Saigon & the Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Christmas & New Year 2014
This was a last minute trip. We realized D had a week of vacation left along with the Christmas/New Year holidays, so we wanted to go somewhere. Especially because this is our last Christmas in Asia!
We pulled up fights to see what country was the cheapest, and Vietnam popped up. The Mekong Delta was on our list of "places we wanted to visit" so we found a match. What we were NOT expecting was that Vietnam would be so festive for a country that does not celebrate Christmas!
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a large, busy city. I actually enjoyed it more this time than last, maybe because it was extra festive during the holidays.
We flew out on Christmas Day and spent the first night in Saigon. That evening the streets were packed with families riding around the city on their motorcycles. We were told this was the big thing to do on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Many of the children were wearing Santa suits and hats - so adorable!
Christmas decorations paired with the communist hammer and sickle symbol... an interesting contrast.
Look closely at this motorcycle - it has a little wicker seat attached to the front for a child as well as a stuffed animal shaped pillow for emergency padding, the motorcycle version of a car seat and "air" bags. And we saw them both in use all over the city. Like we always say - safety first!
Bonus points if we capture a family of five on a bike! We saw many this time.
How about a puppy?
The next day we hired a car to drive us to our hotel in Cai Be, situated in the Mekong Delta region. Our hotel had individual huts that looked right out onto the Mekong River.
The Mekong River is the world’s 10th-longest river and the 7th-longest in Asia. It covers an area of approximately 15,000 square miles (40,000 square kilometers).
We loved sitting on our back porch watching the daily activity on the river. These men came every morning to check their traps.
They were so close I almost felt like we were peering into their homes. Well, really we were.
We enjoyed a foot massage in the outdoor spa. D finally learned to enjoy one! He loves full body massages but hates having his feet done. Not me - I will sit for hours if you massage my feet.
We had never seen open boats full of rice like the ones below. This area is often referred to as the 'rice bowl' of Vietnam due its huge production of rice crop.
I am not sure I could squat like this on a regular floor without falling over, let alone off the back of a boat!
Bouquets and notes placed on our pillow each night. How cleaver to write the note on the leaf. We really enjoyed this hotel and found the area to be extremely relaxing.
We stayed at the lovely Boutique hotel Nam Bo in Can Tho. It was our 26th wedding anniversary! They left us a sweet treat and a heart of roses on the bed. Awe...
D in front of the Ho Chi Minh statue while wearing his Ho Chi Minh T-shirt.
The biggest and best floating market in the Mekong Delta is Phung Hiep. The market opens at 4.00 am and closes around 11.00 am, so you need arrive early. It gets pretty packed with tourist, but still worth a visit.
Farmers from the region bring their fruits and vegetables to the floating markets on the larger boats and sell them to local dealers (in the small boats). These dealers in turn sell the products at local markets, or to shops in the neighboring towns.
Vendors hang the product they sell from the top of a pole attached to their boat so the buyer can see from far away.
Our boat driver/guide bought a jackfruit - he must have gotten a good deal as he was very happy.
D saving us from a collision!
Food and eating is a big part of the market. There are small boats selling coffee and soup and other items to eat. They are for the locals, but some tourists come for breakfast.
We had a cup of coffee from this woman. Her big smile was infectious!
A few snapshots of everyday life on the water...
Our guide was so much fun. He spoke very little English, but we had a great time with him. And he was quite talented in making things from the reed and flowers found along the water.
Our lovely hotel was only available for two nights so we decided to stay the last night in a home stay. Not a typical choice for us, but we decided to give this one a try. It was very sweet, but one night was enough! : )
They were simple walls of grass tied together. You had to be very quiet or you neighbor could hear everything. The owners were a young couple. She had just finished university and he was a policeman.
We had to sleep in a mosquito net. And they were not to just make the room look pretty!
There was a relaxing area next to the huts with hammocks.
A jackfruit tree, where the fruit can get as big as 80 pounds each. Jackfruit has a very strong smell (not as bad as the durian) but taste quite nice. Described as a cross between an apple, pineapple, mango, and banana.
This is a good shot that shows a banana leaf. Banana leaf salad is very popular in Vietnam.
The home stay also had small boats we could take out on our own.
Yes, I actually took a boat out and rowed on my own. Not that I went very far : ) The scenery was beautiful.
We did a boat tour here too. It gave us a very different perspective then the others we had taken.
It was very junglesque. We even saw Tarzan!
We have no idea what he was doing.
Our guide was one of the helpers at the home stay. He only spoke one word of English, "hello". When he wanted to get our attention to show us something he would say hello. hello. He was quite ornery and had us laughing a lot.
D loves to cross rickety old bridges. I use the word "bridge" loosely.
A mini bridge for me to cross. Isn't the green moss on the water a beautiful color?
Local life on the river....
We saw several people cleaning vegetables and fish (above) as well as bathing and brushing their teeth (below) with the river water.
And we visited a crocodile farm! This place was bizarre. It was not for tourists. In fact, I thought it was very dangerous as no one was around to see if we were going to climb into the pen. There were hundreds of crocodiles. There were close to 15 large pens, each holding the same size and age from babies to huge adult crocodiles. I read that this was a farm for skin and meat and their main market for selling the skin is China.
As I mentioned, there were lots of fun activities at the home stay. We even went bicycling with the chef/housekeeper. The entire staff was really good, helping out wherever they are needed.
Of course we had to stop for a scoop of ice cream when I saw this vendor. Forgetting that this probably was not the safest thing to eat!
Our guide had to run an errand so we tagged along.
She spoke around 5 words of English. Can you guess what she bought?
Below is the bag she walked away with.
Here is a hint; they are warm and fuzzy...
We asked if they were to eat by running our finger across our neck.....
they were not!
We stopped by a local temple and met the older woman who lives there and takes care of it. From what we could gather she was around 88 and her husband is still alive, but was in town drinking.
We shared our drinks with her and she gave us cookies.
She showed us the graves of her parents and grandparents. Three generations having lived in the temple.
This was a sweet little scene - a neighborhood of children and adults playing bingo outside.
We toured a rice noodle factory.
We both tried our hand at making them.
I am going to share my moment with you... when I fell of my bike. The tire caught on the edge of the sidewalk and I went down. Fortunately no injuries, but it really scared our guide!
Another snack we tried... Banh Bong Lan - translates to sponge cake.
Back to Saigon to celebrate New Year's Eve.
Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, Saigon was "officially" renamed Ho Chi Minh City. However the old Saigon name is still used by both Vietnamese and tourists. I like calling it Saigon as I think it sounds exotic!
A visit to the market.
A crazy old man (more likely a drunk old man) posing for me to take his photo.
Check out this guys pet...
Sweet children, always happy to pose for the camera.
The little guy is holding hands with one girl and is waving to the other. Priceless!
And then he turns around waves to me! Quite the little flirt.
Usually I get the bride, but this groom was just too cute.
We found these mangers very interesting. It looked like a nativity cave for the little Christ figures. We saw many of them on people's porches - some small, some large. The catholic population in Vietnam is less than 7%.
I will end this long blog with New Year's Eve! This is the view from our window around 11 PM. The road was completely blocked with motorcycles and people. Fortunately our hotel was in a fantastic location.
Me in the middle of the crowd.
And the fireworks!
What a great way to end 2014 and to welcome 2015!