17 October – Ben Tre – Soc Trang (Mekong Delta tour)
Up early, which wasn’t too bad this time, seeing as we’d had a relatively early night. Get our stuff organised and then went for a bit of a look around the homestay, Gite Nha Vuon Nam Hien.
It has heaps of character, and it’s been really well done with the layout of the buildings and gardens.
Over to breakfast by 7.30am, and today it’s pancakes with two types of homemade jam. One is a pineapple jam, and the other is dragonfruit, strawberry, jackfruit, and a couple of other tropical fruits that I can no longer recall.
Doesn’t really matter, as both were beautiful.
A fresh banh mi with butter came with that, as well as the opposite to caphe sua da; caphe sua nong.
That’s ok, happy to change it up occasionally….
We spent a bit of time talking to the owner, and also met her husband. We then did the photo thing.
Seriously lovely people, and the whole thing just makes it that little bit more difficult to say goodbye.
But, the time eventually comes, and we’re on our way just after 8.30am.
Back out on the main road, and it’s already very warm as well as extremely humid.
One thing that you notice quite a bit in Vietnam is the tendency for the same types of businesses to be in either the same street, or the same area.
Well, this area is where you’ll find plant nurseries. Lots of them!
And selling all different types of plants; ornamental, fruit, and even topiary.
The size of some of the topiary ones is just staggering. You would need a pretty significant sized garden to fit them.
While Lisa and the boys have a cold drink, I fend off the first lottery ticket seller of the day.
Seriously, I’m not sure what’s changed, but something certainly has….
On our way again, and while there’s a bit of traffic around, it’s not too busy.
Every so often, you come across the usual vendors on the side of the road selling whatever it is that they’re into.
And as usual, there’s a few selling the same thing.
The ‘product’, around here?
Yeah, we didn’t stop…
A bit later we pull over, but not for a break. Wang has a puncture.
Fortunately, it just so happens there’s a motorbike repair guy over the road, no more than 20 metres away.
At the time, I thought that was extremely fortuitous. Now, I have this tiny lingering doubt in my mind that maybe we were always going to get a puncture there. Yes, sometimes I can be a little sceptical….
Anyway, we head over to give the repair guy his nail, or whatever it was, back, and wait while he does his thing.
Now while it may, or may not, have been fortuitous that he was there, having the business that was next door to him certainly was.
It was a girl making twine out of coconut husks. She had this rather large machine that you fed the husks into at one end, and then out the other end came the twine all neatly rolled up on spools.
It all happened really quickly, but it was fascinating.
New, as well as unexpected, thing seen, we headed back to see how the puncture repair was going.
Well, he’s obviously done this before, as he was almost done. Certainly a bit quicker than Toan a week or so ago.
But then again, I bet this guy isn’t a tour guide….
Tyre now doing its job, we move on.
Heading towards Tra Vinh, we’re soon crossing another one of those big bridges. And like the one yesterday in My Tho, this one is also huge.
Then again, I suppose they need to be when they’re spanning ridiculously wide rivers.
While not all bridges are huge down here, they do all have one thing in common. None of them meet the road at either end with a nice smooth transition between bridge and land. If you had your eyes closed, you would have no problem picking when you go from one to the other.
Hopefully you’re still sitting on the bike when that moment occurs, and haven’t been bounced off the bike by the considerable bump.
Apart from that, some of them are impressive bridges.
On we go, still wary of bridges, and it’s close enough to lunchtime that the school kids are now on their way out.
Still incredibly well dressed, as all Vietnamese school kids always seem to be, but this time they look a little different.
In this area there is a fairly strong Khmer influence, and they have slightly different characteristics. But one thing remains the same; the number of bicycles on the road when school is out.
I love it, probably because you don’t see it in Melbourne, or probably Australia for that matter, anymore.
We make a quick stop for petrol, which is good, as it gives you a chance to stretch your legs. As well as give your bum a break.
Lisa’s knees are apparently sore. Here we go, I think….
I probably should show more sympathy, but you don’t hear me complaining about how sore my bum is.
We’re only part way through day two, and already she’s……, well…., you know…..
Confirmation of the decision to leave her at home while I saw the North with Toan.
Just outside of Tra Vinh we pull over to have a look at a Khmer temple.
