Mekong Delta Aboard L’Amant, Day 2

Morning river craft, Mekong Delta

Morning river craft, Mekong Delta

Today’s shore excursion was all about Sa Dec, the old-fashioned town where French writer Marguerite Duras spent her childhood. We clambered aboard our lighter and set forth along the waterway, pointing with both fingers and cameras at the sights unfamiliar to many Western eyes. Having done a few cruises in Asia on this trip, we had become used to floating debris in the water – rubber thongs (flip flops), generic rubbish and plastic, but today was a first – a dead dog bloated and bobbing along beside us. Lovely.

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Leaving the main water artery, and drifting along the narrower tributaries there is a cacophony of sound and visual feast of industry – the firing of clay bricks, the gravel cranes, the factories pumping rice husk into boats. Lots of friendly faces beamed at us from shore, with much waving of arms and calling across the water and above the noise of the machines. Some men in an elevated hut were resting in their hammocks strung intricately in the small space to accommodate many, but still had the energy and inclination to heave a lazy arm in our direction.

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While some landscape features between Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam bear similarities, the Mekong Delta has shown us a more energetic local – people of all ages have called, shouted, jumped and waved their arms the most from the shores, greeting us with energy and gigantic ‘hellos’. This is even more surprising given that the age of the greeters is from toddler to the hardened factory worker or weathered fisherman. Their joy is infectious, and none of us are ‘too cool’ to not return with exuberance their full body wave.

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Our first visit of the morning was to an orchid nursery. Of course, the climate of this humid part of the world is perfect for growing these fickle plants; the range on offer was vast, and the colours impressive. The nursery has been owned and run by generations of one family, and it has always been located on this little patch of ground. The proof of this was the growing number of tombstones and sarcophagi in an area behind the plants – their own private family cemetery!

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Our next stop was at the ancient house of Huynh Thuy Le (Duras’ lover), the “House of the Chinese”, vividly described in her novel, and used as a location in the film. The house has some interesting architectural features – elaborate carved panels and gold lacquer work – and some photos of the two lovers, but none of them actually in the same shot! We passed by the school where Duras’ mother once taught, then enjoyed strolling through the very lively market streets of this fascinating town.

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The markets were enthralling, with many sights, sounds and smells delightfully new (and some not so delightful).  The fishmongers displayed water-filled plastic tubs, crammed with gigantic fish flicking water with their tails – their aim ever true at every tourist walking past. Close by stood compact vats of shiny brown slivering lengths, reminiscent of THAT scene in the first Indiana Jones film, but these were only eels! Tiny women were squatting next to even tinier BBQs, sporting their lairily patterned mismatched pants and tops, charring up some giant vegetables belonging to the zucchini family. And there were mounds and mounds of the freshest produce I have ever seen – pure white, tightly formed cauliflowers; green, orange and red tomatoes that actually tasted like tomatoes, root vegetables of a dizzying range of colours from the common pale neutrals through to deep purples, peaches and oranges; and boxes and boxes of small, prettily speckled latte, cream and baby blue quail eggs. This run of seller and product stretched well beyond what many tourists were willing to walk, but we found the discovery of each new face and their wares slightly addictive, and didn’t want to leave too soon. What brought our explorations to an end was the approach of our scheduled meeting time, so we toddled back through the sensory kaleidoscope back on board L’Amant for lunch.

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A cooking demonstration followed, then we threw ourselves into the mess of making fish patties and spring rolls – a great way to learn about local ingredients and how to cook in the traditional Vietnamese ways. We revelled in a lazy afternoon on the sun deck, enjoying the chat of friendly strangers and waving regularly at the toothy-smiled faces attached to wildly flailing arms, still apparently happy to play host to these foreigners in their delta.

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We cruised aboard L’Amant.

Our travel agent on this cruise was Kelvin Do at Indochina Treks. We were very impressed with his efficiency, helpfulness, excellent advice, friendliness and price! His email is: sales@indochinatreks.com

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About bontaks

Nic is the the 'Bon' part of 'Bontaks.' Together we are Nic and John - two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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