Sunday, November 11, 2012

Saigon and the Mekong Delta

Chris scheduled a business trip to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) last week, so I decided to tag along.  We had been there in 2007 with our dear friend, Joni, but we hadn't made it to the Mekong Delta area just southeast of the city, and it was on my list.  So, I contacted a tour company with a fleet of sampans and scheduled a day in the Delta while Chris had meetings. But I'm getting ahead of myself.  We arrived on a Sunday morning, and since Chris was free until Monday morning, we wandered around the Dong Khoi area of the city, a kind of tourist section with hotels, restaurants and shops.  We visited the cavernous indoor Ben Thanh Market and I tested a new zoom lens on the thousands of motorbikes whizzing past.  (I was told that there are 10 million people in Saigon, and 9 million motorbikes.)  Indeed, we had to keep our wits about us crossing the street!

Monday morning I was picked up at the hotel by a driver and guide, and then we drove a couple of hours to the Ben Tre area of the Mekong Delta.  Ben Tre is a sizable town, but we stuck to the river, bike paths and villages.  I could hear the sound-track to "Apocalypse Now" as we motored down the small tributaries with the palm fronds nearly touching from either side.  Occasionally, we'd spot a sampan carrying fish traps or bags of rice going to market.  My guide, Tho, and I disembarked and mounted a couple of 3-speed bicycles that took us to a few family-run businesses all using rice, which is abundant in the area, or clay from the river banks.  To picture our route, just imagine a partially-paved bike path snaking through verdant jungle with small houses peaking out from behind palm trees - it was magical.  We observed rice noodles being made, using a machine that looked like a primitive shredder; we watched a woman making rice won ton - style wrappers on a clay steamer; and toured a small brick factory with ovens fueled from rice and coconut husks. Later, we enjoyed an incredible 5-course lunch at a river-front house used by the tour company as a home-stay.  (Will chalk that up for future reference....).  It was quite a day - just wish Chris was there to enjoy it as well.
Inside a brick oven

A denizen of the Delta
At the War Remnants Museum
A side trip:  I flew home to Singapore on a Tuesday evening, so that morning, I decided to seek out the War Remnants Museum which was founded shortly after the "American War of Aggression".  It was sobering to see the exhibit of photographs, guns, airplane fragments, tanks, choppers and claymore mines from the Viet Cong point of view.

No comments: