Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam (part 2)

The highlight of our time in Vietnam was the time was spent in the Mekong River delta. We spent two days touring in this area, which was a 90-minute drive from Saigon. Along either side of the freeway was farmland, beautiful countryside dotted with rice fields and farm houses.

The river is wide here at the point where it begins to spread out in its final surge to the sea. Many people live and work along the river, their houses clinging to the banks in ways that often seem to defy the laws of physics.

We spent two days on boats of various kinds and sizes, exploring the different parts of the delta and learning about how people live and work there.

There were houseboats and fishing boats and cargo boats and small boats that ferried people and goods across the river.

There were also many fish farms along the river. All of these low buildings are built over underwater pens that contain fish.

 Where the river was very wide, it looked a lot like the Amazon did back in February.

We turned off of the main channel and into a tributary, and we really felt like we were back in Peru!

Most of the boats had these brightly colored eyes painted on the front. Our guide said it was a tradition from the time when people believed there were monsters in the river. The eyes were there to frighten the monsters into thinking the boat was a bigger monster, and so discourage them from attacking.

We stopped at a local village which apparently has a thriving tourist industry going. They had a pavilion where they served tea and fresh fruit, and people played music and and sang for entertainment.

From there we crossed the village in a pony cart. The pony was tiny, but it cantered down the road as if it wasn't carrying a cartful of people.

We rode in an even smaller boat down a narrow stream.

I have to say that these hats are actually fantastic for shade, but they're also really cool because they just barely sit on top of your head. Unlike most every other hat I've ever worn, they don't hold in heat.

We had lunch at a restaurant that was a series of platforms over a pond full of flowering green plants. It was a beautiful spot for a restaurant. 

It was a set menu, a typical Vietnamese meal of grilled fish, fried rice, stir-fried noodles, and soup. It was all very good! There was rice paper on the table for making our own spring rolls, and that was a lot of fun. That's something I want to do at home: grilled fish, rice noodles, raw veggies, lettuce, and wrap it up. Yum! 

We visited a candy factory that makes chewy coconut-based sweets.

Everything is done by hand, including individually wrapping the pieces. The candy was very good, though I think I was the only one who really liked it. Doug and Carter, not so much.

Another place we visited was a shop where a woman was making rice paper (for wrapping spring rolls).

The rice paper dries on woven racks.

We also went through a shop that made snake wine, which is rice wine in which snakes are marinated. I declined to try some, though looking back, perhaps I should have. ;-)

There were live snakes as well.

On the second day we went to a different area and started out with a tour of a floating market. I had expected the floating market to be similar to the ones we'd seen in Thailand, which were fairly touristy, but these were not touristy at all. They were actual farmer's markets on the water, where locals were buying and selling produce.

We stopped by a fruit vendor's boat to buy some fruit. Carter likes lychees, but he's only ever seen them in the can. They're easy to peel, but sort of crazy looking. We also got to have some Jackfruit, which is incredibly good and something I haven't had before this trip. That's something I'm going to have to look for at Central Market at home.

We even tried some durien, though this one didn't smell as bad as I've been led to believe. It tasted a bit like Jackfruit, but the fact that it smells a bit rotten and has a really soft and mushy texture, so that can put you off a bit.

There were lots of interesting boats along the scenic waterfront.

As in Peru, most people who live on the water sleep in hammocks, and so most boats had hammocks that the drivers would rest in. Carter spent a lot of time hanging out in the hammock on the second day. 

 We visited another candy factory on this day, and this one specialized in candy made from puffed rice. So basically, rice crispie treats!  Here a man is stirring rice in a big pan over a fire to pop it. It sounds just like popcorn popping.

Then he poured the puffed rice into a sifter to sift all of the husks out.

The puffed rice is mixed with sugar syrup and rolled out in a pan to make the puffed rice treats.

We had some snacks and tea here. The little cellophane bags contain some puffed rice treats.

Carter likes tea!

At one point when we were cruising around on the open water, the driver asked if Carter would like to drive the boat. He jumped at the chance and drove it around for about 15 minutes!

After that, our guide gave him a microphone (the boat is set up for tours) and Carter narrated our journey. It was pretty entertaining!

In the more remote areas, the people who live along the river live very much the same way as the people in the Amazon do. Of course, the Amazon people are much more isolated than these people are.

These people were pulling in their fishing nets. 

 We had lunch in another restaurant set up in a local family's house. The owner of the house came out to drink some very strong homemade fruit-based liquor with us, and we were served a meal very similar to the one we'd had the day before: grilled fish with vegetable and rice paper for making our own spring rolls, fried rice, a brothy soup, and stir-fried vegetables with noodles. Carter surprised us by tryin quite a few new things, including some rice paper. You can see a lychee peel on the table in the foreground.

And then it was time to get back on the boat to cruise around a bit more before our day was finished.

Here is a video showing some of the sights on the water, including Carter entertaining us at the end.

Next up: Koh Samui, Thailand.

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