late.

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The beginning of the tying together process
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The end of the process - and it worked!

I had to move from my guesthouse as I had added on a day to my time on the island and the prices had gone up at Duc An, as with many places and ended up at La Paloma Guesthouse which was again really isolated. To add to it, when I arrived there was not a single person there. I had to phone to get someone to check me in. Amazing! It was sure a come down after Duc An whose service was impeccable. But it was a bed to stay in and I was grateful for that. I ended up taking a taxi to a restaurant on the beach as I really did not want to eat there. Each time I walked by the kitchen, which was a complete mess, I would see the cat jumping off the kitchen counter and scurrying away! Luckily, on my way back from supper, I had a great taxi driver who agreed to pick me up to get me to the airport in the early morning. I wasn’t sad to be leaving Phu Quoc at all……

Posted by danjali 07:52 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Long Xuyen and Ha Tien

February 3rd to 6th

Long Xuyen

When I arrived at my hotel, to my surprise, the desk staff had no idea that there was a floating market in Long Xuyen. Luckily an older man, knew where it was and how to get there, so I set off at 5:30 in a taxi to the floating market. Again I just had to trust that it would work out. We ended up going down these very narrow alleys and where he dropped me off I really wondered where I was. I went in the direction he pointed me too and found the river and some women who were quite happy to take me out for a pretty healthy price. I managed to bargain them down about 25%. I had no idea if the market was around the corner or a long way away. Luckily, it was just 10 minutes away. At first, in the dark I thought it was quite small but as we went along I could see that it was just very spread out. Many of the boats were larger but there was something quite amazing about this market too. I bargained for another hour of time in the boat happily. People were not as friendly as Nga Nam, but it seemed as I spent time there, that there were more smiles and little interactions. The light was gorgeous that morning. I went back to the hotel happy with another wonderful experience. As I visit these markets, I know that really, they are all in the process of change, so I am truly enjoying experiencing the authenticity of what is here right now. Here are some of my photos from that morning:

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They learn to handle boats young here

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This was an amazing little area of the market where all the boats congregated to buy and sell.

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She made a coffee for me

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The boat woman who took me around the market

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Breakfast!

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Aren't these boats gorgeous?

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Loading sugarcane

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A larger view of the Long Xuyen Floating Market

When I asked at the hotel how to get a bus to my next destination Rach Gia on the coast from where I will take the ferry to the tropical island of Phu Quoc, just a few hours away from the coast, I discovered that for some odd reason, I could not get a bus there even though there is a road. Makes no sense to me, so I had to take another bus, to a coastal town named Ha Tien and from there I could take another 2 hour bus ride to Rach Gia. Seemed crazy especially when I saw the bus, very local indeed and as it is also transports goods all the way along, it took 4 hours to go 127 kms. The bonus I though was that I was sitting right up front with a great view, except the driver and his cohort who got people and goods off and on the bus, were chain smokers and the horn which the used all the time was actually painful to hear. I spent 3 hours covering my ears! I certainly had a little aversion attack! In the end, I decided to use the time to work on my blog and this got my mind off the unpleasantness of it all.

Ha Tien

I had been curious about Ha Tien, so I wasn’t unhappy to be there and I found a great hotel that was just $20 night on the river front. It was even, better when they moved me the second night and I had a view of the river from my own balcony.

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It was a great place to land and I knew that I wasn’t going to go back to Rach Gia, but instead forfeited the ticket I had already bought and bought a new one from Ha Tien to Phu Quoc. That was a relief. I felt like I had enough travelling on buses in the last few days and I just needed to be in one place. Luckily the hotel was just a block from where the small boats bring in the catch for the day to the market and the main market was there too. It really was at it’s height as the New Year’s Day in February 7th. On my last morning it was almost a frenzy with everyone shopping for food for the next days and things pretty much grind to a halt until Feb 11th or 12th. Watching the amount of flowers being sold was incredible. Everyone had their flowers. Here are a few of the photos that I took at the markets in the morning.

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At the fish market

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Bringing in the daily catch of fish

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Sorting out the catch in the nets.

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What an array of flowers....

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One of many flower sellers

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Last chance for flowers......

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I have no idea what she was selling, but they were not to eat!

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I had a lovely little exchange with this man in the vegetable market.

I visited another Women’s Pagoda named Tam Bao which I enjoyed. Again they were busy decorating and arranging flowers for the holiday. I was quite touched by the recognition of great nuns that were around in the time of the Buddha.

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This is a depiction of these six nuns, unfortunately, I couldn't include the sixth one in the photo.

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This was a description of the six nuns who had reached a high attainment of realization

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A Reclining Buddha
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Avalokiteshvara

There was a beautiful Quan Yin, or Quan Am as she is known here, but sadly the sun was right behind her and I couldn't take a photograph. From what I have seen so far in Vietnam, statues of Quan Am are actually more usual than of the Buddha.

