After a short night, we headed down to our traditional Vietnamese breakfast of rice noodle soup and fruit. We were scheduled to be picked up by a shuttle bus in Saigon along with other guests that were booked on a Mekong delta cruise with us. We were curious and a bit weary. Three days on a boat could be totally fun with the right people and totally awful with the wrong ones…
Turns out that we were lucky again and so we were heading to Cần Thơ on the Mekong river together with three other couples. One German couple, one from Austria and one from Canada. All easy going and all non complainers. Phew!
After a three hour car ride through the countryside we finally arrived at our boat. It is a converted rice cargo ship, beautifully refurbished with lots of wood. It only has 12 cabins for a maximum of 24 passengers. That’s all. And it turns out that we are the only passengers. eight people on a boat for 24, yeah! what a luxury! tourism is definitively not back to pre pandemic levels here…
We have a lovely and spacey cabin, a cosy ensuite bathroom, even an air condition unit that’s not too loud.
After boarding and depositing our luggage in the cabin, we noticed that we started our journey. Wanting to see this great river delta from the top deck, we were immediately noticing a deceleration of our life. The river calm, the few boats, the gentle glide, all made us forget what day of the week it is.
We watched the scenery glide by. Big boats that barely float above the waterline, carrying mountains of heavy cargo.
Small boats that carry everything from coconuts to car spare parts. And even smaller boats used for shopping trips. All mingling on the same majestic river avoiding colisions with a quiet grace.
After a fresh fish and vegetable lunch, which was delicious, topped by some very nice Australian Chardonnay, it nearly felt as we had traveled together as a group for a while. Easy conversations on the top deck, under the sun roof, a mild breeze gently blowing, a cup of very strong coffee in front of us and watching the world drift by slowly. Life could not be better at the moment. We are spoiled and we felt it right then and there.
A few hours later we stopped at a small country village. We took a small ferry across , as there aren’t many bridges at all here, and went for a walk around.
Directly on the river, there is no need for real roads. Everything is carried and driven either by a scooter or by muscle power to the river’s edge and then picked up and shipped from there.
All paths are small and we could see the villagers planting and harvesting lots of fruits along the river. Papaya trees, next to mango trees, banana and coconut palms, jack fruit , pomelo and oranges. All growing in abundance here. Little chicklets and their motherly hens were running around everywhere , life seemed to be slow and predictable here. The people are very friendly and polite. Nobody approaches you to sell you something, they just wave and greet with a big smile – even though we passed through their backyard from time to time. We stopped at a small fruit farm and were served a delicious medley of fresh fruit. Small sweet bananas, perfectly peeled pomelos, sliced mango and coconut fritters. And a strange looking dipping powder. No one in the group had seen that before and the farm lady did not speak any English. She just motioned to dip the fruit into the powder and eat it. Sceptic a few of us dipped their fruit in just a little and gosh! what a weird , spicy but different experience eating fruit! The dipping powder consisted of some spices, salt and small chili flakes which contrasted sharply with the normal sweet and tangy fruit taste. Again a combination of flavors not experienced before.
Fruit can be bought directly at the farm. There are no big shops anywhere, no western supermarket chains, just small local stores and markets. And floating kiosks. Smalls ships that are mini supermarkets inside, complete with live chickens in cages, approach the big ships , take orders, pack and hand over the shopping bags with the desired goods. At home delivery since decades ….
One thing though cannot be avoided here in Vietnam, no matter how far off the beaten track you go…. even is the smallest village there is at least one little shop that has over the top Christmas decorations on full display, shouting merry christmas through loud speakers (even though the Vietnamese usually celebrate lune new year as their big event, like the Chinese in January).
The displays shall entice the customers to either enter into the Christmas craze, buy decorations for luna new year or celebrate birthdays. And so the displays here happily marry all three things together for maximum effect…
And we thought we’d escape the Christmas season … not a chance!