Saturday, March 2, 2013

Mekong Delta- Vietnam of my Dreams

We had a wonderful day touring Saigon. As we sat and ate lunch with Day, we talked about his life and family and living in Vietnam. He explained that his business allowed him to support his family. He was so proud of his daughter who was about to graduate from the university and his 15 year-old son that is in high school. He loves his country and showing tourists the true Vietnamese culture. As we talked, he told us stories about the Mekong Delta. We were hooked and decided to do a 2 day motorcycle trip of the Mekong Delta with Day. He promised to pick us up outside our hotel on Thursday morning.
Ready for my motorbike journey. Unfortunately, the dog stayed behind.

We awoke Thursday morning wondering if Day would actually meet us or if we needed to make alternate plans to Cambodia. The plan was to ride the motorbikes down to the Mekong Delta where we would stay in a guestroom. We would visit his girlfriend’s village for lunch, tour the Mekong delta by boat and have a sunset shrimp BBQ. From there, we would visit the floating markets and then take a bus to the Cambodian border and a boat up the Mekong River to Phenom Penh, Cambodia.

Our backpacks were stuffed as we checked out of our hotel. Day arrived early and we loaded the backpacks on the front of the motorbikes.  I was smart and went for full coverage today…the Vietnam traditional full coverage face mask. 
I look like I am going to hold up a bank
We were off! The trip down to the Mekong Delta took about 3 hours. We sped past farms and stands selling fruits, farmers fishing the canals and rice patties. We stopped for a quick “numb bum” rest at a roadside stand and enjoyed a rest in the hammocks. It was a slice of heaven for my weary back side.
Fara relaxing in a hammock. This is the life!
Day showed us the rice fields and explained the rice is harvested 3 times a year. It is cut and dried for 3 days then sent to have the hulls removed before it is sold as food. The rice patties were beautiful green and very lush. Yes, I walked in them and did not see any snakes! Whew! We returned to our bikes and continued towards My Tho where we crossed the Mekong River on our way to our guesthouse in Ben Tra.  I have seen everything on a motorbike. If you can tie it on, you can carry it! We saw families of 4, ice blocks, pigs, ducks, tv/DVD player and a cement mixer. My backpack did not seem so large after all.
We arrived at our beautiful guesthouse at 11:30 and rested for an hour. It was very clean and beautiful and only cost $10/ night. The woman that owned the house brought waters for "the American girls" before we set out on another journey. After a half hour rest, we left to go buy a fresh chicken for lunch and then to make dinner in a quaint village. We stopped at a roadside stand and picked out a live chicken. They put it in a grocery bag and handed it to Fara. She refused to hold the live chicken and they were given to me. Seriously, you want me to hold it on a motorbike? Luckily Day took it and put it on a hook on the front of the bike. Nice chicken. I can’t wait to eat you.
Lunch...trying to find taste chicken
This woman was excited to sell us vegetables for lunch
We traveled through lush, quaint villages and stopped to buy fresh vegetables and fruit (carrots, onions, lemongrass, rice noodles and papaya). Then we traveled on to the village. Day butchered the chicken and then gave Fara and I a tour of the garden. They had coconut trees, pineapple, cacao, and fresh herbs. Day picked a coconut and cacao pod for us to taste. I just kept smiling as all of this was unfolding. This is the reason I love travel.  I love the authentic experiences that put you in touch with the region. We watched as they steamed the chicken with garlic, lemongrass and chiles. The only concern we had was the head and feet were in the pot! Yikes! Please do not ask me to eat those parts! Then, Day got a bottle of Banana Wine to share with us. I was expecting a sweet wine but it was more like liquor at 38% alcohol! WOW! I tried to be polite but that stuff burned my throat and made my eyes water. I had to get back on a motorbike. The lunch was delicious. Thank goodness I did not get chicken parts I didn’t want. I just left anything that was questionable for the dog to eat.  
After a few hours of relaxing, we were off to explore the Mekong delta by boat. We visited the Coconut Monk Island where a monk lived for 3 years and only ate coconut and coconut milk. Then we were off to taste homemade coconut candy. Yummy! It was delicious. The final stop was to pick up dinner… 1 kg of fresh shrimp and cold beers for a sunset BBQ on the Mekong River.
We anchored the boat and started a hibachi grill on the back of the boat. We enjoyed Vietnamese 333 beer as we grilled the shrimp, laughed and talked over the sunset dinner. Vo! Cheers!