After the craziness of the market, it was peaceful toTam Bao. I rented a bicycle, but realized that I really have to know what I am doing, as the rules of the road are really different here, and you have to have eyes at the back of your head to safely navigate. For whatever reason in Hoi An, I found it relatively easy to ride, but not here.

I had a ticket on the superfast ferry called the Superdong which left promptly on time. So a new chapter opens, Phu Quoc. I will continue in my next entry. Bye for now. Dana

Posted by danjali 15:57 Comments (3)

Nga Nam Floating Market

February 1st to 3rd

sunny 30 °C

Having an adventurous spirit, I decided to head off to a little known floating market in a place that actually I have never found on a map of the Mekong Delta. I found out about it as it was on a photography tour which I would have liked to have participated in, but could not do it solo. So instead I decided to try and get there on my own. What makes Nga Nam special is that it is located at the convergence of five rivers so the setting is quite amazing. I headed off early in the morning to a town in the vicinity of Nga Nam named Soc Trang. As I was likely going to get to the floating market when it was mostly over, I added a little side trip to my adventure hoping to find some salt fields on the beach at a town called Bac Lieu on the coast. A place that I would love to have gone on this trip to Vietnam is these salt fields is near Nha Trang which is north of HCMC. quite aways I just could not fit that into this trip so thought I might just find what I wanted to see in the deIta. Just to give you some idea of what I am talking about I found some great photos on line on this website if you want to look it up.

http://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/vietnam-in-photos/101151/women-working-in-hon-khoi-salt-fields.html

In order to find this area, I had to take motorbike (with a driver of course) and he apparently knew where to go. This is of course with showing them pictures of Na Trang and pointing to Bac Lieu and using the app google translate, which is always a bit of a question as to whether it is correct. (Sometimes the translation is ridiculous. The most off it has been was when I was visiting a temple and I was trying to communicate with a young monk and it translated what he said as "Spicy men size 33" when we tried it again, it changed to "That tree is a huge tree". So when people get a strange look on their face with google translate it almost certainly is a bad translation. Still it is a help sometimes.) It was quite a trip which took us on tiny little paths with precarious little bridges over waterways, some so unstable that the driver had me get off. We arrived at four measly salt mounds in the middle of a slough with no ocean beach to be seen. He was so excited! Finally he found the ocean but it was a swampy shore and what I had seen in a photo was not there. Who knows maybe it is somewhere else. So back to Bac Lieu I went on the bike (probably and hour), but the saving grace of the trip was we passed by a Buddhist Temple on the way and I stopped to see that. Here are a couple of pics:

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The Temple

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Inside was quite beautiful and unique.

I then got a bus to Soc Trang so that I could get a find a motorbike taxi (known as XE OM) to Nga Nam for the floating market. After negotiating a price, we set off and I spent most of the trip thinking that we were not going to Nga Nam as we did not go the way I envisioned. After my experience in Bac Lieu you can imagine I was doubtful. Sadly to say we back tracked and just 15 kms from Bac Lieu we turned off for Nga Nam. Had I known I would have not gone back to Soc Trang in the first place! Mostly, it was a little scary as we were on a main road and there was a lot of traffic. I had the driver stop several times and pulled out my handy dandy iphone, and used google translate to figure out if we were on the same page. I even phoned Lyly to check and see if he really knew where I wanted to go. The Vietnamese language is really challenging to learn because it is tonal meaning there are 6 different tones that complete change a word when you say it. I have found it difficult to pick up much of the language. I feel it is a bit hopeless as mostly when I try to say words, they don't understand and after a minute or two they say what I thought I was saying but with a different emphasis on the word. However, I am getting really good at gestures! Two hours later (half an hour extra was added due to a puncture in his front tire) we arrived at Nga Nam and I got set up in a pretty good hotel. It was spotless. But as beds are in Vietnam, it was hard.

On my way into town to figure out exactly where the floating market was the next morning, I walked by some highschool students and one of them started to talk to me, practicing her English. She happily walked with me into town to show me where the market was and helped me negotiate a boat fare with a woman boat woman named Moma who would be there at 6am the next morning. I was set. Even though the formal market was finished I spent the next two hours taking in the activities on the river. Luckily enough there was a balcony several stories up that had a great view of the convergence of the rivers and all the life on it. It gave a great perspective of the market area.

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View of the convergence of the rivers where the Nga Nam floating market takes place everyday

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I watched this man carefully pack his motorcycle for the trip home from the market. He had to support each side with a chair in order to keep balance!

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He is on his way. Hopefully he made it home without losing his load!

