tạm biệt Việt Nam
Today, I left Vietnam. The country I have come to love over the last 3.5 weeks It’s a mix of emotions having to go back to Canada. I’ll miss it there, I’ll miss exploring, the food, the culture, the adventuring and of course, my eldest daughter.
On the other hand, I’m anxious to get back to my own bed and not having to live out of a suitcase and of course seeing Ellie (my dog), my family and friends. But, I’m not looking forward to the weather – which I hear was absolutely atrocious while I was away – massive snow storms, blizzards, wind storms and freezing rain.
As I say farewell to Vietnam and shortly say HELLO to Guangzhou, China for an 18 hour layover. Let me take you back to the last couple of days of my vacation as Cassandra and I explored the Mekong Delta.
The Mekong Delta is a water world that moves to the rhythms of the mighty Mekong, where boats, houses and markets float upon the innumerable rivers, canals and streams that criss-cross the landscape. Life in the Mekong Delta revolves much around the river, and many of the villages are often accessible by rivers and canals rather than by road.
The Mekong River itself starts in the Himalayas and passes through China, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia before reaching Vietnam, which partly explains why the waters are so murky. More than half of Vietnam’s rice and fish comes from the delta region.
Firstly, we booked our tour of the Mekong Delta via Khải Hoàn Travel in HCMC. With many options available, we booked a 2 day, 1 night excursion which included stops in Mỹ Tho, Bến Tre, Cần Thơ and Cái Răng. The entire trip cost 550K (only $31.00 CDN).
We departed at 7:45 AM to pick up the rest of the folks on our tour and left HCMC at approximately 8:15 AM for Mỹ Tho on our air conditioned bus. Over the 2 hour ride, we passed rice fields before eventually arriving at our pre-determined rest stop/tourist trap 😆.
From there we departed for Vĩnh Tràng Pagoda, Vietnam’s gorgeous Buddhist gardens. A happy place with Buddhas, beautifully maintained gardens and fruit trees. Originally built in 1850 it has survived colonial wars, neglect and tropical storms. It’s located approximately 3 km from the centre of Mỹ Tho city.
The Vĩnh Tràng pagoda features three enormous Buddha statues.
- The standing Buddha represents Amitabha Buddha, who symbolizes ultimate bliss and compassion.
- The Laughing Buddha symbolizes happiness and good luck and has become a deity for good fortune around the world.
- The reclining Buddha represents Gautama Buddha before he enters parinirvana, the death of one who has attained nirvana during his lifetime and has been released from the painful cycle of samsara, or rebirth.
Our bus eventually stopped at the pier where we boarded a wooden boat to cruise the Mekong River in order to further discover the 4 islands: Tortoise, Dragon, Phoenix and Unicorn.
We were afforded the opportunity to visit a honey farm and try different honey and pollen products. We were served a very sweet honey tea (which I and others found to be a bit too sweet) and given that it was 34 degrees out – the hot tea would have been better served cold. I purchased lip balm (for those who know me I’m a lip chap addict (lol) – I bargained for 2 at 80K ($4.58 CDN) – she was selling then for 50K each, I didn’t want to bargain down too much, it is there way of making a living and the price was decent as far as I was concerned. I’d have paid way more back home and these are all natural.
We had the chance to visit a coconut workshop, to see how they make the coconut candy from beginning to the end. How they first break apart the coconut, then mulch it up, and watch it go through the rest of the process until it ends up with the lady at the other side- who puts in into molds, adds rice paper (which is edible), cuts it up, and passes it onto the few who manually (and very fast I might add) wrap it and pkg it for selling. We were given the chance to taste test each of the different flavours of candy which were also for purchase – we didn’t buy any, but it was good!
Forget eating the worm after downing your tequila, we drank Cobra Snake Wine! Cassandra and I tried something I never thought in a million years we’d ever try or get the chance to try, actually I didn’t even know it was a thing — Snake Wine (rượu rắn), yes that’s right folks — wine made with a real venomous cobra. It’s an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The snake venom poses no threat to the drinker. It is denatured by the ethanol—its proteins are unfolded and therefore inactive. It did NOT taste like wine – it tasted like Tequila in my opinion – I cannot see any pleasure in sipping on this on a nice night in (lol). As an FYI – dating back centuries, snake and scorpion wines are known as a natural medicine used to treat different health problems such as back pain, rheumatism, lumbago and other health conditions.
Coming to Turtle Island, we were provided the opportunity to taste fresh fruits, and listen to traditional folk Vietnamese music. The fruit included: papaya, dragon fruit, Vietnamese apple and longan.
The most amazing part of the trip followed – we cruised along a small canal on a traditional wooden boat with two rowers at the front and back. This was exactly what I was thinking when I thought Mekong – traditional way of life and transportation and the traditional conical hats (nón lá).
We had a Vietnamese lunch on the island (honestly, I’m sorry I don’t remember which island) – it was basically cơm tấm. This meal was included with our booking. We then had a little free time to explore the island – which was a semi amusement area with kids playing in play areas, balloon balls on the water, an alligator pen (they’re also on the menu – put 2 and 2 together).
