My Tho, Vinh Long, Cai Be, Sa Dec, Tra Vinh - Pt 2: Da Nang to Mekong Delta

Discussion in 'Vietnam - Road Trip Reports' started by Rod Page, Nov 25, 2011.

  1. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    We headed out of Tay Ninh in the direction of the Mekong Delta through the surrounding area known for its rattan, its conical hat production, its girdle cakes drying all around &, of course, for the fact that it marks where the Ho Chi Min Trail permiated through South Vietnam.

    Our route took us through Trang Bang, the town made (in)famous for the picture of the young girl fleeing whilst on fire from US napalm bombing, a photo which galvanised opposition to the war throughout the west & known to all of that generation. The photo for those who cant recall: http://vietnamnews.vnagency.com.vn/Life-Style/225761/doco-tracks-life-of-napalm-girl-photographer.html

    On past the (westerner visited) Ben Duoc & Ben Dinh (Cu Chi) tunnels, we were headed for the Mekong Delta.

    The volumes of traffic, in particular motor-bike traffic, as one appraoches HCM City are mind-boggling. At times bikes are compelled to use a reserved lane to the sides of what is otherwise a 4-lane dual carriageway. The sheer volume of bikes, including many going against the traffic (hey its Vietnam!) slow one's advance. Its tempting to take the road reserved for cars; we did, saving time & being stopped only once by the police!

    We reached My Tho, gateway to the Mekong Delta, a town founded in the late 1600's by chinese political refugees from Taiwan, their descendants driven from their land by the government following the American War. It begs the question, as with the hill-tribe people, as to how long one must stay in Vietnam to be considered one of them.

    The Mekong Delta, Vietnam's & one of the world's geat 'rice bowls', a land of a thousand shades of green, a life almost lost in a maze of waterways of houses high on stilts, women in conical hats & sanpans; a place where life is conducted from floating houses, boats & markets along, atop & over endless rivers & canals. The swamps & lush magroves formed by silt deposits over the centuries from the mighty Mekong which can see Vietnam's shoreline extended by as much as 80m per year. Here the Mekong splits into tributaries giving the region its name - Song Cuu Long or River of Nine Dragons. Almost every inch is under cultivation, if not rice its sugar cane or a dizzying array of fruit. The Mekong & life in general flow at an age-old rhythm; welcome to southern Vietnam charm & intriguing river-life.

    We were hungry on reaching My Tho so headed down to the river-front & Lac Hong (floating restaurant):

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    Elephant Ear fish, for which the area is famous, with sticky rice prepared in a wonderful ball. The wonderful presentation reminds one of Vietnamese culture requiring the whole animal be placed on the table before eating - for example, whole chickens rather than parts of chicken to sunsequently be carved for eating :

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    The view from the restaurant showing the new suspension bridge over to Ben Tre opened only last year:

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    Our destination for the night was Vinh Long on the Co Chien river, or more particularly Hoa Ninh on an island across the Co Chien, one of the Mekong's many tributaries. It would be a rewarding 'home-stay', after the excitement of a ferry across:

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    A homestay makes for some interesting encounters. Here our neighbour washed her hair in the river; she used soap/shampoo made from the fruit of mangroves. In days not so long ago Vietnamese women would boil pomello skins in which they'd wash their hair to keep it from becoming dry, before washing it in a juice made from a dark fruit similar to tamarin to keep it shiny & black:

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    We were greated at 6am the next morning by the smiling faces of our skipper & guide who would take us by traditional boat to the famous Cai Be Floating Markets, one of the true drawcards of the region:

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    Wholesalers displaying what each sells from long wooden poles hoisted above their boats sell to the retail trade:

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    Pumkin on a pole:

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    Whilst on the subject of boats - shipwrights in the region, where knowledge is simply passed down through the generations, are known to dismantle prized boats when they have had their day so as to be able to construct exact replicas in their place. It ensures a certain authenticity & you may well be looking at the exact replica of a boat that worked the area some 500 years before. It concerns me, however, that given the greatly improved transport infrastructure in the area with new highways & large suspension bridges & given the advent of supermarkets that these markets & the culture & lifestyle they represent are seriously threatened............see it while you can.
     
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  3. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    As the river market is a morning affair we returned meanduring gently past the tiny but truly authentic villages of Dong Phu & Binh Hoa Phuoc & the fruit orchards of An Binh all isolated islands in the Mekong alongside that of Hoa Ninh (where our stay was situated).

    Witnessing life along the rivers as it has existed for centuries is most rewarding. Some shots, starting with one of the Cathedral which overlooks the Cai Be Floating Market, tell the story:

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    Home, sweet home:

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    Making rice paper:

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    Rice husks which have come to be cheaper than wood are now transported, to be used as fuel, to a myriad of brickworks along the river system:

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  4. Ian Bungy

    Ian Bungy Ol'Timer

    Nice One Rod! Touring Water World!!!
     
  5. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    We decided to do a loop around the island on which Vinh Long is situated, out through Sa Dec & around to return to Tra Vinh but not before a quick look at the township that is Vinh Long.