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More boats

There were loads of people out in the evening and great street food most of which was seafood, octopus, clams, prawns, crabs and so on. Things seem to be extra festive these days just because it is the run up to TET. I love how people come out in the evening and either have a drink or eat together. It is incredibly social. Then there is the Karaoke which is everywhere and the voices usually are pretty bad. I have gotten pretty used to it already. They have a habit of starting later at night and going on quite late.

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Part of my supper that evening

I woke up early as I didn’t want to miss one minute of the floating market experience. It was still completely dark by the time I arrived, but you could hear everyone talking back and forth. Moma was there at 6am just as she said she would be. I had a really nice feeling about her. This floating market was very different than the other one, partly because of the diversity of what was being bought and sold. In Cai Rang, near Can Tho, it seemed almost more a wholesale market, whereas in Nga Nam it was more retail with lots of small boats mixed among larger ones. There was even a butcher shop on a boat with all the cuts of meat displayed at the bow of the boat!

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The floating butcher shop - I am getting quite used to seeing this as the Vietnamese are prolific meat eaters. Though I have to say there are some sights that are hard to take in!

At times there were humongous boats passing through that I could not believe would even try and pass through such narrow waterways. I was really glad that I had a confident woman maneuvering the boat as it is very tricky indeed. Often we bumped up along side other boats but given the number of boats navigating the waterway it was inevitable. The water itself was turbulent just because of the convergence of the rivers.

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Moma

I really was so taken by being in this experience, it really was like being in another world. The people of Nga Nam were exceptionally friendly to me. I really have not experience a place like it before. I think that there are so few tourists coming that it has not being spoiled by tourism. I rarely had anyone refuse to have their photo taken which is unusual. I loved just hanging out in the middle of the river, in the midst of many small boats, mostly being handled by women. We had breakfast out there which was noodle soup called Pho with shrimp. It was hands down the best noodle soup I have every had! I felt so lucky to be having this experience. We spent hours just paddling around the market and needless to say I have a few photos of the experience.

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Moma, wanted to show me more of the different rivers, so she started up her motor and we explored each direction for a bit. Then she was insistent that I come back to her house with her and have some food (even though I had eaten just two hours before). I got to meet her son and her sisters and their kids and visited two different homes. It really was sweet. It was very dear the way Moma looked after me. About 1pm we set off back to my starting point as she needed to sleep.

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Moma's family

Before heading back to my room for a rest after all the excitement of the morning, I went up to the balcony once again to get a perspective of the market which by then was way less congested but it will give you some idea of it.

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It was so amazing and I simply had fallen in love with this place and the people. That afternoon, it became clear that I needed to stay another night just to enjoy being here. I was not ready to leave. Later in the afternoon, I went back to the market area and enjoyed watching the activity that was constant. Drinking yet another ice coffee, I met a Vietnamese photographer, Son who was delighting in the sights. He was so sweet allowing me to use his tripod to take a few night shots from the favourite balcony above. Luckily he spoke some English.

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The next morning I headed out again on the boat, this time with another woman as Moma was not there sadly. I went for her smile rather than look of the boat and discovered it was not as stable, certainly not very comfortable as the board I was sitting on was pretty narrow and also as I found out she was not skilled with her boats and had people constantly telling her off for this. With Moma I mostly felt confident to stand up in the boat, unless larger boats were passing, but with this other woman, I didn’t dare…. I did not want to end up in that water for sure, especially with those propellers everywhere! The boats all are powered by what are called long-tailed outboard motors, which allow them to be in water of little depth.

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My boat driver the second day at Nga Nam - she does have a nice smile! Wish I could remember her name....

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I totally enjoyed that last morning taking it all in. I of course had another bowl of Pho soup with shrimp and fish.

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This is the woman who made my breakfast and my boat woman

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I had met a young woman, another university student, the night before who spoke some English and she wanted me to visit her parents shop in the market so I spent a little time with them and then had to pack up and leave to get back to Can Tho.

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The university student I met

In the spirit of spontaneity I had decided to change my air ticket date to go back to Hanoi and the north to being 5 days later. I wasn’t ready to leave the south yet. As this time was unplanned in terms of where I would stay, I have the luxury of being very spontaneous, so instead of staying on in Can Tho, I headed off in a Futa bus (hands down the best bus service I have encountered anywhere) to another place called Long Xuyen known also for its floating market. It again is not a well visited town so I knew that the market would likely still be quite traditional. I will continue on with the adventure in my next entry. Bye for now. Dana

Posted by danjali 23:12 Comments (1)

Can Tho in the Mekong Delta

January 29th to Feb 1st

semi-overcast 29 °C

After a brief night stay in HCMC (Saigon) I made my way to Can Tho, which I thought was a smaller town, only to find that in 2012 it had 1½ million people. Again and again I get fooled by these little dots on the map and then discover they are very busy places. I guess I am seeing where the 80 million people are living in Vietnam.