Yes, another temple / church, but seeing as it’s the first of the day, then that’s alright. So long as it’s the last….
Bikes parked, we head in.
Well, big, colourful, and ornate, are probably the words I’d use to describe it. Because that’s exactly what it was. It was also impressive, and yet another building that you just look at and wonder how they put it all together.
Khmer lesson complete, we head outside in search of our footwear. Fortunately, they’re still there, as you would expect in a place of worship.
Especially in such a quiet and peaceful place like this. A couple of the Monks were even outside feeding the birds, which just added to the serenity of it all.
Well, until Wang accidentally set off his bike alarm….
Peace and quiet quickly restored, and we’re on our way again.
While it’s been warm all morning, a bit of cloud cover has helped to keep it reasonably comfortable.
But that cloud cover has now gone, and the comfortableness has now pretty much disappeared.
That, along with her knees, is not a good thing.
Being the caring and loving husband, I deal with it by not making eye contact. If I can’t see her getting upset, then she isn’t getting upset.
We eventually arrive in Cau Quan, and it’s now time for lunch. We pull over at a very local, and very non-descript type looking place, at least from the front, and head around the back.
My bum is very happy for the break, as I’m sure Lisa’s knees are too. I didn’t ask. Or look…..
Well, the back of the place reveals all. It’s outside, but it’s kind of inside, too. They’re like little individual rooms, but also quite open. I like it!
Because we haven’t been sitting much today……, it’s nice to take a seat and relax. I still don’t really understand the desire to sit down after you’ve been sitting down for so long.
So, the big decision; what to eat?
The boys go through the menu, and the option of rat is a possibility.
Would we like to try rat?
Well, because I’ve never had rat, yes, yes we would!
Not sure if Lisa is that keen, but that’s not my concern.
So, rat it is, along with whole skewered fish, (poor Lisa and her seafood avoidance thing….) morning glory, green mango salad, and rice.
Oh, and Pepsi’s. Actually, several Pepsi’s, along with plenty of ice. The last hour or two had been hot and thirsty work.
Ironically, as the food arrives, so too does the rain. It’s not that heavy, but steady enough.
“That’s ok”, says Wang, as he looks skyward, “It’ll stop before we get back on the bikes”.
He seems to know what he’s talking about, and seeing as we’re in his ‘backyard’, I’ll take his word for it.
And the food? In particular, the rat?
Yeah, good! Rats are a little bony, but the flavour was really nice.
While enjoying my rather tasty rodent, and knowing how much Tung, back up in HCMC Tung, loves traditional, slightly out there, exotic food, I send him a text about what we’re eating.
He’s very happy for me, probably because it’s me and not him, and thinks I’m more Vietnamese than he is.
Haha, I like that!
Batteries recharged, suitably refreshed by Pepsi’s, which could well be a first, and we make a move. It’s still raining, but it’s not heavy, so we cover the bags in plastic, but not us.
Remember, Wang the weather forecaster says the rain won’t last.
And anyway, we’re only 30 kms from Soc Trang. Doesn’t sound much, but we also have two more ferry crossings. We’re also on motorbikes. And we’re in Vietnam.
So yeah, 30 kms is a little longer than it first seems….
On the bikes, and we’re on our way.
Less than a minute down the road, the heavens open.
Tung quickly pulls over outside a local’s house with a covered veranda, and the mad dash for plastic clothes ensues.
While that’s happening, the lady who owns the house comes out with some chairs for us so we can sit down and wait it out. I just love that empathy and willingness the Vietnamese have, to help out others.
A few minutes later, Lisa and Wang show up.
Hmmm, had actually forgotten about them….
Wang is looking rather fetching in his pale blue plastic pants and matching top, and I think the backpack that he is wearing on his front, underneath the plastic top just adds to the whole look.
Lisa is also all ponchoed up, and she, well, she never really looks that good when she’s wet….
We wait a few more minutes, and the rain has actually stopped. We try again.
Eventually back on the road we came in on, which looks like it’s one of the town’s more main roads with quite a few businesses on it, and the rain returns.
We all quickly pull in under an awning. If it was heavy before, then this is Noah’s Ark type stuff, and within a few minutes, the street has water flowing down it.
A girl from the shop that we are out the front of, comes out with some chairs for us. Again, I’m blown away by it.
So we sit, and wait.