Grilling shrimp on the Mekong River
Sunset on the Mekong River
Afterwards, we stopped at the WC before we drove back to the guesthouse. I walked into the ladies room and looked around. No western toilet. I turned to my left. Then, my right. No porcelain hole in the floor. No hole. No drain. Just two buckets. One full of water and the second 1/3 full and a plastic bottle floating in it. Hmmmm. I didn’t know what to do. There was no one to ask. A girl does what a girl does and no looking back. We were back on the motorbikes to the guesthouse and a good nights sleep.  
The second day of the motorbike tour through the Mekong Delta we were headed to Cai Be floating market. It was another hot and sunny morning. It felt great to have the wind in your hair and the sun on my back. I found myself smiling, excited to be experiencing this beautiful country on the back of motorbikes. I wanted to see all of Asia on motorbike. Our first stop was a morning breakfast of vegetable pho. It is a rice noodle based soup with vegetables (mushrooms, carrots and onion), tofu and Thai basil. It was light and delicious. Then back on the bike. The roads become smaller as the land became more lush and beautiful. We passed orchards and farms as we crossed through the land and villages. There were children riding bikes to school and women in their hats on the way to the village markets. All of this was what I had dreamed of seeing and I found myself smiling as I enjoyed the beauty, sounds and smells of the countryside. We stopped again for a roadside coffee and rest as Day filled the bikes with gas. I tried my first Vietnamese coffee…oh my! It was delicious. And good reason for it. Instead of milk, they use sweetened condensed milk. The coffee was very strong and very thick but oh so yummy. Thank goodness it is just espresso size.

Day and Thuiey ordered a fruit bowl/drink for us. We sampled all of the local fruits. Then we were back on the bikes. We continued as the path become smaller and no cars were in sight. Just motorbikes and bicycles. For some reason this is where we witnessed 4 motorbike accidents. I guess they get a little more daring when there are no cars. Luckily everyone seemed fine. But it did make me wonder if we would be safe the rest of the day. At one point Day asked "Are you ready for a butt massage?" Huh? Ummmm. I was confused. Then he said hold on as we went over a rickety old bridge. "Vietnamese butt massage with no hands!" Day said as he laughed. I was starting to get really sore by this point.
We arrived at the floating markets and left our backpacks with the motorbikes and Thuiey to watch them. I hope she is stronger than she looks and can fight off any potential thieves. Those are all of my belongings! Day lead us to the river and we were given “lady hats” to wear on the boat. I loved them! They kept the sun off my face and shoulders and made us look like locals.

Fara and Mik in our Lady Hats
We headed out onto the Mekong River and cruised past boats selling their wares and food. Everyone smiled and waved to us. I think they were as excited to see us as we were to see them! Day stopped and bought us some fresh pineapple and milk fruits to eat as we journeyed through smaller canals. We noticed on our way back to the markets that tourist boats saw the 4 of us in our small boat  with the "lady hats" and they were lined up to take pictures. I laughed and wondered if they noticed the blonde hair! I guess we finally blended in. It was cute when we got closer to the boat and the tourists were waving at us. We looked up with our cameras to take a photo. I think it was the moment they realized we were also tourists.
Day took us into the market and we saw rice being popped (like popcorn) and made into candy. We enjoyed a leisurely tea before heading back to the motorbikes. I was ecstatic to see my pack was still on the bike. No worries! Day explained it was time to catch the bus. He took us down the road to a shop and told us this was where we would get the bus to the boarder of Cambodia. We said our goodbyes and thanked him for the trip. We sat on the side of the highway waiting for a man to flag down a bus and wondered why we did not go to the bus station. But, in no time, the bus arrived. We paid the man and were pushed on board. I walked up the steps and was ecstatic when I realized it was a sleeping bus! Yay! I could rest and relax a little on the next 4 hours. Then I looked closer and noticed there were no seats. Women and children were sitting in the aisles. Uh- oh! Seriously?!?!? The bus was moving and I was getting yelled at by the driver. Seems I was supposed to take my shoes off when I got on the bus and put them in a black bag. Then I was told to sit down in the aisle. No! My big old butt was stuffed in and I was not certain I would be able to get up off the floor in 4 hours. Oh well, bad decisions make great stories. Right? I scrunched my knees up to my chin and held on. Fara was lucky to get the step of the bus so she had a little more space. I looked over at my neighbors and they were all smiling and laughing with one another. I am not certain if they were excited to have a foreigner on their bus, laughing at my bigger size or both.