    Vinh Long market is the most lively of places, bustling with everything imaginable for sale:

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    We even encountered this woman during our visit who entered with a sack of snakes to sell to the market trader. Here a snake is weighed whilst the two come to an amical agreement over price:

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    Such matters completed we headed for a coffee at Hoa Nang; the place to be in Vinh Long:

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    Sa Dec beckoned. A quiet town, its main claim to fame is that it was the setting for the film "The Lover" based on marguerite Dumas' novel. It too has a lively market river-side as seen in the photo below where villas used in the movie can be seen in the background (or, more clearly, in the second photo below):

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    Unlike in much of Vietnam, buddhism is quite prominant in these areas & it was pleasing to again see monks undertaking taak baat. Fortunately they arrived after Myriama had seen a stall holder skinning frogs alive; something she didn't have the stomach to photograph:

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    The island loop we had set out to undertake proved fairly unrewarding with most roads in a state of non-repair as a multitude of bridges are constructed to ford canals. We could not find a certain turn off on arriving back at Hwy 1A; no signage, if there were ever any, could have survived the massive roadworks being undertaken. As the rains started to come tumbling down we sought shelter in a 'ca phe' & 'hammocked' it out:

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    We felt good from the moment entering Tra Vinh province:

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    There's a certain feel to the place, a beauty in the palms that line the canals, peace in the temples which hold a particular place in this part of Vietnam, a joy in the trees that lined the streets of Tra Vinh township.

    We would stay at the recently upgraded Cuu Long, well situated in the centre of town with internet (at last), great towels for a good strong shower & good value at $18/night including breakfast. Honda & Yamaha are situated almost side by side nearby so we profited in having both bikes serviced for the second time on our journey; how lucky are we to have Hang at Flamingo Travel ready to explain our every need to mechanics via the telephone.
     
  6. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Tra Vinh is a pleasant tree-lined town set amidst palm filled canals, coconut palms, fruit orchards & a large number of temples reflecting the significant Khmer population in the region. The presence of so many wonderful temples took me back to my time in Thailand compelling me to visit one or two amongst them. I was drawn to Hang Pagoda in many ways to see the large numbers of storks & herons that nest each night in the tall trees surrounding the temple; the Mekong Delta is a nesting ground for large numbers of birds. The storks off-set aginst the temple makes for a wonderful setting at dusk:

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    The monks quarters:

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    The entrance to the temple against the back-drop of a setting sun:

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    On the return road to Tra Vinh I stopped at this temple looking resplendid in the failing light:

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    In the centre of town lies the very Chinese Ong Pagoda with its its red-faced god, the deified general Quan Cong believed to offer protection against war:

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  7. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Reports of nearby Ba Dong Beach being the best beach on the Mekong Delta saw me ride east to the coast, some 55kms from town.

    I missed a turn-off early to find this wonderful gathering of womenfolk mending the fishing nets of their village men:

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    An enjoyable ride across, I took the ferry for the final leg. I post a shot of the ferry with a bridge under construction in the background, indicative of the infrastructure development going on all around Vietnam:

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    I knew that recent heavy rains would have seen masses of silt spewed into the neighbouring ocean & that tropical storms which passed before our arrival would have produced pounding seas, but was not prepared to see an established restaurant to look like this:

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    let alone the 'Mekong's best' seaside to look like this:

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    The area is built around sand dunes constantly buffeted by strong winds. The approach of locals has been to plant thick lines of suitable trees, often casuarinas, on elevated ground, on which housing is also implanted, interspaced by areas suitable for agriculture. It makes for a pleasant countryside:

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    Some of the attractive housing to be found in the area including the last photo depicting a fisherman's shack at the foot of the area's light-house:

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  8. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Today, we would ride the around 170kms from Tra Vinh to just before Thuong Phuoc on the Cambodian border a ride which literally takes you from one side of Vietnam to the other!

    We would steam out of Tra Vinh eagre to see the emerald greens painted by the regions ricefields for which the Delta is famous unaware of what we would truly see:

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    The rains & associated flooding of much of South East Asia this year have received an abundant coverage but this report would not be complete without just a couple of photos to bear witness to the 1.8 million people across Vietnam & Cambodia suffering a silent misery from the flooding. Many from poorer rural families they have received little or no media coverage, little if any government or international aid. In Dong Thap province through which we are travelling in writing this report there are still some 30,000 homes under water.

    Our route takes us through My Tho - yes another My Tho, no less than 100kms from the other; it is VN after all - & then to Cao Lanh, a good stop for lunch, particularly if you take Chuot Dong, the dish for which the town is famous......rat!

    Onwards through Hong Ngu & on towards the border with Cambodia you'll find a ferry crossing to Con Tien island. The landing on Con Tien:

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    There's a further ferry crossing to be had on the other side of the island to finally reach Chau Doc but rides such as this, crossing an isolated island between two ferries are special, offering a rare insight into a way of life seldom invaded from the outside. It must also be clear by now that if you wish to leave the beaten track, even if you simple wish to get around the whole of the Delta then you simply must have your own transportation, your own motorbike!!!
     
  9. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    I bring this thread to the attention of readers as not only is the area covered GREAT adventuring but there are normally some very spectacular Nga Long-Boat racing (Oc Om Boc) in Ba Dong, not far from fabulous Tra Vinh conducted around the same time as those scheduled in Soc Trang, that is, 27th & 28th November 2012.

    If heading down dont forget to have the delicacy for which Cao Linh is justly famous - the succulent rice field rat!
     

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