18 October – Soc Trang – Can Tho (Mekong Delta Tour)
The alarm goes off at 4.00am. That hurts.
But not as much as the ‘goodbye’ that’s coming.
And Wang’s Mum is now making that just that little bit harder.
She’s already up and in the kitchen, and because she knows how much we love caphe sua da’s, that’s what she’s doing.
Absolutely incredible, and yep, she’s just made it so much harder for us to leave.
All packed up and ready to go by 4.30am, and it’s now time for it.
It was tough. Real tough.
And again, like last night, I just wish I knew Vietnamese.
High visibility reflective tops on, along with slightly watery eyes, and we’re on our way.
While it’s very early, as well as still incredibly dark, there’s no shortage of people around.
Early morning food vendors, people walking along the side of the road with torches, the ice factory in full swing, people doing tai chi, the motorbike mechanic already doing his thing.
Even a hairdresser setting up for the day ahead.
I’ve always known that Vietnam wakes early, but I didn’t realise it was this early.
It’s quite cool, but certainly not cold, and it’s actually nice feeling the crispness of the early morning air.
Oh, and why are we out and about so early?
Well, there may be several reasons to be up this early in the Mekong, but the only one I can think of is to see a floating market.
And that’s exactly where we’re headed.
We stop a couple of times to check directions, and it’s not long before darkness begins to give way to the day’s first light.
And as that starts to happen, we start to see the school kids beginning their day.
Another thing we noticed, mainly when we were on a road near rice paddies, was the insects. And there were heaps of them.
Yep, certainly a good idea to keep your mouth closed….
We finally get to the market at 6.00am, and it’s already a hive of activity.
Bikes parked, and we walk down beside one of the canals. Finding a small coffee shop, we grab a seat and take in the goings on out on the water.
We’ll be out there in a minute, but right now it’s time for caphe sua da number two.
As well as some photos.
Yep, love it!
Coffee done, and we’re soon out in amongst it in our own boat.
We’d seen Cai Rang three years ago; and absolutely loved it; but this was a little different. Well, it was still a floating market, but it had a different feel.
A little more intimate, perhaps. Not as big feeling, maybe because of the size of the waterway, but still busy. And just as vibrant.
Oh, and no one else that looked like us. And I like that.
Fruits and vegetables. Lots of fruits and vegetables.
But unlike Cai Rang, there was also meat.
Small boats intermingling with the bigger boats, but each with a purpose for being there. The bigger boats are the wholesalers, while the smaller ones are the retailers.
And just like Cai Rang, you can tell what they’re selling by looking at the bamboo pole on the boat. Whatever it is, you will see a sample attached to it.
Up the canal a bit and right into the middle of it all; there’s so much to see, and so much going on. So local, and so genuine.
We turn around and head back towards where we started from, and then pull up beside our breakfast boat lady.
Today it’s phó, and I’m more than happy with that.
Although, having soup on a small rocking boat could be a bit of an issue….
We sit and take it all in, before heading further up the canal, away from town, before turning down a much narrower waterway.
With the hustle and bustle of the market well and truly behind us, lush green foliage now becomes the predominant thing.
It’s the kind of thing you see on various websites and travel brochures showing what is supposedly ‘quintessential’ Mekong Delta. It’s beautiful, and you really could be anywhere.
We see one or two other boats being driven by locals, with varying amounts of produce in them, as well as the occasional house. But other than that, there’s very little else around.
Well, apart from river reeds; and there’s plenty of that in the water. Needless to say, we stopped a couple of times to clear the propeller.
Peaceful, calm, relaxing, and just plain fascinating sights. We continued on, in what turned out to be a large loop, and eventually we were back at the market.
Making our way through it again, we made it back to where we’d originally started.
Hopped off the boat; politely declining the lottery ticket seller….; and we headed back to the café we were sitting at earlier.
“Another coffee?”, is the next query.
Having been awake since 4.00am, more caffeine is probably a good idea.
But this time I decide to go with something slightly different. A caphe sua da without the sua.
Yep, black iced coffee; caphe den da.
Partly to give up a little of the sweetness, and partly because I hadn’t tried one before.
Well, trying something new? – tick!
Reducing sweetness? – yeah, not really. Replacing the condensed milk with the equivalent in sugar will tend to do that….