Well, three of us do, while Wang plays in the rain.
It was funny, but seriously, he ain’t no weather forecaster….
It finally stops, and we head off. There’s water everywhere, and in some parts, we drive through flooded sections. That’s another first; haven’t done that before.
We soon get to the first ferry crossing, and as we do, down the rain comes again.
Fortunately, this ferry crossing has an undercover area, so at least we’re ‘dry’.
Well, we would have been, if we weren’t so wet….
We sit and wait, while looking at the river. It’s incredibly choppy, and the rain is coming down so hard that you can’t see the other side.
That’s not good, as if you can’t see the other side, then the ferries don’t run.
So we sit and wait…
Eventually it eases, and as the visibility improves, we can see the ferry on its way.
In the meantime, lots of bikes have turned up. Along with a bus, as well as a fairly large beer truck.
The ferry arrives, and everyone drives off. The mad rush to get on then begins.
A few bikes, then the bus and truck, then more bikes. But not as many as I’d like, as the bus and truck have taken up considerable room. The beer truck I’m ok with; that’s important; but the bus…, well…, yeah, not so much.
The last couple of bikes try to push on as the ferry starts to lift its ramp. That’s alright, except for one guy who has one final attempt at getting on after the ramp has actually left the ground.
Fortunately, the common sense that was missing when he made that decision, quickly returns, thus saving him and his bike from a watery end.
The ferry moves away, and we sit and wait some more. Normally that would annoy me a little, but it was nice to just hang around and soak up the sights and the environment. And to just think about where we were, and what we were doing.
As well as watch a monstrous, very dark, and very threatening looking cloud roll towards us.
And then, a ‘Wow’ moment.
Or perhaps a bit more of a ‘I can’t believe I’m seeing what I’m seeing’, moment.
A guy pulls up on a motorbike to also wait for the ferry. Nothing unusual in that.
But it’s what he’s carrying on his bike.
As he comes to a stop, I motion to him if it’s alright if I take a photo. No problem, he motions back, with a bit of a smile. But perhaps also wondering why I think his bike is worthy of a photo.
Oh, it’s worthy.
The boys chat to him and it turns out he’s carrying something like 70 ducks.
I’m blown away. And still am.
Eventually the next ferry arrives, and this time we manage to get on. And as we do, that big black cloud arrives to do its thing.
Three quarters of the way across, and we can no longer see the other side. It’s teeming down.
Doesn’t stop the lottery ticket seller from trying, though…
We get to the other side, and as we get off, Tung asks if we should sit it out, our just go to the next ferry, which is only ten minutes away.
“Let’s go”, I say, “We’re already wet!”
We do, and ten minutes later, we’re at the next terminal.
But Lisa and Wang aren’t behind us.
Five minutes later they appear. Apparently, they were waiting for us, which is a little strange, seeing as we were in front of them.
It’s still raining when the next ferry arrives, but not as heavily, and we squeeze on. Before long, we’re across to the other side.
And still, it’s raining.
Never, ever, ever listen to Wang when he gives weather advice…..
Down to just 20 kms to go till we get to Soc Trang, which is good. But I’m now starting to feel a little nervous.
We continue on, and finally the rain stops, which makes our last few kilometres far more comfortable.
We turn off before hitting Soc Trang itself, and it seems we’re not far from our destination.
Pulling off the main road, and now onto a much narrower local road, we then cross a small waterway, before finally pulling up outside our accommodation for the night; a house.
But not just any old house. This is Wang’s parent’s house. Yep, a genuine, authentic homestay.
But this is more a ‘being invited to stay in a local’s house’, type scenario, as they have never hosted a western person before.
I’ve been really looking forward to this night for quite some time, but at the same time, I’ve been a bit nervous about the whole thing, as I’m not really sure what to expect.
Off the bikes and finally out of our wet weather gear, we meet Wang’s Dad – Mr Black, because he’s very tanned – and then his Mum.
Wang’s uncle is also there; Uncle Five, because he’s the fifth child.
Embarrassingly, I’m actually happy with these names; I find them much easier to remember than Vietnamese names.
Yes, I’m not proud of that….
Formalities done, they show us to our room. It soon looks like a laundry as we go about drying clothes and bags.
Fortunately, most stuff was in the zip-lock bags, otherwise is could have been far more of a hassle.
