Day 11 of #VALORVietnam is complete. The once well oiled travel machine that is VALOR now more resembles the Vietnamese telecom system – a bundled and tatered mess, lacking in consistent access to much of anything (especially energy). You could say we lost our #SWAG. Any semblance of winter back home is replaced with air so warm and thick the mosquitoes swim to bite you.
Most of the day was filled with some sort of travel. Beginning in Saigon, we head south to the Mekong Delta via bus. Some pretty spectacular scenery of rice fields along the way. It is obvious that farmers in the south of Vietnam have more access to land and mechanization. There are some rice harvesters and tractors evident as we pass. The bus ride is not for sleeping however, as there seems to be a speed bump at every bridge or kilometer, whichever is sooner. Makes for a good core strengthing routine as you try to maintain your upright stature in the seat. The lighter ones in the group have been known to actually get a little airbone – this never happened to the more normal size ones of the group, (for Cliff and I gravity has a slightly bigger impact).
Arriving in the Mekong, we boarded our tour boat. The water here will definitely make you reconsider a swim. Full of sediment, there is no visibility whatsoever. We are also able to confirm why Vietnam ranks in top 5 plastic polluters of the ocean with plastic botttles and trash littering the floating Hyacinth. Along the rivers, you can see the catfish farms that are made from dikes, and the water is pulled from the river to supply the ponds. It was kind of neat to see where the local farmers had fenced off sections of the shoreline. This is basically laying claim to that land, with the intention to expand their ponds in the future. Our tour guide said it is basically as simple as paying off an official.
We first travel to a local village rice paper manufacturer. Rice paper is essential here evident by the number of spring rolls I have eaten. At this rice paper “factory” they have automated the rice paper manufacturing process. It is really the first “efficient” process I’ve seen in Vietnam. Imagine a room the size of many peoples family rooms, filled with small stations for rice paper. People sit at their station all day, pouring, cooking, and removing rice paper for about $3 per day.
We then go to a local market where you can expereince all types of Vietnamese culture: Rice popcorn, coconut caramel, peanut brittle, snake wine, snake holding, cock fighting, & as always some sort of shopping – whatever you fancy. Everyone tried the rice popcorn and caramel. The snake wine was left to the more adventuresome of the group. While the image may freak you out a little, it really just taste like cheap alcohol. The snake wine for those wondering is believed to promote male virility. Not sure how, but hey, when in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese in this case I guess. At least I can say I did it (and survived).
We then docked and boarded our row boats to travel through the canals. These rowboats are not much more than a very shallow canoe. Better keep yourself centered here as you could end up swimming in some refreshing Mekong water. The canals are a little less hectic than the streets of vietnam, not having any motorbikes to dodge, but there is still traffic. I took the opportunity here to stretch out, and “rest my eyes.” If I could have only gotten one of those with the cone hats to fan me, offerring me gentile breeze, I may could have drifted off into a little power nap. (It’s hard to get good help).
Finally, we arrive at our homestay, Ut Trinh. It is a nice open air concept, with hammocks, some fans, mosquito nets, and a bed that really more resembles a table. We all took a bike ride into the village for about an hour (not quite the 2nd leg of the Tour de France as before). Here we found out how important it was to keep yourself hydrated. Biking in mid 90 degree weather with humidity so high you can about see it, you can lose a lot of water (where is the Gatorade?).
We also got to participate in the meal preparation, and then were served a nice meal. Then the locals gave us a little entertainment with some Vietnamese music. It resembled some folk style music, and told a story. Most people retired to bed early, as we are all dragging. The heat, constant on the go, and time adjustment can be a little draining. I avoided bed as long as I could, knowing that my body was going to not be too happy with the bed.
Traveling here makes you apprecieate the cleanliness of our water, air conditioning, and my bed at home. At the end of the day though, it is what you make it. The group had fun, the people were hospitable as always, and we survived another day in Vietnam. Hard to believe how fast it has gone.