Finally, and unfortunately, it was time to move on. It was only 8.30am, but because we’d got up so early, it felt much later.
A quick stop for petrol, while keeping out of the way of the goats wandering through, and we’re back on the road.
Past all the usual sights of rural Vietnam, along with several small towns. While it’s a little ‘same same’, it’s never ever boring. Well, not for me.
We stop a couple of times to check the map, and eventually we see a sign with a familiar name on it; Can Tho.
We’re getting close.
Well, it felt like we were.
The road is now a pretty major one, which is good, because it’s in good condition.
It’s also very straight, which means it’s an easy drive.
And being in the Mekong, it’s also very flat, which makes the drive even easier still.
And again, being in the Mekong, there is lots of water around, which means there are countless bridges.
Not big bridges, as they’re really only spanning small canals; and really, you’d be hard pressed to actually notice them; but they’re still bridges none the less.
And how do I know that the bridges are actually there?
Yep!, the incredibly annoying bump onto, and then off, the bloody thing!
Geez, it didn’t take too long for that to wear real thin….
So, on we went. And when I said earlier that it felt like we were close, well, it felt like we were close for so long. It just seemed to drag.
I think there were a few reasons for that, and those bumpy bridges were just one of them. It had been an early start, and while it was still only mid morning, it just felt so much later. It was also starting to really heat up, and being out on a relatively wide highway, probably added a little to the discomfort.
I think also the fact that our Mekong tour was effectively over, contributed to my slightly sombre mood.
And knowing that we weren’t too far away from having to say goodbye to Tung and Wang, was also in the back of my mind.
On we went, past countless road side vendors, along with countless bridge bumps.
Finally, we came into Can Tho. It was nice to see, but it made that goodbye just that little bit closer.
A look at the address, followed by a look at the map, and we move on.
Another stop for a map check, along with a phone call to Thy, the owner of the homestay, for directions.
All good, we head on.
Before stopping again for another phone call.
Eventually we’re off the main road and now on a much narrower one; it kind of feels familiar.
We continue on and then see a guy on a motorbike. Well, actually, he sees us, and then motions to follow him.
I actually know who it is, as I remember him from last time. He’s the housekeeper’s husband.
Now, we’re close….
And a couple of minutes later the sign comes into view: Green Village 2.
While we’ve not actually stayed here before; three years ago we stayed at Green Village 1; I feel at home straight away.
Down the narrow drive, and we pull up near the main building. And then, more familiar faces.
It’s something that I’ve so looked forward to over the last three years. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it work in 2016, but it was always going to happen on this trip. Always!
And now, after all this time, it was finally happening. It was just lovely seeing Thy, her husband, Hiep, and their housekeeper Hanh, again.
Back in 2014, Green Village was our second stop on our first trip, and to say that they left an indelible mark on us, would be an understatement.
Partly because they are just incredibly kind and generous people, anyway, but it was also what they did when our son got sick while we were here. Their concern and compassion was incredible.
Along with the familiar faces, we also got to meet Camille (Cammy), who is Hanh’s 17 year old daughter.
It really was great to be back.
But now being back meant that we had a goodbye to do. And after spending the last two and a half days, as well as a night in HCMC, with them, it was tough to do.
Tung and Wang had not only shown us so much, but they had also given us experiences that we’d never have been able to do without them.
And while they started out as our tour guides, as far as I was concerned, they were now true friends.
But none of this would have happened, had we not found Khoi. And for what he helped to arrange for us, I will forever be indebted to him. Truly above and beyond.
And rest assured, we will be back.
One incredibly tough goodbye done, Cammy showed us to our room. Well, bungalow / bamboo hut, to be precise.
She quickly returned with some papaya, orange and water melon, which was delicious, as well as being very much appreciated. And even though we had only just met her, she seems as caring and genuine as everyone else here.
We now finally had the opportunity to unpack our bags properly, and it was nice knowing that we had a few days where we could really settle in.
Chores done, there was just one thing left to do. Yep, nap time.
That early start had caught up with us, and we crashed.
An hour or so later, we’re woken by a thunderstorm. Seeing as there’s nothing like a good thunderstorm, well, so long as you’re not sitting on the back of a bike, we head outside to our little covered veranda to watch mother nature do her thing.
