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Mekong Delta

July 13, 2013  •  2 Comments

*** All images taken with Fuji X-Pro 1 and 35mm f1.4 lens ***

From Saigon I did a quick two day side trip to the Mekong Delta. Due to the limited time I was going to spend there I opted for an organised tour...which I very rarely do unless (1) I have no time, or (2) there aren't any options to do it independently. So...I packed some additional patience and sense of humour to prepare myself as best I could for the sausage factory-style dash around the Mekong. While the Delta itself was interesting, it was the moments I grabbed for myself in between the itinerary that were the highlights.

Once we gathered our quota of international and local travellers together (minus the one that was forgotten who had to catch up!) we set off down the highway navigating our way through the ebb and flow of scooters. When we arrive at My Tho we transfer to a boat for our first tour out on the river...and it's as muddy as I expected! On Unicorn Island we get onto smaller rowing boats and are paddled up the narrow canals which are choked with tourists. Apparently this is the low season! It was quite nice all the same, and I had fun taking pictures of the other tourists. Then the 'get off the boat...have a look at something...take a picture...buy something...get back on the boat' begins. First stop is the bee farm. When we arrive we're told that the bee farm is actually quite far away, but they've nicely arranged 40 bees in a box for us to have a look at. Wonderful. After sampling the honey tea and snacks (all available to buy), they bring out the big python to drape around anyone who wants a photo. They have two of them, so I can only assume they alternate them between boat loads...poor things. They also had a couple of Elephant Ear fish in a tank to tempt us with a lunch option at the next stop. They're a fat grey fish and are a Delta delicacy. I didn't try it, but those who did said it was pretty tasty. Steamed is better than fried. I wish I had ordered it as our package lunch was a far cry from the usual Vietnamese standard.

After lunch we're herded back onto our boat to visit the coconut candy workshop. Industry in the Delta is very much cottage-industry. We didn't see anything that looked like it was produced in bulk with modern machinery. It was very hand-made as it's been done for centuries. In a Socialist society it's all about everyone having a job and capitalism is frowned upon, so I suppose there's little incentive (and perhaps money) to upscale. {Or perhaps the workshops are a front for the unsuspecting tourists and there's a huge shiny factory elsewhere...a bit too cynical perhaps :) } In any case the coconut candy was delicious and we were all happy to buy some.

Our final 'get off the boat...get back on the boat' stop for the day was to listen to some traditional Delta music. There was a single string 'guitar', a xylophone and a couple of singers. It really wasn't my style of music so I took the opportunity to sneak off and have a look around, and found this local lady sitting in her very very basic hut sorting fruit (I'm not sure what it's called, but it tasted like lychee but was round with a yellow skin) [UPDATE: the fruit is called Loongan]. She was happy to allow me to take pictures and feed me fruit...a much nicer experience...and I could still hear the music in the background!

Sorting fruit in the Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta Home Our aquatic travels are finished for the day and it's back on the bus to Can Tho where some of us are dispatched to home stays and others go to various hotels of various quality. For some reason I was separated from the rest of the home-stayers and faithfully jumped on the back of Minh's scooter and vanished into the night. Apparently I was in a village called Kun Than (maybe!). My accommodation was VERY il rustico...and I'm glad I was in the company of 4 Austrian girls (Austria...not Australia...the Australia in Europe...no kangaroos!) rather than all alone as I was expecting at one point.

Mekong Delta home-stay accommodation. The highlight was finally getting to try Banh Xeo...and the home-made version was excellent. The Snake's Head fish wasn't as good however. It tasted like mud to me - definitely a Delta fish. Most home-stayers get to help out in the kitchen and learn to prepare some of the local food, which we disappointingly didn't get to do. We barged into the kitchen regardless to at least see what was going on...and to take some pictures of course.

Preparing Banh Xeo in the Mekong Delta. Staying in rural environments is always filled with unusual sounds, and I didn't get the greatest night sleep. There was a goose-fight next door, and two roosters crowed to each other all night defying the universal rule that they're meant to crow at first light...clearly the rules are different in the Delta. And the locals are early to bed and early to rise, so the scooter traffic started pre-dawn. This at least meant that I got to see the sunrise and we all wandered down to the local market for a look around before breakfast. I love the markets. There's so much going on it's hard to pick out what to shoot. This is my favourite image from that morning;

Mekong Delta morning market I also love this picture of these two cute kids at the local school. They were the first two to arrive, and I'm not sure what made her crack up, but they were both adorable.

Mekong Delta school children. The home-stay is finished and I head back up the tributary to catch up with my tour group. I have to wait for a while, which gives me a chance to look around another local market. It was amazingly fresh. Everything was wriggling, hopping and splashing about :) I'll post an assortment of pics in the slideshow at the end...

Ok...now I'm back with the herd and we're off to the floating market (the most exciting and interesting in the Delta according to the marketing spiel), which conjures up images of a kaleidoscope of colour and a frenzy of trading. It wasn't. There wasn't any trading going on (apart from the pineapple peddlers selling to us)...and the wholesale traders looked a like they'd finished for the day. Perhaps we should have been there pre-dawn when the small traders were buying their supplies for the day. Hopefully the rice noodle making factory is more interesting...[UPDATE: The frenzy of colour only happens once a year during the TET Festival...so these are the pictures used to sell to unsuspecting tourists...don't be fooled, or at least be forewarned!].

Well...it was in terms of photography for me. I tuned out a little to the tour guide and focussed on trying to capture the process as best I could. I'm not sure why they were making such large rice paper discs (I should have listened!), but it made for great shots. I love how the light come through them when they're being lifted off the cooker.
Mekong Delta rice paper production. Are you still with me?! The tour has two more stops: (1) the rice husking mill (complete waste of time - nothing was happening; it was very dirty; and most people took photos of the enormous cockroaches feeding on the flour!), and (2) the fruit orchard that apparently was an add-on for a little extra money (!). It was actually nice to walk around, and it's the first time I've seen the dragon fruit plant. I can imagine that dinosaurs ate these. Mangosteens were the group favourite though.

Mekong Delta dragon fruit. Enough of the tour already! We were all keen to head back to Saigon...only four hours to get back there...let's go.

As I said at the beginning, I'm not good at mass tourism travel and this wore thin several times, but overall I'm glad I went into the Delta. I almost took it off the list, but I would have missed out on some great photo opportunities, and Banh Xeo...and meeting some really nice people. In particular I'd like to mention Mr Ejima from Japan. After 40 years of being an accountant and working every day with 'numbers, numbers, numbers', he's enjoying his retirement by travelling the world and being a volunteer Japanese language teacher. So far he's been to more than 30 countries and has plans to do the Trans-Siberian railway next year, plus a long list of other countries. 67 is just a 'number' Mr Ejima...so continue your travels while you can...it's an interesting planet.

Enjoy the medley of images that fill in the gaps of this story:

If you're viewing this on a smart phone click on the image to start the show, or swipe the image to move to the next one.


Comments

2.Lydia Shaw(non-registered)
You're welcome Mr Ejima...and thanks for dropping by my Blog. It was very nice to meet you and I wish you all the best for your future travels.
1.Masaharu Ejima(non-registered)
Nice to meet you in Mecong Delta. I am a japanese.
I am very surprised that you can up load so quickly, and so beautiful.
and,I am pleased that you mentioned about me very warmly.
thank you very much.
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