This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution in the 2006 journey, click to the left or right of an image in blog mode.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Up the Mekong from the Delta

Tour boats on the My Tho arm of the Mekong delta

We made it through the Mekong Delta in a ravished kind of way. The tour left Saigon at 8 and the first thing that happened was they put us on a bus for Hanoi and only discovered half way up the street when they collected the tickets. Then we had to wait for half an hour at TNK Travel (we had booked around the corner at TM Brothers). Eventually a TM Brothers bus came and we got on very happily with some air con and space to put our luggage and musical instruments in the front.

Map of the Delta showing My Tho where we first went on the river,
Can Tho where the floating markets are and Chau Doc
where we stayed the night and set off up the Mekong to Cambodia.

We were then taken to My Tho and went out on the river to some neighbouring islands where we were rowed up some small canals and given coconut candy, lemon honey tea a small lunch and fruit. The whole thing was a ridiculous tourist circuit with endless crowds converging on the same spot, although the food was tasty and there were free opportunities to be photographed entwined in a python.

Two views of the river from the departure point

Fish farming operations along the river banks

Coming to the islands

We take small tour boats to go up the channel

On operation making coconut candy

Boa hugging

Green tea with fish

We get in even smaller row boats to get to the next 'event'

A restaurant built over the swamp waters

A very fruity lunch with a musical accompaniment

Video of a Musical Lunch

When we returned we had to wait 45 minutes because the bus wouldn't start. Then we were unceremoniously dumped in the back of a crowded public bus with no receipt to the border town Chau Doc traveling late and driving into the pitch dark.

This meant that we entirely missed the floating markets on a tributary flowing into the Mekong's other causeway at Can Tho, so I have included a few internet images to complete the Mekong Delta picture. Cai Rang Floating Market is open all day but it is busiest from sunrise to about 9am. The main items sold there are farm products and specialties of Cai Rang Town, Chau Thanh District and neighboring areas. Every boat has a long upright pole at its bow on which samples of the goods for sale are hung.

 During the early morning market hours, larger sized boats anchor and create lanes that smaller boats weave in and out of. The waterway becomes a maze of hundreds of boats packed with mango, bananas, papaya, pineapple, and even smuggled goods like cigarettes. Small boats that sell beer, soft drinks and wine go among the other boats to serve market-goers and visitors. Sellers tie their goods to a tall pole so that buyers can see from a distance what they are selling.

Internet images of the Cai Rang floating markets which we missed in Can Tho

The bus trip to Chau Doc was another experience. At first I protested when they wanted to dump our luggage including the medicines on the roof but having climbed up myself to make sure the pack was safe relented. Later they quite sensitively stopped the bus when it began to thunder and brought the luggage inside. Things got even more bizarre when we were ordered off the bus at a checkpoint which proved to be a vehicle ferry and made to go without the bus to the other side of the Mekong channel without the tapes and musical instruments.

However they sent one of the bus touts with us to make sure we understood there was some connection happening. The bus did eventually arrive on about the third ferry and we finally arrived in Chau Doc and to our delight the bus stopped outside the guest house we had been told was the one putting us up for free and we got a sweaty room with a fan for the night. They also helped us find the last restaurant open and we found a mad temple in the town square - a public park whilc doubled as a Buddhist temple with gaudy neon lights, goddesses and lots of people making offerings.

The night ferry rides across the Mekong channels

A temple in the park in Chau Doc

Early morning in Chau Doc

A quick breakfast of tea and toast before we depart

A crippled beggar woman and a stooped old lady in the markets

This morning we were awoken at 6 am had breakfast and then taken out on the river again for what proved to be a much neater experience, firstly to one of the fish farms which line the river and then to a Muslim Cham textile village on the shores edge. After that we spent 3 hours driving up the widely flooded Mekong to the Cambodian border, sometimes so wide and full of islands and channels that it seemed to reach to the horizon.

The border crossing was straightforward for $20 US for a visa on arrival + $2 for the guide to do all our visas at once and we then boarded another bizarre noisy Capitol guest house slow boat for another three hours of river to the ferry crossing at Nek Luong. The scenes along the river in Vietnam and then Cambodia were intriguing and different, the former developed to a limit and the other rural.

To display another contradiction in the communistic capitalist world that followed Deng Xiaoping's reforms all the way through South East Asia , the guide on our trip up the Mekong pointed out that despite Vietnam's communist government, the financial realities of education in Vietnam are at a capitalist extreme. People have to pay to send their children to school, because there is no such thing as income tax. The government has only just got around to drafting a law to charge company tax and only when this comes into effect will we see educational supplements.

Out on the river

Scenes at a fish farm

Scenes at a weaving establishment

The dried placentas of the children are traditionally kept in the roof

Heading up the side arm of the river that takes us to the main channel to Cambodia

The flooded river has spread out far and wide over the adjoining land as far as the eye can see

For a long time there is no left hand side to the channel just trees in the water

Many of the side tributaries seem to link to more flooded land areas

A local motor bike ferry

The boat takes off up a linking channel through flooded fields

Elephants and horses on the river bank. People on the shore are friendly and wave out.
(Lower right) Eventually the side arm of the river meets the vast main channel.

A panorama of the main channel

Dredging operations on the river

The Vietnamese border post

We wait in the cafe while the guide gets our passports stamped out

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