Ha Long Bay
Bac Ha
Hoi An

Dec 28, Sun-

We are on the move early in the morning, having left Hoi An for the Da Nang airport, we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City by 9:30 am.  We spent no time in the city and instead, continued on by car down to the Mekong Delta. Immediately we are aware of the change in landscape. While very flat, the land is lush and green and the people primarily farm rice or fish for their livelihood.

Outside of the city of Vin Long, we visited the Van Thanh Mieu Temple. This is an active Buddhist Temple with monks in residence and training.

Many people seeking absolution retreat to this temple. While we were there, a group of 60 women, visiting for several days, were demonstrating their faith through prays and chants.

While traveling to Can Tho, we are never far from the river and its system of canals and waterways that comprise the Delta region. At our lunch stop, we were entertained by this baby monkey and enjoyed the local cuisine of the region - steamed fish, of course.

The afternoon was a long drive. Since Can Tho is inaccessible overland, we must take a car ferry approaching the city from the northeast

The largest city in the delta, Can Tho, is situated at the confluence of Can Tho and Hau Giang rivers. This has contributed to its becoming a hub for transportation and trade.  Our hotel is the Can Tho Victoria and it too is conveniently located on the water's edge.

We are in the heart of the rice lands. However because of the tropical climate, fruit trees have been introduced and grapefruit now is being exported.

Dec 29, Mon -  We depart by boat early for the two major floating markets west of the city: Cai Rang and Phong Dieh. Along the way we catch a glimpse of the local housing and businesses operating  along the water.

The river provides transportation as well as a venue for doing daily housekeeping chores of washing clothes and dishes.

It is not long before the waterways become congested with boats and sampans stocked with everything from household supplies to the more visible fruits and vegetables.  Each boat uses a long bamboo pole from which a sample of its wares are hung as advertisement.

We are able to observe the local people in their daily routine of selling, shopping and socializing.  While the boats are very limited in ornamentation and decoration, the fruits and vegetables as well as the clothing of the Vietnamese provide a festive backdrop of color throughout the markets.

The floating markets provided a means of regional distribution from which merchants and buyers would further distribute the goods into the surrounding cities and local markets. 

As we leave the crowded markets behind, we check out the soft drink vendor before turning into one of the narrow inland canals.  Off the main waterways, we observe the flimsy bamboo bridges built to accommodate light traffic across the canals.   We have a short stop at a local orchard, taste "milk fruit" and visit the "happy room" before returning to town.

From the bottom of the river, sand is dredged and dried for distribution and sales.  We make a giant loop back to the Can Tho town docks and observe the city market building from both water and land.

We have lunch at Nambos, seated upstairs and overlooking the market area.  Afterward we drove toward Chau Doc.  Several hours later approaching from a rigidly straight road across the flat rice paddies, we stop at Nui Sam, a tourist "mountain" with big plans for future development.  From the top of this rocky hill, we see Cambodia as well a Chau Doc (4 km away).  As we walk down the hill individual shrines dot the landscape.



Cafes and food stalls line the edge of the hill.  Built in the early 19 C for Thoai Ngoc, a Nguyen dynasty official, the Tomb of Thoai Ngoc Hau including his two wives is tucked into the side of the mountain's edge.

At the base of the hill, we visit the Mieu Ba Chua Xu Temple - very gaudy - but reputed to be the wealthiest temple in Vietnam. Built in 1972, those who seek financial success seek out this complex.

Chau Doc, not far from the Cambodian border, is situated on the right bank of the Song Hau Giang.  The area is a melting pot for a large Khmer community which combines with local Chams and Chinese.  It was because of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge attacks into this delta area that precipitated the Vietnamese  invasion of Cambodia in 1978. 

Although we stayed at another Victoria Hotel, the Chau Doc property was nothing like our previous experience.  We did have fun with the baby Gibbon monkey who made his home at the the hotel.

Dec 30 - Tues.  Known for its floating fish farm villages, we take a boat out early in the morning to view these communities.  Living in houses built on metal oil barrels/drums or small boats, the villagers survive on and prosper from fishing.  Metal nets under the houses facilitate the capture of fish. 

Floating platforms are used for drying fish in quantities.

Besides capturing fish, villagers also raise fish. Inside one of the houses, we observe a family cooking the food for the fish (shrimp, bugs, greens) and the feeding through openings in the floor of the family's living quarters. Once the fish are large enough, they are either dried (as seen above) or shipped alive in large wooden boats in which the cargo holds are left open to allow the river water to free flow, bringing oxygen and nutrients to the fish.  The mudfish and catfish are usually taken to processing plants closer to Saigon and then shipped on the US.  Because of the high tariffs on catfish in the US today, fish farmers in Vietnam are not as prosperous as in the past.

We cross the river to visit a local Cham community (Chau Gian District). 

In addition to the mosque and school, the Islamic influence is visible throughout the village. However, the community operates under a matriarchal system wherein the women  work and control the money while the men drink and engage in cock fighting.

As we move through the canals on our return by boat, Cham houses, built on stilts, line the water's edge for use of giant fish nets along side of their houses.

We watched some local smuggling, probably cigarettes and other heavily taxes goods, being quickly unloaded as we moved down the river.

We completed our boat ride, circling back into town and by the local market.  The remainder of the day would be spent driving back toward Ho Chi Minh City.  On our way to Cao Lanh, we spent considerable time on two different car ferries, including the My Thuan ferry. 

Cao Lanh is the burial site for Ho Chi Minh's father, marked by a giant concrete clam-shaped monument. We also pass a large communist war memorial built in memory of the those who were  part of this Viet Cong stronghold during the American War. 

We continue on to the Xeo Quit Tourist Jungle, the perfect terrain for hiding the Viet Cong guerrillas during the American War.  The swamp-like landscape made it impossible to build a tunnel system similar to Cu Chi (see Dec 31); however, the policies of "going without trace, cooking without smoke and speaking without noise" sustained those living here during the war.

A camouflaged  look-out platform is was used for viewing the adjacent mined and trip-wired fields.

Our guide,Truan, demonstrates the finer points of crossing a monkey bridge. Jon and I did not attempt this since we knew we would wind up with the ducks.

After a flat tire and several more hours of driving, we pull into Saigon at dusk and check into the Caravelle Hotel.  We eat dinner at Nom Phen, a lovely mansion and outside garden restaurant serving westernized Vietnamese dishes.  We capped off the evening at the Saigon Bar of the hotel.

On to Saigon

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