Quickly back outside with the family, and through the boys, we find out that Uncle Five wants to show us his house, which is also home to his business. His business is actually buying and selling balut eggs.
Tung asks if we’d like to go, and seeing as I do, as well as Uncle Five seemingly really eager to show us, we head off.
Back on the bikes, and it’s now very dark. But at least it’s not raining.
A few minutes down the road and we’re there. And sure enough, one section of his house is full of balut.
We take a seat and meet the rest of the family. And then it begins.
Would we like something to eat?
Seeing as we’ll be having dinner soon; which I am really looking forward to, but at the same time slightly concerned about how much there’ll likely be; I’m reluctant to start using too much of my stomach at this early stage.
But of course, the word ‘no’ is never really an option, and pretty soon there’s a plate on the table with papaya and orange. That is then followed by canarium nut.
Wang’s Auntie was about to then cut up a watermelon, but we managed to put a stop to that. They even offered to cook up some balut, which I’ve actually had before, but again, we were able to spare the stomach space.
Seriously, their generosity and kindness was incredible, and it was lovely to feel so welcomed.
We did the photo thing, which I was very happy about, and then headed back to Wang’s parents.
Wang then took us down to see another Auntie, as well as his grandmother, who lived just a couple of doors down. I think this was Auntie Three, which should give you a hint as to where she fits in, when it comes to family matters….
While the numbers and descriptive names were easy at the start, it was now becoming more difficult due to the sheer number of numbers….
Wang told us a little about the history of the house, and about what was in it, and why it was set up in a certain way.
It was incredibly interesting, and I couldn’t believe that we were getting this opportunity.
We headed back to Wang’s, and while I had a much needed shower, Lisa ‘helped’ with the food preparation. Let’s just say that fish paste balls are not her specialty.
But this wasn’t about Lisa’s food shaping abilities. It was all about being included in Wang’s family life.
It was madness, with so much going on, and so much noise. Tung actually said that the preparations were a little like what happens at ‘Tet’, (Lunar New Year) which just made it a bit more special.
Finally, the food was ready, and we made our way to the front family room.
And there, on the floor, it was all laid out.
While not having too many issues with sitting on a floor, doing both eating and sitting at the same time does present a slight problem for my obviously aging, and no longer as flexible, joints.
Needless to say, Lisa and her knees were somewhat more challenged.
This was quickly rectified with the help of tiny Vietnamese stools. It’s amazing how great the difference is when there’s a mere two inches between bum and floor, compared to none.
And the food?
Well, where to begin….
Barbequed prawns, chicken salad, noodle soup, snails, a hot pot; all just beautiful. But oh my, that hot pot.
I’m now really starting to understand that food thing, over there.
So yes, lots of food, several beers, along with a few rice wines with Uncle Five and Wang’s cousin.
But once again, and more importantly, it was all about where we were, and who we were with.
Lots of talking, lots of laughing, and lots of translating. Never before have I so badly wanted to be able to speak Vietnamese.
They told us how nervous they had been when they found out we were coming. They didn’t know what to expect.
Ha!, they were nervous!?
They then told us we were not guests, but now more like family, and that we were also welcome back at any time.
I then remembered the incense sticks from yesterday, so asked Tung if he thought they might be something that they’d appreciate. He said yes, so I asked him to explain to Wang’s Mum where they had come from, and that we would like her to have them.
He did that, as I handed them to her, and she turned and put them straight into her alter cabinet. (I really hope that’s the correct term)
She didn’t need to say anything, and to say that I was touched, would be an understatement.
With the food and plates cleared, we sat around and enjoyed a few more beers.
Wang’s Mum then got out a photo album with some wedding photos, which then got Lisa to show off some of her photos on her phone.
Yep, we really did feel like part of the family.
It was starting to get a little late, and even though we had an early start the next morning; with the alarm to be set for 4.00am; I just didn’t want the night to end.
In fact, that last beer was the slowest beer I’ve ever drunk.
Eventually, the inevitable had to happen, and we said goodnight.
We’ve had some memorable nights in Vietnam over the years, and this was certainly another one.
But this one was just that little bit more special. And one that I will remember forever.
And while the 4.00am start was going to be tough, it had nothing on the ‘goodbye’ we were going to have to do.
I wasn’t looking forward to that….