16 October – HCMC – Ben Tre (Mekong Delta tour)
Damn it! A ‘goodbye’ day.
All packed up and downstairs before 7.30am.
We do the ‘goodbye’ thing with Tung and Vy. It’s hard.
Hopefully it’s more a ‘see you soon’ type of farewell, rather than the more permanent sounding ‘goodbye’.
I just don’t know when that might be…..
The boys arrive on time and we sort out the luggage strapped to the bikes thing. It all goes relatively smoothly; lucky we packed light.
Just wish we’d packed lighter….
We’re on our way just after 7.30am, and before we know it, we’re into the madness that is HCMC traffic.
And when I say madness, I mean madness.
So many bikes, so many cars, so many people, so much noise. Absolutely loved it!
As we start to leave the city the scenery begins to change. But there’s still lots of traffic, and there’s still so much going on.
We pass a roadside market. And when I say roadside, I mean literally right next to the road. As in the vendors were sitting less than half a metre from the traffic going past.
And whatever it is that you need to buy, you could buy it right there. Food, clothing, shoes, whatever.
A little later we pull up outside an incense factory, and Thang (Tung) takes us in for a look while Quang (Wang) keeps an eye on the bikes and our belongings.
While I’d heard of incense factories before, I’d never had any great desire to see one. They’re not something I use, and I’d always imagined that visiting one in Vietnam would likely be a bit of a tourist trap.
Well, I now have a newfound appreciation for incense sticks.
It was really interesting, and the range of sizes, styles and colours was something that really surprised me. Apparently, a lot of the sticks, particularly the bigger ones, are exported to various Asian countries.
On the way out, the owner, while showing us the sticks that were all packaged up ready to leave, gave us two packets of some pretty ornate and very colourful sticks.
I certainly didn’t expect that, and the gesture was much appreciated.
I did, however, have a small doubt in the back of my mind whether or not we’d be able to get them back through Customs when we returned to Australia.
Will worry about that later….
Back out the front, and fortunately, we find Wang and the bikes where we’d left them.
A little further down the road we pull over again, this time for breakfast.
And just for something different from the past two days, and with absolutely no complaints, we’re having banh mi again.
Banh mi’s packaged up, we head on a bit further before pulling up outside a coffee place.
Yep, time for that caphe sua da thing again.
It really isn’t a bad way to start a day; banh mi, caphe sua da, and people watching from the side of the road.
Although, some of the people that we were watching didn’t seem as happy with their day as we were. A fairly large group of school kids exercising in the park opposite, with the vigour and excitement you’d expect from teenagers that would be far happier if they were sitting around staring at the screen of some electronic device.
To be honest, I couldn’t blame them, as I would have been bored out of my mind, too. But still, it was fun to watch them.
Tung and Wang are fans of my second favourite drink, too, with Wang exclaiming ‘so good!’, on several occasions while drinking his.
Banh mi and coffee done, we were back on our way. But not for long, as we stopped to look at a church, or temple, type thing.
Yes, you know, one of my most favourite things. But only if there’s no more than one a day…..
It was actually a church for people who practice or follow the religion of Caodaism.
Anyway, apart from it being a very bright and colourful building, which was interesting in itself, it was the way that several religions had been ‘brought together’, that I found more interesting.
Still not my thing, but it was nice to know that they could live in harmony.
Oh, and the mix of religions were Taoism, Catholicism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
Thank you again, Google…..
Tung then took us around the back of the church to see where and how some of the church’s leaders lived. Some of them were preparing food, and while I felt like we were intruding a little, they seemed more than happy for us to look around.
Very basic amenities, but at the same time, a very warm and welcoming place.
Our one church / temple done for the day, hopefully….., we headed back out the front hoping Wang and the bikes hadn’t been stolen.
Never fear, they were both there. He’s obviously much tougher than he looks….
On the move again, and half an hour later we pull over at our next stop.
And this one is to see a market.
From the road it’s perhaps not as interesting looking as most, but once you get into it, well, yeah, it was good!
And like most good markets, you can buy anything and everything here.
Including a crate of baby ducks, if that was your desire. Not really needing, or wanting, a crate of cute, fluffy ducks, we instead had a couple of photos taken with them.
Cute animals done, we headed on towards the more ‘cute challenged’, ones. Which I find even more interesting.
Seafood. Oh my, so much seafood. Then again, down that way a little closer to the water, I suppose it’s not that surprising.
Along with the seafood, there was all the other food as well. Meats, vegetables, fruits, eggs. You name it.
We come across an older lady selling pineapple and Tung decides that we need to buy some. No problem there, seeing as I consider pineapple to be the absolute King of fruits.
