Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day 14 - Mekong Delta and Homestay

Day one of a two day tour of the Mekong Delta, a waterway system in South Vietnam known for it's floating markets, rice production, and fruit orchards, among other things.

Woke up bright and early again to get on a bus. Stood around with all the other foreigners on the side of the street to get on our respective buses, depending on if we were taking a 1, 2, or 3 day tour. For some reason, all the foreigners took the 1 and 3 day tours, so I got on a bus with 2 Vietnamese families and 1 Kiwi.  I didn't know if I got on the wrong bus or not. We had a mini group of about 12 people.

The first stop was in Cai Be, which was about a 3 hour bumpy bus ride. It didn't help that I took my malaria meds on an empty stomach and I felt nauseous the whole way. When we arrived at Cai Be, we took a boat around the delta and canals and stopped at a village that made rice desserts and rice paper- the wrapping that is used in many Vietnamese dishes including spring rolls. We then stopped at another village that raised bee farms and produced honey products including Royal Queen Jelly. The jelly is not actually honey, but the nutrients that worker bees provide to the Queen to make her live longer. I'm not sure of the efficacy of such products on treatment for humans though.

Afterwards, we had lunch at a village and were able to see some of the daily life of these people. Some of them were in the canals hunting for sea snails, others were swimming in the waters or rowing small boats. I had a conversation with the tourmate from New Zealand, who told me a little about the history of New Zealand and how the country is adamant about separating itself from Australia. He also told me a little about the travel culture of recent college grads. It's pretty common for Kiwis and Aussies to fly to London to start their travels, maybe rent a flat and a minivan, find a job there, and travel around Europe and everywhere else. It's an entirely different expectation for college grads there compared to America, where everyone is so focused on starting their careers right after college.

We traveled to Vinh Long, where we walked around the markets. All the markets in Vietnam pretty much sell the same produce, meats, and other goods. At the end of the night, we took a bus ride to Can Tho and part of the tour group stayed at a hotel while another part participated in a homestay.

I opted in on the homestay and it was a little scary at first because we were transported by taxi at night to the village, and it took a while to get there because the taxi driver got lost in the darkness of the small alleyways of the small village. To top it off, it was raining and none of us knew what to expect with the homestay. When we arrived, we were greeted by one of the villagers, who took us on a boat to cross a small river to his home.

I assumed the homestay would be an authentic live-in experience where I would live with a family and do the things they do on a regular basis, but it was more of a "tourist" version of a homestay. Everyone who signed up for it were taken to this one family's home, but there were separate bungalows for each party, separate from the house that the host lived in. We all sat together at dinner and helped wrap spring rolls before they were fried. We then had a big meal of fresh fish spring rolls and fried vegetarian rolls (made of sweet potatoes and peas). But the tourists all had dinner together, and afterwards we all just sat and chatted for a couple hours.

It was good though to meet new people. Met a couple of people from Switzerland, a couple people from Singapore, and a couple people from the U.S. Learned a little about Singaporean politics and their economy, which is mostly service and manufacturing based. Since the country is so small, they have absolutely no agriculture, and pretty much imports all its food. They recently had an important election where some independent party members won some seats in the government, which was a big deal because the dominant political party - the People's Action Party has long been in full power since the country first gained independence. The country also requires men to serve in the military for a certain amount of time since the country is so small, similar to Israel. What was surprising was that they also had that requirement in Switzerland, even though it's a "neutral" country.

At the end of the night, we all toasted and had rice wine before retreating to our own bungalows.

Riding along the delta in Cai Be

Making rice paper - notice where the paper is being dried, which is where it get's its weaving pattern when you purchase it in the markets

Puffing rice to make rice desserts - The pieces of rice are cooked in a pan of hot black sand

Handling pythons at the honey bee farm. The fear is masked by the happy face.

A woman collecting sea snails in the canals

Rowing along the canals

My bungalow at the homestay

Wrapping spring rolls

Our homestay dinner


  1. That dinner looks so good!!!! I miss you Philip! be safe anddddd call me on skype!

  2. miss u too barbara! i'll try skyping you soon when i have better internet