Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

10.10.2010 - Third day of 3-day Mekong Delta Tour

The third day of our tour started with a very simple bread-and-butter (ok, cheese also got) breakfast in the hotel in Chau Doc. The French loaf is the kind of bread you would get in Vietnam, not the ones we have from Gardenia. It's very tasty on its own, and I think it keeps longer than our bread loaves coz it's hard and dry.

Had some free time before meeting up with our guide for the morning tour. Saw this guy doing BBQ by the roadside. Actually their BBQ was very tasty (dunno what secret sauce they used) and a popular accompaniment to a rice or noodle meal. But ah... the question is whether you dare to stomach the dust and dirt that landed on it whenever a vehicle passed. Or maybe those were the secret ingredients.

Hand-powered tricycle. Very helpful for war victims who lost their legs to landmines.

Ryan got to sit ship again. Our itinerary for the morning was a visit to 'floating village', 'fish farm' and 'Cham village'.

Floating houses. Really floating ones, built on wooden platform and tyres underneath. Smart, no need to worry about floods, and got a 'sea view' house all year round.

Not the kind of lodging if you have motion sickness. But otherwise it was a cool idea. Could move house anytime if got tired of staying at the same place... just hire a boat to tow your house somewhere else.

Ah so this was what the 'fish farm' about. Since the houses were on water, just add a net beneath and put in some fish, you would get live fish whenever you feel like cooking. Here Alex threw some fish food in...

... and the big splash came.

Those cat fish must have been really hungry. The tourists wowed and clapped. Neat trick.

They even have a pig farm on the river. Tahi babi terus masuk sungai. Hmm I would not try to imagine where the folks take their bath or do their washings.

As the boat approached Cham village, Alex told us that some Cham people actually lived on boats all year long.

Oh my! Living on that little boat all year long? So very cham.

The Cham people were remnants from the Kingdom of Champa. They lived a lifestyle very different from the rest of Vietnam, resulting in their isolation. The Cham people were Muslims, and looked very much like our Malays.

For a start, the rumah kampung on stilts.

Then the kids dressed in Malay costumes. Hey someone please tell UMNO or Perkasa, they might want to do a membership drive here.

The beam at the house marked the highest water levels each year from the flooding of the Mekong delta.

A weaver girl at work.

Shopping time.

Cham lady manning a souvenir stall.

Children pestering us to buy pancakes.

A mosque in the Cham village.

Children attending religious class.

The guys wore sarongs.

The Italian couple who used huge Canon dSLRs.

Chau Doc town viewed from the river.

The rest of the day was quite boring. We spent about 4 hours on the bus to go back to Can Tho for lunch and change to a bigger bus.

Yikes Can Tho city was flooded again. Gulped a quick lunch, then got into a big bus for another 3 hours drive back to HCMC.

It was Sunday evening. The motorcycle army was also heading back to HCMC for dreadful Monday, after a weekend rest in the countryside. Riding in the rain? No problem. Or rather, no choice.

A wonderful dinner to reward ourselves for enduring the 7-hour journey back to HCMC.

Would we do the trip again. NO.

The return trip from Chau Doc was long and tiring. Not worth the effort. A better way would be to go northwards into Phnom Penh, Cambodia by boat, rather than turning back to HCMC. Or just take a 2-day tour up to Can Tho, then base there and do some free-and-easy trips around Can Tho.

More importantly, travelling by tour do not allow you the opportunity to see the countryside upclose. The bus only stops at a few tourist attractions, and then end at a hotel in town. You do not have much time left to explore the countryside on your own. Best way I would say, is make use of the tour's comfortable bus and guide, but extend your stay when you're there. Rent a motorbike, or bicycle, and explore the streets and villages at your own pace, walk thru the fields, peep into people's houses, interact with the locals... eat some food at the roadside with extra dust. That would be really good.

With Ryan lazy to walk... no choice but to go by tour.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

9.10.2010 - Second day of 3-day Mekong Delta Tour

Waking up at Can Tho city was a torture for Ryan. 5 am morning call, to catch the boat. The reason was, our highlight of the day was a boat ride to see the floating market in Phong Dien and Cai Rang. Cai Rang had the biggest floating market in the Mekong Delta. Phong Dien was a smaller floating market not far away. The floating markets started very early in the morning, about 5 am, and would be almost done by 9 am. So got to be early to catch the action.