There was definitely excitement. The driver asked where we were from. When we replied the USA, you could hear everyone repeating "USA" all the way to the back of the bus. I think we were more of an attraction than they were to us. At the next bathroom stop we had to get off the bus, put on our shoes and wait for 30 minutes. We laughed as other people and buses pulled up and the people would point and stare at us. We smiled and waved. Children walked up and said “hello, goodbye, or peace” to us. They are so adorable and beautiful. Some would play peek-a-boo and others just smile. We were put back onto the bus and sat for a few more hours. Our next leg stretch was when the bus boarded a ferry. The driver allowed us to get out. We put our shoes back on and stood on the ferry talking to the drivers. Fara laughed when she saw the driver pointing to others on the ferry. He was proud that the American girls we were with them on their bus. The people would all smile and wave. A few brave individuals walked up and pinched our cheeks or touched my hair. It was so cute. I love the Vietnamese people more each day. They are so happy and kind. They always smile. After 2-3 hours on the bus floor people started to get off the bus and we eventually got a seat for the last 2 hours. Ahhhh! My back and bum are in need of some pampering after 3 days on the back of a bike and squatting on the bus floor.
We arrived in Chau Doc with no reservations. We got off the bus. I bent over to tie my shoes and put on my backpack and stood up to find 5 guys asking if we needed a ride and hotel room. We decided it was time for a taxi and negotiated it for the 5 miles to town. We arrived in town to find it hot and dark. The power had gone out and the hotels were booked. The owner made some calls and got us a room at the hotel. I am not sure who got bumped but it was very nice of him. He promised that the air conditioning would be working as soon as the power was back on. No worries. We dropped our bags in the room and went for a walk to find dinner and explore the town. The town center was alive with families going for dinner and enjoying the warm evening with no electricity. Street hawkers were grilling food and everyone was enjoying an evening by candlelight. We wandered the city looking for a busy restaurant to eat. Neither of us remembered the guide book so the plan was to just point and eat something…anything. We found a lively sidewalk cafĂ© and sat down. A woman brought us a menu (in Vietnamese) and the adventure began. The only problem was that nobody wanted to wait on us or the table next to us. We started to laugh that the staff was fighting over who would get stuck with the American girls. Nobody would make eye contact. The table next to us got tired of waiting and left. We were isolated and nobody wanted to take an order. We finally decided to go somewhere else. About this time all of the power went back on in the city. Yippee! We would be cool tonight. We decided to have dinner at our hotel and then it was time for showers and bed. We were leaving at 6:30 AM for a boat trip up the Mekong River to Phenom Phen, Cambodia.

I am having an amazing journey. I love the adventure and truly feel alive. Good night and peace and love to you all!  


  1. Such fun to read all your journeys.....take care and we live ya!!!!

  2. Hi Michelle,

    Dien here. If you're in Hanoi, Vietnam, go visit Halong Bay. If you're in Cambodia and need a tuk-tuk driver and/or guide for angkor wat, email Sophoeun, Phoung at Tell him I sent you and you'll be well taken care of.

    Continue having a great time!

  3. Thanks Kristin and Dien. We are enjoying Vietnam and Cambodia. Dien, we are headed back to Vietnam on Thursday and I definitely plan to get to Halong Bay. We are loving Siem Reap and the temples and looking forward to some cooking classes the next few days. Food has been so delicious.