I arrived at Can Tho bus station and had to get a taxi to the “homestay” I was staying at as it was out on the canals where the bus shuttle didn’t go. It ended up being a real hassle as the taxi driver wanted to charge me twice as much as was normal. I knew something was up when he wanted to drop me on the road about a km from the homestay. I had also noticed that the meter was really going up quickly which should have clued me in. One of the staff helped me navigate it, but I must say I was angry as he was telling the staff that I had come from a long way away rather than the bus station. In this country where really there are so many fake brands, there are even fake taxi drivers pose as the trusted Mylin Taxis. You live and learn. After that hassle, I was so welcomed by the Nguyen Shack which happens to be owned by a Canadian man from Montreal and his Vietnamese wife. It was such a beautiful place to land. So peaceful and the staff could not be more helpful and welcoming. They even did my laundry for free. That is a first!

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Nguyen Shack main area with restaurant

My cabin was lovely and delightfully there were very few mosquitoes. I loved having a balcony right over the canal. The food was really amazing too. There was a suspension bridge that we had to cross to get to the rooms and it was a challenge to say the least. They actually would not allow us to cross it with our backpacks, instead the staff carried them. By the end of my stay I had really improved my skills which delighted me no end.

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My bungalow that I spent the second night in. It was huge for one person!

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My balcony overlooking the canal - very peaceful....

The first evening I went out on what is known as the “sunset boat ride” with some of the other guests and lucky me ended up at the front of the boat. It was really lovely to see the river life and people seem to be very friendly here.

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Some very friendly kids we passed

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Fishing Mekong delta style!

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Typical housing in the Mekong Delta along the canals

I arranged a private boat, driven by Mun to take me to Cai Rang floating market who promptly picked me up at 5:30am and off to through the canals we went. It was heaven having my own boat and having a driver who was willing to go around and around the market. As you can see from the photos there is so much happening from moment to moment. It was really exciting to say the least. It was my first floating market. They really are mostly a thing of the past in Asia, mostly having become tourist markets which doesn’t interest me at all. It was wonderful to see all the produce that was being bought and sold never mind the boats selling coffee, tea and drinks and also pho soup. I wasn’t brave enough to have some at that time, so instead had yet another baguette.

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Mun, my boat driver to the Cai Rang Market

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Chrysanthemums especially for TET (Vietnamese New Year). The are Vietnams most beloved flower

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Have you ever seen so many watermelons??

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I had a chance to visit the main land market in Can Tho on the way back and found a monk collecting alms there. He was on his own and had this stillness which was so amazing in the midst of all the chaos of the market. Needless to say I had to take some photos. Compared to other Buddhist countries, I really have not seen many monks or nuns, as they don’t seem to be outside of temples very much.

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His stillness was palpable

The other trip I did was a 3 hour bicycle trip around some of the local schools and workplaces. My favourite part was visiting a Women’s Pagoda where there were a number of nuns who look after 5 orphans who have been dropped off at their doorstep. On Sundays, which it was, there was a temple service which was attended by many locals and after they share a vegetarian meal which we were treated to as well. I have never tasted pumpkin soup like I had there. It was amazing.

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Now of the orphans, being held by Lyly who is the tour guide at Nguyen Shack

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Sharing a meal after the service

Nuyen Shack was such a great place to land in the south. The staff were amazing and Lyly, who guides the local tours is still giving me help when I call or text her. She really is such a dear.

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The great staff at Nguyen Shack

I stayed one night in Can Tho which was enough to see the market and the lights for TET which is New Years. It is quite a sight and I happened to be there on the first night of 2 weeks of celebration so the city was buzzing. The traffic, mostly motorcycles was incredible. I have been learning the art of crossing streets here. There is never a time when there is no traffic. Even red lights don’t really mean anything. People just weave in and out and it kind of works mostly. To cross you simple hold your breath stride out and always looking at the oncoming traffic and simply walk across as they weave around you (mostly!). Best not to stop as they don’t plan for that so that is when accidents happen. I can hardly believe I am so brave, but what to do. I have to cross streets. I was really touched by a young man watching me try to cross one of the busiest intersections and he came to walk across with me. I have been struck so many times with the kindness I have been shown. It more than makes up for the times that have been challenging.

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The lights for TET ( New Years)..... I have to say they do go all out!

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Street food at the Night Market. I tried the octopus and okra and it was amazing.

My next destination is Nga Nam, a very off the beaten track location with a traditional floating market. I hope to get this next entry up in the next day or so. Bye for now, Dana

Posted by danjali 05:49 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

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