Up country ... or down country ... I haven't quite figured out which
18.04.2013 - 27.04.2013 35 °C
So, it's been a couple of months since we last wrote and we've been busy at work but Jill has now shuttled off back to the UK for three weeks to see Daisy and Joe and I'm on holiday for a few days. So, I decided to hop on the bus and head yonder to the Mekong Delta to see a few orchards and coconut trees and spend some time on the water ... and there's plenty of water to spend time on. I caught the 102 bus to Mien Tay bus station and grabbed the first bus out of town to Ben Tre. The bus station is huge and a bus spotter's paradise. It's utter mayhem but hugely entertaining to watch. The bus to Ben Tre had 32 seats but with a little bit of squeezing and total disregard for health and safety we brought in 14 plastic chairs and so 46 of us headed yonder.
Ben Tre is not really on the tourist map and is just a beautiful old Vietnamese town with delightfully friendly people and a very laid back atmosphere. After a wander through the market (spectacularly colourful and pungent) I found myself at the quayside drinking coffee with a lovely bloke who owned a small boat and persuaded me to take a trip on the river. It was absolutely brilliant! He took me around all these beautiful, serene, and peaceful rivers and canals full of coconut groves and loads of kingfishers and butterflies and three hours laters dropped me back at the quay and onwards, via scooter, to the hotel. A fantastic afternoon. The Oasis Hotel is run by Ken, a New Zealander, and his Vietnamese wife, and they were just the loveliest people. They were very accommodating and full of great local information. After a fine dinner of hu tieu chay (vegetarian noodles) and a top night's sleep I borrowed one of their bikes and headed out to explore around Ben Tre. Once off the main roads you find yourself in a completely different world of small roads and tracks that lead you through more coconut groves ... you just find yourself getting lost and then finding your way again ... it's just stunning scenery. I hopped a ferry to one of the islands where there are not cars and just concrete paths for you to cycle on and after 6 hours of cycling found my way back home. A wonderful day!
The next day I asked Ken the best way to get to Tra Vinh and he phoned up a cargo boat and they came and picked me up. So began a leisurely 5 hour ride down the tributaries of the Mekong, picking up and dropping off goods to people, and generally relaxing and watching everyday life pass me by. It was just one of the most beautiful days I have had since being in Vietnam.
Tra Vinh is like a throwback to the 1960s. It's like time has stood still. It's a chaotic and bustling town, also way off the beaten track, but still very laid back and when it gets dark it has the best radio tower I have ever seen, lit up in all it's glory. It's like Pathe News for Vietnam. It is spectacular! Tra Vinh has a big Khmer population as it was, until quite recently, part of Cambodia so there are lots of temples and shrines dotted about the place. Like Ben Tre, the people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, they all say "hello" and they all want to stop and talk to you. It's really lovely.
The next day I took the bus to Can Tho, which is the capital of the region. After three days of sleepy towns it felt very hectic. It's a town that has seen better days and seems to be crumbling away somewhat but it is still quite endearing. I got collared by a bloke in the street who persuaded me to stay at his hotel for $10 a night. I know you shouldn't do such things as you always end up getting fleeced but the room was remarkably good and a bargain! The next day I hopped a small boat and visited the local floating markets and fruit orchards. The floating markets are (sort of) unique to the Delta region and both markets I visited had lots of boats selling fresh fruit and vegetables on the water. It was a great spectacle to see and a fine end to a few days in the country. Vietnam's Norfolk Broads ... sort of.
Back in the city I've managed to cram in visits to the Reunification Hall (stunning), the War Remnants Museum (grizzly), three more pagodas (all highly recommended), 2 games of basketball (Saigon Heat really are rubbish!!!), and a chat with a Vietnamese bloke about English football ... which really revolved around me practising the scores in Vietnamese and him shouting the teams out very loudly indeed. Hugely entertaining. I hope Jill is having a lovely time back home and she'll no doubt fill you in on all the details in a week or two. Alas, no photos of the Mekong as Jill had the camera. Sorry. As ever, we're missing you all. Massively.