But even better than the pineapple, was the lady herself.
She was talking to Tung, obviously about us, and he translated that she thought I was attractive.
Notwithstanding her obvious vision issues….., she apparently said that I have the three main attributes that women look for in a man.
I am tall, I have fair skin, and most importantly it seems, I have a great nose!
I’m not sure what makes it great, but if she says it is, then it is!
It was lovely ‘talking’ to her, and she really was so friendly. And when I went around to have a photo taken with her, she loved it.
It’s a photo that I now cherish.
Interestingly, and while I didn’t get any more compliments, just about all the other stall holders were just as friendly.
It surprised me a bit and I wasn’t expecting that. I’d been blown away by some of the locals up North who had seemed so interested in me, but this was just a step up from that. They just seemed so genuine.
Yeah, it was a bit of an eye opener.
Perhaps a little more enlightened, we’re soon back on the bikes.
However, a little further down the road, we hit an obstacle. But it’s a good obstacle, and an obstacle I’d been looking forward to.
It’s a river, and the road runs straight into it. Which means we are about to do our first ferry crossing.
We stand around for a little bit just watching local life both on and off the river. As well as other passengers turning up to get across to the other side.
No one like us here.
As the ferry pulls in I start taking a few photos. And as I do, two women on the ferry start waving to me and smiling.
I then take a photo of them, making sure they knew that was what I was doing. That made them smile even more.
It turned out they were lottery ticket sellers; it’s like we’re being stalked by them….; and when we finally got on the boat, I showed them the photo I’d taken.
They thought it was hilarious, and then, through Tung and Wang, they told us they wanted me to put the photo on Facebook to try to help them get husbands!
It was a lot of fun, and just added to the whole experience.
Off the ferry a few minutes later; 4000 Dong per bike, plus 2000 Dong extra for a pillion passenger; and we’re well and truly in rural farmland.
And then, a box ticking moment. Not a big box, but one that I had had in the back of my mind for a while.
Dragon fruit plants!
Told you it wasn’t a big one, but it was significant enough for me.
I was going to say that I’d never seen them before, which is kind of true. But I had actually seen them 18 months ago from the window of the plane as we approached HCMC, in the dark.
How is that possible?
Well, they string lights between the plants and keep them lit at night to help them grow.
So yeah, I could see where they were, but I couldn’t actually see them.
But now, I could. And I was very happy about that.
Box ticked, we moved on. Until our second obstacle. Yep, another river.
I’m liking this….
While we wait for the ferry, Tung takes us on a boat ride down the river. Once again, it was all about seeing local life on the river. Busy, and interesting.
Back just in time for the ferry, and a few minutes later, our second body of water is traversed. Back on solid ground, Tung asks if we’d like to go the direct way, or the more out of the way route, to our next stop.
Having not been here before, I find that difficult to answer. But seeing as I’m of the belief, particularly when you’re on a motorbike, that ‘out of the way’ is always better than ‘direct’, then out of the way it is.
And out of the way it was. Little back streets, with ‘streets’ not being a terribly accurate word, small houses dotted around, fields of lush green produce of whatever variety, and local people doing their thing.
We soon come to a bit more of a main road, and again I’m not sure ‘main’ is the most accurate word, and pull over at, well, I’m not really sure what it is.
Turns out it’s a plant nursery; chilli plants to be specific.
We head down a bit of a path, and in amongst various areas with very small plants, are a few local women working.
Oh my, talk about labour intensive!
Filling tiny little palm or banana leaf???, ‘pots’, with a soil mix, before someone else adds the seed.
It was fascinating, as well as a little surprising, but at the same time, it was just so Vietnamese. I loved it, but also had an immense appreciation for the way they went about it.
While it was a job that looked so daunting to me, these women seemed to both embrace it and enjoy it.
A little later on we stopped at a roadside stall / café / restaurant for a break. I didn’t think too much about it initially, but after the sugarcane and ice drink appeared on our table, the boys introduced us to Khoi’s mother. It was her place!
While I’d only ‘met’ Khoi in person a couple of days earlier, it was lovely to meet his mum, as well as know that we were in an area that Khoi had a real connection to. It just added to the whole experience while we enjoyed our drink, as well as some of that fruit that I can never remember the name of.
It’s the one that’s a bit smaller than a golf ball, has a hard-ish, but thin, skin, a very hard black nut inside, and the flesh is kind of jelly like and clear.
They’re nice, but they always remind me of an eyeball.
A big ‘cam on’ to Khoi’s mum; hopefully we’ll get another chance to meet down the track; and we’re back on the bike. Next stop, lunch.