After lunch we departed for the 3 hour bus ride to Cần Thơ which is the fourth largest city in Vietnam, and the largest city in the Mekong Delta. It is noted for its floating market, rice paper-making village, and picturesque rural canals. It has population of 1,520,000 as of June 2018 and is located on the south bank of the Hau River, a tributary of the Mekong River.
Our booking included an overnight stay at a 2* hotel. We stayed at An Hotel. I have to say this was more than a 2* as far as I’m concerned. Looking at the cost for the standard room – 350K – that means the rest of our trip – 200K – was for bus, guide, lunch, samples of food and the experience – well worth it to me. Some of the folks on our tour paid about $25.00 CDN more than we did for basically the same tour (except they had a 3* hotel and were given a fish and rice wraps at lunch).
Once we checked in and freshened up – we went down to the Night Market in search of some dinner. We were both exhausted from our day of travel and getting up at 6:30 AM. The market included shopping, but, we immediately bypassed all of that and headed for the food stalls.
Eager to find some tasty street food, we made our way around and came across bánh tráng nướng – which they call Vietnamese pizza. The line up for this stall was bumpin’ so we knew it had to be the place to eat – and boy was it! Cassandra always wanted to try this dish so we ordered 1 each — we both loved it so much that we ordered another one, at a stall further up the way. They were ONLY 10K each $0.57 CDN! What they are is dried small shrimps, saute/chili paste, quail egg/chicken egg, spring onion, fried ground pork on rice paper, cooked over an open flame – I still cannot stop drooling when thinking about it. I may have to make these at home one night for dinner.
I also tried another dish I had seen on vlogs – rice paper bag salad (also 10K) – it wasn’t what I expected and to be quite honest, I wasn’t too fond if it. It tasted like tough rice paper in spices. Now I know and can happily cross that one off my list of foods to try. I also wanted to try bắp xào, a popular street food snack in Vietnam (corn) – but I was too full from the bánh tráng nướng to even consider tying it … next time for sure.
Cassandra also had an order of fresh spring rolls – 2 for 10K and I grabbed my fave Nước Mía – freshly pressed sugarcane juice for 20K – these prices are outrageously cheap aren’t they?
With full bellies, we ordered a Grab and headed back the hotel – our next day’s adventure started bright and early at 6:00 A.M.
Breakfast was included in our fee – it was basic and consisted of 2 eggs, a French baguette and a mini banana – as well as juice, water and coffee (boo – they had no milk – fresh or condensed – just sugar – and I need milk in my coffee). Two people woke up feeling unwell – likely from something they ate the night prior. One did not continue on the trip and he and his GF opted to stay behind in Cần Thơ and other other girl (and her friend) got off at the next stop to stay behind. I honestly felt for both of them – I had a bout of food poisoning about the 3rd-4th day in Ha Noi. It is not a good feeling, especially if you’re on a traveling tour and have no immediate washroom access.
We cruised along the small picturesque tributaries and trolled by the Cái Răng Floating Market – I found this amazing. This is the biggest floating market in the Mekong Delta, Cái Răng is just 6 km from Cần Thơ. People actually LIVE and SELL on the river. This is a wholesale market, so look at what’s tied to the long pole above the boat to figure out what they’re selling to smaller traders.
We took in the scenery and the daily living of the local people. We also toured a rice paper factory and witnessed how they make rice noodles – another very interesting process. I should mention that this process as well as the process of making coconut candy is all done by hand – this is not an automated process – they are hands on with the entire process. With our free time Cassandra and I made our way down to the village open market – which offered a variety of fresh fruit, fish, meat, eel and cafés. We grabbed an entire pineapple for 10K, a pancake like yummy goodness for 5K and an ice coffee with mild 10K — are you catching that? We got all of that for a mere 25K — $1.41 CDN.
We pressed on to visit a homestead ecofarm (ecofarms aim to increase agricultural sustainability & farmers’ resilience to climate change) where we visited their personal catfish farm, durian and dragon fruit plantation/orchards and livestock.
To round out our trip, we disembarked the boat in Cái Vồn where we set off for our 5 hour trek back to Saigon (there was one stop at the 2.5 hour mark).
Once back in HCMC we relaxed for a bit and then went out for dinner to our favourite restaurant in Cassandra’s neighbourhood (I have to ask her to get the name because I would def recommend it) – we get the same thing to eat each time (except for the time we accidentally ordered chicken feet 🤣) — morning glory, chicken wings and Singapore Noodles.
Then it was time to hit the hay – we were both totally zonked. She had to teach in the morning and I had to get up and pack for my departure.
Flying to Guangzhou, China For My Layover
I’m on my flight to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (China) as I write this blog. I have an 18 hour layover there.
I’ve done some research online prior to my departure and saw that China offers citizens of certain qualifying countries 72 -144 hour entry Visas. And, through China Southern Airlines – I read that I can be eligible for a free overnight hotel and free Guangzhou tour in the morning prior to my departure back to Toronto.
So, I’ll ask when we land and hopefully that is the case. I’d really not prefer to have to spend that time in the airport. I’d rather sleep in a cozy bed and do a bit of sightseeing prior to my 15 hour flight back home.
I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out in my next blog …
NOTE: I wrote this on my flight to China, but the wifi was horrible at my hotel so I wasn’t able to post it. I had to wait til I got back to Canada and had some time to adjust to the jet lag.