So before I embarked on my journey to Mekong Delta, despite my months of research, I had clearly underestimated the diversity of the region and its size. From what I thought will be the centre of the Delta, our visit to Can Tho, with the much talked about Floating Market, although nice, was undoubtedly the conical hat kinda- touristy!
Whatever your hotel guy may say, do the Delta region, the DIY way. The touristy travel companies are not worth it. As five of us were traveling, we found the taxi to be around the same price as the bus and much to our own sweet convenience. Our driver was excruciatingly slow paced and could barely manage a few words in english. While traveling with him, I realized how some things just don’t change, wherever you go – our taxi guy was a full jugadu and tried everything to earn a commission by selling us something,anything- a boat ride, a meal, hats! Phew!!
Enroute to Can tho, we stopped at My Tho, the town in the Delta closest to Ho Chi. We visited the beautiful Vinh Trang Pagoda, where we saw ‘divine buddha’ in three postures- standing tall outside the precinct of the pagoda (before a meal), happy buddha seated (during a meal 😉 ) and the napping buddha near the back gates (clearly after the meal)- leading the good life!
Right outside the Pagoda, was the freshest and the sweetest sugar-cane juice I have had in a while. We made several pit stops at tiny shops, trying different blends of the Vietnamese Coffee, made with condensed milk and also its frozen version. The frozen one I dig, the condensed version, I pass for it was too sweet for my liking!
After five and a half hours (in place of the usual three hours) of hand gestures, google devta consultation and a few beers down, we finally made it to Green Village, our non-touristy, bamboo canopied and of course very ‘green’ home stay. We were welcomed by our lovely host, Thy, with fresh mangoes and watermelon! The rear of the home stay had lovely hammocks, where we lazed around, caught the sun and played with dogs at the stay. Thy, cooked delicious vietnamese delicacies for dinner. She even gave us a mini tour of the home stay, proudly showcasing her organic fruit and vegetable farm.
To my complete shock, and to the joy of my beloved friends, Thy (unfortunately) also introduced us to a jar of her home prepared Snake Wine, which is made by infusing whole snakes in rice wine, consumed popularly as an aphrodisiac for increased virility and defeating rheumatism. For the benefit of those who don’t know this, I have Ophidiophobia, which is an extreme phobia of snakes. The sight of the wine was enough to ruin my entire night, for I stood guarding the edges of my bed from any wicked conspiracy hatched by my friends to leave a slithering reptile in my room to attack me!
We started quite early the next morning, with our very enthusiastic guide who also served as a teacher in the neighborhood school, for a tour of the Cai Rang Floating market. We jumped on a snake boat (no pun intended) and went to the floating market, which was a nice experience, but very industrial like. During our tour, we were told that just 10% of the land mass in the region pumps out more than one-third of the country’s annual food crop- with its rice, coconut, sugarcane and fruits produce and is therefore deservingly called the Rice Bowl of Vietnam. It was also surprising to know that agriculture was only a recent phenomena here, which was earlier used by the Viet Cong, the resistance fighters, as a hiding place against the Americans who had been only too kind to strafe the area with bombs and defoliants, which has left its impact on the productivity, till date.
At the Floating market, boats advertise their products by hanging a sample from a stick on the deck. We tried Banh mi, which is a baguette sandwich with fresh cilantro, lime and pork filling and pho soup followed by some chilled Vietnamese coffee for breakfast. We also tried Banh-cam, a green colored sesame sprinkled sweet, made by wrapping pounded rice around sugary, green bean paste. It was quite unique.
Next, we visited the Rice paper and noodles factory. It was a fun experience learning, how these thin rice sheets and noodles are made, using all parts of the rice grain (even the chaff is used to fire the urn). We ate some thin wafer-like banana pancake here, which was delicious. We also bought some coconut candies for home. We spent much of the journey meandering the canals, passing by docked wooden boats and huts, and ducking underneath low branches.
Following this, was a tour of the Vegetable, weird animals e’ reptiles and Fruit market. It was a blast of colors and smells of different kinds and felt like a typical sabzi mandi in India. The fruits available here are unique to the region and taste really fresh and sweet and are a must try. The tropical weather here makes juicy mangoes available in the month of December, which was quite the cherry on the cake! At the market, after much bargaining ( a trait that comes naturally to the Indian in me!), I successfully acquired an antique oil burner at a price of 50,000 dongs, which costed my pocket a mere 151 Rs.
Our visit to Mekong Delta truly subscribes to the idiom, “Sometimes the journey is more important than the Destination itself”. I would recommend people visiting the region, to also make a visit to the Phu Quoc and An Binh Islands, which are known for its sprawling beaches with a mountainous interior; places that we have bookmarked for our next visit!