Through more countryside, more towns, it’s never boring. Coming out of one small town we’re chased by a local guy. My first thought is that it’s some kind of ‘toll’ that needs to paid. But no, he hands Tung a card advertising a restaurant.
Ahhh, he’s touting for business by trying to get tour guides to bring their customers to his restaurant.
Thanks, but no thanks, is Tung’s response.
On we go, and for quite possibly the first time today, we’re on a fairly ho-hum type of road. Natural, but average looking, bushes on the right, and fairly non-descript sort of land on the left. Not awful, just not overly interesting.
Oh well, at least my neck is being given a rest.
But then, all of a sudden, the bushes on the right come to an end and reveal what’s been behind them for the last 15 minutes or so.
It was most definitely a ‘Wow’ moment. Not so much because there was something ‘spectacular’ to see, but because it was so unexpected.
I’m not sure what I was expecting to see, but it certainly wasn’t that.
“Oh, oh, oh, pull over”, I say to Tung while patting him on the shoulder.
He does, as does Wang and Lisa.
Camera is removed and ready before I’m even off the bike.
In front of me is a sea that is as far removed from the crystal clear blue waters that you see in travel advertisements, but in my opinion, far more interesting.
Murky brown / grey water, obviously due to being in the vicinity of countless Mekong tributaries, Vietnamese fishing boats, stilt house like structures actually in the water, as well as locals foraging for shellfish.
And off in the far distance, apparently, is Vung Tau. Which is good, because for the first time today since leaving HCMC, I have a rough idea of where we are. Mind you, it was only a very ‘rough’ idea.
Photos done, and still shaking my head at what seemed to magically appear, we’re back on the bikes.
Three minutes later we pull over again. We’re at our lunch stop.
“Oh geez, Tung, if you’d told me the restaurant was this close we could have just done the photo thing here”, I said, laughing. I felt a bit guilty for making him stop when we were so close.
Off the bikes and we head over to an outside restaurant on the opposite side of the road to the beach. The tables are under some trees, as well as a bamboo structure.
We take a seat while the boys talk with the family who own it; a husband and wife along with their daughter.
A few beers then turn up, and I know you’re going to struggle to believe this, but I actually said ‘no thanks’.
I don’t tend to drink much beer during the day; it’s more my way of finishing a day.
Anyway, I was feeling quite pleased with my strength and commitment, until the boys mentioned that Khoi had specially arranged these particular beers for me.
Well, that just changed everything….., as I opened the first one….
Damn you, Khoi! But thank you! And it was the kind of place that just deserved a beer.
It’s then not long before the food starts to come out; prawns first, followed by bowls of fish soup.
And not for the first time in Vietnam, it’s at about this point that I begin to worry about the amount that is going to be put in front of us.
Yep, fears are realised, as a large bowl of pippies arrives on the table.
But we’re not finished, yet.
A pork dish, along with copious amounts of rice.
Aaaargh, this is going to get uncomfortable…..
So, how was the food?
Well, there were a few things that were memorable about this lunch.
One was where we were. Including what we were looking at. It seriously was brilliant!
Another was the food, which was ridiculously good. The prawns were beautiful, the pippies were great with the dipping sauce, and even the fish soup was so flavoursome.
But the pork.
Oh…. My….. God…. the pork!!!!!
I’ve said before that while I really like Vietnamese food, I haven’t really always understood the ravings of people over it. Yes, yes, that eat to live thing.
But this pork, seriously, was sublime.
Unfortunately it was the last dish to arrive, so space for it was limited. But I managed to come to an agreement with my stomach, and, well, we managed to find some extra room.
He wasn’t happy, but my taste buds were.
And when I told them how much I loved the pork, the mother told her daughter to go and make some more. Seeing as we still had some left, that we were never going to be able to finish anyway, I quickly put a stop to that little scenario.
But it was a nice gesture, and just more confirmation of what we’d found down here in the Mekong already today.
So yes, it was all about the location, the scenery, and the food.
But there was one other thing; and that was who we were there with. Not just the boys, but the family that owned the restaurant.
Their kindness, generosity, and genuineness was unbelievable. We’ve met some incredibly friendly people over the last three years in Vietnam, but they were right up there with anyone else that we’ve had the pleasure to spend time with.
Almost time to make a move, and they want to do some photos with us.
Absolutely no problem with that!
Photos done, and they tell us through the boys, that if we ever return to the area, they would love to see us again.
Yep, absolutely no problem with that, either. Would love to come back!
But this whole thing has now caused a ‘goodbye’. A day time ‘goodbye’, and a ‘goodbye’ that didn’t exist an hour ago. And the second one for the day!
