Friday, March 27, 2009

Vietnam Day 2

Vietnam Day 2

I was very excited to go to the Mekong Delta, since HCMC itself is very urban and not exactly what you might think of when someone says “Vietnam”. Brittany and I had signed up for the trip through SAS since we thought it would be much easier than organizing it on our own.

We boarded the bus very early and looked out the window sleepily when we heard the giddy tour guide announce that we would also be stopping at a Cao Dai Temple. Cao Dai is a pretty new religion having been established in 1926 in Southern Vietnam. We were slightly confused because the stop had not been published in the Field Program and annoyed that we would be going to another Cao Dai Temple when we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels (it ended up working out perfectly, since the later trip included a mass). Caodaism is sort of a combination of religions, if you will, combining G-d as the Saint, Sage and Buddha.

The temple itself is extremely colorful, decorated in bright blues, yellows and reds. The faded paint in its corners reminds me of India. There are sculpted dragons wrapping themselves around columns and a bright alter in the front of the rectangular building. We snap pictures with the lotus flowers as we take in this new religious movement.

We then follow our tour guide to a bustling market. Much more local and authentic than the Ben Thanh (although the Ben Thanh did have sections meant for locals), the smells of raw meat tangle with the heat and make my head swell, but I remind myself that this was true cultural immersion and trek on. Our tour guide points out various funky fruits including dragon fruit and odd melons. Women in conical hats smile at us and invite us to purchase their goods.

We head back to the bus and my eyes close once more for another hour when we reach a rest stop.

This rest stop was absolutely gorgeous! It had a lake chalk full of lotus flowers, some open, some closed. I had a field day shooting the flowers from every angle before boarding the bus for the Delta.

Our bus stops next to a picturesque scene. The sun is shining, the clouds are sprinkled just right and the water is a crisp, yet slightly murky, blue. We take a long, covered, though open-air long boat up the river. I take my long lens and snap pictures of the rural homes along the water and take in the spring sun.

We stop at restaurant along the river. A woman serves us tea with fresh honey and other various spices while we snack on dried coconut and ginger. She asks us if we want banana or rice wine and I ask for some of the rice variety. Unknowingly, I sip the wine as if it were, well wine, only to be vary surprised when it turns out to taste like hard alcohol. The woman then tells me that it consists of 40% alcohol.

After relaxing for a little bit under the hut like canopy, the owner brings out a very large snake to take pictures with. Brittany hops in for a picture while I timidly pet its smaller counterpart. After pictures, the owner shows us wine that is made with dead snakes (an odd irony), their bodies (as well as scorpions) in the mixture (odd, very, very odd).

From the tea shop, we walk a little more in the swamplands (under a blistering sun) to another shop where we take seats under a fan. We are served pineapple and other fresh foods that we do not recognize. We pick at the food while we watch a traditional band play (one man singing, another on a guitar, a women on a traditional looking string instrument).

After the show we walk to a small bridge and board tiny boats. Four of us hop on, each on our own plank with a man and a women paddling. It was a perfect slice of Vietnam, the palm trees and grass sprouting up all around us, the shallow water beneath our boat as we pass traditional homes and snap, yep, more pictures! We don conical hats and feel as if we could have been in a world that existed 500 years ago.

After a little while we are paddled right up to our original long boat. We board and are greeted with fresh coconuts, from which to drink milk. Coconut milk is one of my favorite things (I had it all over south East Asia) so I delved right in. We enjoyed our snack before heading to another stop (this trip was jam packed!), in which we were taught how coconut candies are made. We tasted the sugary treat and viewed the different stations, from the mixer to the cutter and packager.

From there we went to our last stop by boat once more to have lunch (yep, after all that eating we managed to still have lunch). Britt and I went to the vegetarian table (sometimes the meat can get a little sketchy on these trips), so we viewed the full fried fish from afar (yep, an entire fish, fried and displayed on the table!). Our meal was actually very good, it consisted of pho, veggies, tofu and other very yummy items. Satiated, we headed back to the boat and returned to the bus. This was such a cool trip. I really enjoyed seeing the countryside!

After a couple hours on the bus we head back to the ship to shower before meeting up with Becca, Perri and Mark for dinner.

We take the shuttle back to the Rex Hotel. We decide to walk around the city a little more, stopping to take pictures with a statue of Ho Chi Minh. Perri, Becca and Brittany buy more paintings (of the skinny Buddha) while I give my advice once more. From there we head to another tailor for Becca to get a bowtie made for dad. I end up falling in love with a traditional looking top on the 50% off rack. It doesn’t fit perfectly, but they agree to fix it for me, so they take my measurements and we head off to get dinner.

We end up splitting up since Becca really wanted sushi, but Perri wanted traditional Vietnamese. I head off with Perri and Mark, while Brittany stays with Becca.

The restaurant was really yummy and the three of us split five dishes and soda and water for 7 USD each! We had escargot in coconut milk, spicy beef, chicken satay, some sort of a noodle dish and a yummy soup. We meet Becca and Brittany near Tutti Frutti (a tart yogurt place) before heading back on the bus to go home. We had a wonderful day, but were ready to go to sleep (the sun take sit out of you!).

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