We walked from our hotel to the nearby jetty to board a big boat.

Sleepy tourists on the big boat. River breeze was nice.

Waiting for daybreak while cruising along Mekong river.

A bit like Venice?

As the day brightened, we had a simple breakfast of French loaf with jam or cheese and bananas on the boat.

Scenes along the Mekong river...

A barge for river crossing.


And the beast.

"I want to sit ship", sounded almost like "I want to shee shee".

Our first destination was the Phong Dien floating market.

River transactions.

Quack quacks on a boat.

Trading bananas.

Anybody want to buy my bananas?

Boat loaded with coconuts.

A lady came near to our boat to sell pao. She got many customers, coz our free breakfast wasn't just enough. And it was just so cool to buy something off the river, from a traditional lady on a traditional boat.

We stopped somewhere along the river to visit a rice noodle factory. Not a real factory, more like a backyard industry kind of thing.

This was how rice noodle, the main ingredient of the ubiquitous pho, came about.

Firstly, grind rice into flour. Add tapioca flour at 1:10 ratio (a way to cut cost... tapioca much cheaper than rice ma). Mix with water into the right viscosity.

Spread onto a hot plate. Like how our Indian friends make thosai.

When it is cooked, flip out the sheet with a rattan roller. Alex the tour guide said nothing goes to waste in the countryside. Notice that they used rice husks to feed the fire. The ash would be used as fertilizer later.

Gracefully does it.

Spread a few sheets onto a rattan stretcher.

Put out to dry in the big oven outside. Pray that no bird droppings land on them.

Put the dried sheets thru a shredder. Walla, you get rice noodles. Watch that your hand don't become meat noodles.

After that we continued to visit the Cai Rang floating market. The sun was high already and it was getting hot.

Didn't need to shout to advertise your goods. The poles were for the traders to hang their goods for all to see from a distance.

Orang puteh enjoying the sunshine.

When it was done we headed back to the Can Tho jetty, and then to our hotel. Well, I didn't find the floating market particularly interesting. It was a wholesale market (trading bananas mainly), and our big boat didn't go really near to see the action up-close. The floating market in Bangkok was much more lively and interesting.

I had some free time before check-out. Some street shots of Can Tho city.

"Thanks to the gods for giving me a nice car."

"Thanks to the gods for giving me a nice body."

Spare parts street.

A Vietnamese wedding lunch reception. Very similar to Chinese style. Hey why wasn't the bride dressed in an ao dai.

Almost empty streets in mid noon, so unlike HCMC.

Around the Can Tho fresh market...

Fruit stall with gigantic durians.

The famous Vietnam rice. Alex told us that Vietnam was the second largest rice exporter in the world after Thailand. Reason was, Vietnamese couldn't work as hard as the Thais because Red Bull didn't set up factories in Vietnam. Ok, we were supposed to laugh at this part of the joke.



Bananas, again.

Apa lu tengok?

We left Can Tho at about 2 pm. Tourists who bought the 2-day tour went back to HCMC on the big bus. Us who bought the 3-day tour packed into a little van to go northwards to Chau Doc, the border town between Vietnam and Cambodia.

Sardines in a can. Ohh... van.

The tour made a brief stop at a crocodile farm.

"I miss the Crocodile Hunter."

Baby crocs.

Needed some help to peek inside.

We reached Chau Doc at almost 6 pm. Before going to our hotel, Alex brought us to visit a temple atop a hill. It was called Phuoc Dien temple. It took a long walk up the stairs to reach the temple.

The temple structure was quite nice. But we came here more for the view... Alex said we could see the border between Vietnam and Cambodia from the temple.

New extensions still in construction.

Monk at peace, lepakking.

I wondered which was the Vietnam-Cambodia border.

After a nice bath in the hotel, we walked around Chau Doc town to explore the streets.

There was a nice waterfront park where the locals hang out. Families with kids running loose... joggers... pak-tor couples...

Interesting Mickey Mouse rubbish bin.

Symbol of Chau Doc: a catfish statue.

From there we walked to the market to look for food. The market was closed by then, but there was a food square which was still open.

You guessed it. Noodle soup with sugarcane drinks.

The winds were blowing hard as we finished dinner. So quickly went back to the hotel, just in time before it started to rain heavily.