Geez, meeting nice people is tough….
Time to go, hoping the ‘goodbye’ is more a ‘see you next time’, and we’re back on the bikes.
We soon leave the water and head inland. As we do this, we start to see a lot more people.
We probably notice them more, because they’re noticing us. Vendors on the side of the road, other road users, school kids. As soon as they see us, they’re waving and calling out.
We’ve had a bit of that happen before, but this was even more so. And as always, it was lovely, and the interactions always mean so much to me.
Went through Go Cong, and then eventually on to My Tho. My Tho is big. As too is its bridge.
Actually, the bridge is huge!
We stop for breaks every so often, but Lisa is starting to struggle. She says it’s her knees, but I think it’s probably more her mental strength.
In the interests of health and safety; mine; I decide to keep my thoughts to myself.
On we go.
It’s now starting to get a little dark, which is not really too much of a problem, but we still have one final ferry crossing to complete.
And now, sitting on the back of the bike, this gets me thinking.
I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that the ferries probably don’t operate after dark. And if that’s the case, and we don’t make it, then today could well become very long indeed.
Watching the light, watching the road up ahead for any signs of a river crossing. I do this for what seems like an hour.
It’s not, of course, but it seems like it. And it worries me.
Partly because I too am now struggling a little, and partly because I will have to deal with a certain person on another bike, if our travelling time is unexpectantly increased….
Finally, just after 5.30pm, up ahead in the now gloomy grey, the lights of a ferry terminal. And even better than that, is the fact there are people waiting.
Ahhh, just a little bit of relief sweeps over me.
While we sit and wait for the boat, I tell Lisa of my concerns. She hadn’t thought of that, as I expected, but judging by the look on her face, I think we all may gave dodged a bullet.
The ferry arrives, and we board.
Not knowing exactly how much further we have to go, I use the toilet on the boat.
That was, ummm, interesting.
Ever tried using a Vietnamese squat toilet, in the dark, out on a moving boat?
And I wasn’t even trying the ‘squat’ thing; I was standing!
Note to self; scrub legs and feet thoroughly in the shower tonight….
We get to the other side, legs now reasonably dry, and it’s very dark. Lights on, dark.
Through the streets of what looks to be a very small town, before turning off down a very narrow road. And there it is, our accommodation for the night.
I can’t actually see much of it at the moment, but what I can see looks really nice. Be good to see what’s around us in the morning.
But that can wait. I have far more pressing needs.
I ask the boys if there’s a chance we can get one. Or even two???
They ask the owner, while we head off to check out our room.
Wow, it’s lovely. And it has a great bathroom and shower.
There’s a knock at the door; it’s the owner.
She has four beers on a tray. I want to kiss her, but seeing as how we’ve only just met, I decide a heartfelt ‘cam on’, would be more appropriate.
Looking at the four beers, and knowing that there are four of us, I know what needs to be done.
But, because I don’t know exactly where the boys are; I think they were next door, but sometimes ignorance is bliss…; I decide to look after the beers myself.
Yes, I know, not very hospitable of me, but they weren’t getting any colder. And anyway, it’s hard work riding pillion on a bike. And, I did give one to Lisa.
Beer snaffling justified, in my eyes anyway, I go about enjoying them.
And enjoy them I did, along with the shower which was much needed.
Especially by my legs….
Suitably refreshed, and partly, but still with more work to do, rehydrated, I head over to the kitchen where Lisa and the boys are learning how to make spring rolls.
I decline the offer of doing the same, instead concentrating on being the official photographer and beer taster.
As far as presentation goes, Lisa and Tung are pretty good. But Wang is woeful. And I mean seriously woeful.
His spring rolls are less ‘roll’, and more ‘triangle’ like. He seems to think it’s ‘freestyle’ spring roll making.
Hmm, I just think his fingers won’t do what his brain wants them to do….
Spring roll lessons done; two graduates, one repeating next year; it’s time to eat.
And eat we did, as is the Vietnamese way.
Obviously the spring rolls, along with a pork dish, some squid, some rice, of course, and probably some other things. Can’t remember the intricate details, apart from it being really good, but do remember the company. And that’s what it was all about.
We got to know the owner a little bit, who is just lovely, as well as chat with the boys and just generally relax. While enjoying a rice wine or two, of course.
It had been a pretty full on day, but a really good one with lots of really memorable moments.
We head back to the room, and while Lisa ices her knees, I do my usual bed thing of TA, beers, and a little note taking.
Lisa crashes about 9.30pm, and I’m not too far behind her.
Another big day tomorrow, if it’s anything like today, along with what could be a pretty special night.
Excited, but also slightly nervous.