We still had some time on our Vietnam visa so decided to head down to the Mekong Delta, the massive agricultural area fed by the Mekong River. Also known as the Nine Dragons River, it is the lifeblood of Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia as it brings the water to irrigate the rice paddies and orchards, as well as the fresh water fish it provides. As we had enjoyed our Cu Chi trip we decided to book a homestay trip to the Mekong with the same company Water Buffalo Tours, again with Quang as our ‘local boy’ guide.
Our first stop was a rural market place Can Duoc, and from the reaction to Ollie it was obvious it’s not a place that see many western tourists. Ollie’s pale skin is in big demand here, everyone wanted to touch him – literally! The locals were all so friendly, wanting to have their photos taken and have a laugh with us – so lovely. It was also a great market for the boys to see as there were lots of live ducks & chickens for sale, and the stall holders gave them baby ducks and chickens to hold – Ollie wanted to buy one of course!
From here we drove to Tan Hoa, Quang’s beautiful village, surrounded by emerald green rice paddies. Here we met his Mum, brother and sister (he is number 10 in his family) and he took us on a scooter ride around his verdant village, stopping at his Uncle Number 4’s house to have a fresh coconut from his trees and feed his goats. (This numbering is how you refer to your relatives to show respect). Lunch was spent at Tan Thanh, a beach-front seafood restaurant overlooking the muddy clam farms, eating the most fresh prawns and clams we’ve ever tasted. Then it was off to the Upper Mekong River to experience life on the river; from the barges hauling tons of dredged sand for the building industry, to those carrying wood and even rice towards the port of Saigon.
Overnight we stayed with a local family in a homestay. Even with limited English we felt so welcome in their beautiful, traditional wooden home. The ‘Uncle’ who owned the homestay was also a famous local chef so the food was incredible, with unusual deep fried Elephant-Ear Fish and even cooking us frogs so we could experience traditional cuisine (they were delicious!). They had puppies for Ollie to play with and a granddaughter for Cameron to amuse, so it was a perfect stay. Then it was time for some exercise with a bike ride around the village. This area is famous for its orchards; growing many types of fruit including Pomelos, and limes and has over 20 million coconut palms, so it is very fertile, steamy and lush, just as you image a tropical jungle would be.
Travelling around the Mekong, allowed us to see some of the other industries on the river that make this place so productive, including the brick making industry, hand filled kilns burning rice-husks for fuel, coconut processing factories and fish-farming in nets underneath the locals houseboats. We also got out of bed at 5am one morning to see the floating markets at Phong Dien, where local farmers come to buy and sell their fruit and vegetables from their small power or wooden rowing boats. They indicate what goods they are selling by hanging examples from long bamboo aerials above their boats. We even had coffee from the coffee boat – so much nicer than Starbucks!
Our tour around some of the 50,000kms of waterways in the Mekong, meeting some of the friendliest people, and watching people go about their daily lives in this incredible delta area gave us a taste of the real Vietnam, and we felt privileged to have experienced what many tourists don’t. Thank you for showing us your beautiful home Quang!
Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Vietnam, as we headed off to Chau Doc, to catch the ferry to Phnom Penh in Cambodia to start the next part of our South East Asian adventure. We will miss Vietnam, it has been an exotic, vibrant and often thought-provoking visit and we would love to return some day.