It’s something that I love down here, and it was something that we copped three years ago when we were last in the Mekong. The rain is torrential, but it doesn’t last long, and once it does stop, an hour later you’d be hard pressed to find much evidence of it.
And, as an added bonus, it cools things down a bit.
The rain eventually stops, and we head out about 3.00pm for a walk to see what’s around. On the way out, we meet up with Mooni the dog and Nana the cat, both of which we met back in 2014. But we also see Big Big the German Shepherd, who wasn’t around back then. He looks all big and intimidating, but is really just a big sook. In fact, Mooni is the one that is the boss around here.
Back out on the narrow path; I’ll call it a path, because while it’s about the width of a car, it’s not really something I would call a road; and we turn right. A fairly narrow river, or canal, is on our left, and there are houses every so often on our right. There’s a few people around, along with the occasional motorbike or bicycle going past, as well as several dogs.
As is the way with Vietnam, particularly a little away from the well trodden path, and most definitely down here in the Mekong, the people are really friendly.
Some of the dogs, yeah, not so much. But they tend to be all bark, and no bite. I still wouldn’t try to pat them, though.
Across a small bridge to the other side of the canal, and walk some more.
There’s not a lot around, apart from everyday local life, so we eventually head back to the bridge. A little wary of getting lost, but mainly just trying to look after Lisa’s knees.
There you go, who says I don’t have a sympathetic side….
Back onto our side again, and we come across a small shop with about ten locals sitting out the front, chatting and enjoying a drink.
They seem happy to see us, and we get lots of hellos. One guy seems happier than the rest, and he invites us, well, pretty much insists, we sit down and join them.
Well, seeing as you rarely knock back invitations like that, we do as we’re ‘told’.
They all seem to be drinking the same drink, although I’m not sure what it is. But it seems as though we’re going to find out, as the main guy insists that the shop owner makes us one.
It has ice in it, and it looks a little ‘tea’ like, but doesn’t taste anything like tea. It’s very sweet with a bit of a fruity spice flavour, and it has peanuts in it.
It’s nice, and it’s always good to try something new.
We sit and ‘chat’ for a while, and while it was a little awkward at times, it was, as it always is, fun to spend some time with the locals.
Drink done, it was time to head back. I tried to pay for the drinks, but the guy who ordered them for us wouldn’t let me. I kind of suspected he’d do that.
Bought a bottle of water before we left; 5000 Dong – no need to ask the price beforehand down here; and thanked them all for their hospitality as best I could.
On our way back, I think Lisa was a little surprised at what had just happened. And it wasn’t until then that I realised that that little impromptu interaction was possibly the first of its kind for Lisa. It’s usually just me on my own when something like that happens.
We finally get back to Green Village; Lisa now slightly more enlightened; and see Thy on the way to our room.
Not being able to work out what it was that we’d been drinking, we try and explain it to her. Turns out it was probably nước đá me, which, according to Google now, is probably right. Seems it’s made with tamarind jam, roasted peanuts, ice and water.
Drink query solved, we head off to our room to get cleaned up for dinner. As well as a few beers while taking in the scenery of our surrounds. It’s just a little bit relaxing down here, and after our last couple of days, as well as our early start this morning, it was nice to be able to just sit and do very little.
Cammy calls down just after 6.00pm to say that dinner is ready, so we head up.
Chicken and squash soup, along with marinated pork, rice and morning glory. As well as a beer, or two, of course. And as we’ve come to expect in the Mekong, the food was beautiful.
We chat with Cammy for a while, as well as Hanh. They really are lovely people, and Hanh has a great sense of humour, too.
As a frog jumps by over near the kitchen, she exclaims, ‘barbeque!’ Only half joking, I suspect….
We sit and relax for a while, still pinching myself that we are actually back here, as well as being very pleased that it is all that I remembered it being from last time.
Calling it a night, we head back to the room for the beers on the bed thing. Thy messages Lisa on Facebook about having a look at Green Village 1 tomorrow, as well as perhaps having dinner in Can Tho.
Would love to see Green Village 1 again, and, seeing as how our one and only real experience in Can Tho didn’t really go to plan last time, it would be great to head there as well.
Our early start this morning had now well and truly caught up with us, and there was no point fighting the inevitable.
And for tomorrow, with no real plans in place, a bit of a rarity for this trip; no alarm required.
I’m looking forward to that!