Having experienced flavours of life in several towns and villages south of HCMC, and glimpses of the way in which the massive Mekong river system drives the economy, it was now time to head west towards the Cambodian border, to Chau Doc located on the Hau Giang river.
We had realized that it does take time to ride around, particularly if you wish to do it at a safe pace along predominantly wet and sometimes slushy village roads in the rain. Consequently we decided to skip going south to the coastal town of Rach Gia. Setting off around sunrise at 6 AM, our boat trip down to the floating markets in Cai Rang had taken over two hours to complete that morning. Our hotel was conveniently located, about 5 minutes walk from the river. We were set to leave Can Tho by around 9 AM. Nam wrapped up our bags in thick waterproof plastic sheets and strapped them to the back of the bike. Scooters and motor-bikes are omnipresent in Vietnam, however, as with other cities and towns along the way, the traffic was extremely smooth. Discipline - or perhaps consideration - within chaos may be an appropriate description of the way in which riders give way to each other in a pleasant manner.
The quiet roads were a perfect invitation to stop a while along the greenery of the rice fields lit up by the slanting rays of the morning sun. We absorbed the warmth of the sun while we could.
Hmmm... what's this? We stopped suddenly, and figured that mushrooms were being cultivated. The friendly ladies showed us the mushrooms that they had collected in the boxes. Smiles and gestures are commonly accepted substitutes for English communication throughout the Mekong Delta.
Mushrooms are allowed to grown within neat rows of hay. The ladies sift through the hay and pick up the mature mushrooms. I guessed mushroom cultivation is cyclic. The next batch is started off when one batch of is done.
A little girl bravely rode by, her little plastic shopping bag dangling from the handle.
The waterways are the arteries of the region. Cargo boats keep chugging along all day.
A patch of road construction resulted in detours and dust along the way. We stopped off at a very pleasant cafe in Long Xuyen, mid way between Can Tho and Chau Doc, for a fix of strong, drip coffee.
Ah, yes, this cafe provided free WiFi, as well. I was happy not to connect, relishing the flavour of the coffee, and looking at life going by.
We seemed to be following the waterways to Chau Doc. We reached the town just around lunch, so stopped off at a little Soup place along the road.
Warm green tea, rice, veggies, meat, soup and chillies - all for the equivalent of about US$1. We had experienced an amazing variety of tasty street food over the past week. Oh, I just realized that I had not even opened the little bottle of hand sanitizer that the missus had carefully packed for me.
The bottle of hand sanitizer was stored in the side pocket of my duffle bag - supposedly for easy access. However, the duffle bag would be all wrapped up in thick plastic and strapped solid to the bike everyday. So, that was the reason for the hand sanitizer not being opened. The green tea in Vietnam served is boiled, so I had got used used to drinking that at every meal. My natural Indian immune system and will power were my defenses against the occasional ice that was encountered during some meals. Moreover, street food stalls - like this one at Chau Doc - would be frequented by locals. The turnover of food is generally quite high, and consequently, fresh.
The food stall (with a few plastic tables and chairs) was set up on the foot path right outside the front door of the cheerful owner's home.
Lunch done, we set off again to look around Chau Doc. The Cham community forms part of the population here, among their occupations is Fish Farming. Fish is cultivated in submerged cages right under their home, rather, the part of their home overlooking the river, often standing on stilts. A very common sight all over the Chau Doc area.
Riding further inside, we went right into the Cham villages. Sadly, the state of cleanliness was nowhere near the reasonably high levels we had observed in the villages as we rode around the Delta. Even the relatively poorer Khmer settlements were quite clean, there was no noticeable litter, garbage, boxes and general things thrown carelessly around.
The streets and markets presented a rather disconcerting sight of ladies all covered up in black. Quite different from the rest of Vietnam.
Time to move on, ride around some more, check into our hotel and experience the air of Chau Doc. This little cafe with friendly owners who spoke one or two words of English, was located right next to our hotel. Perfect for sitting around, reading and watching life go by. The cafe provided WiFi, as well, which I used to translate English words to Vietnamese in my efforts to communicate with the owners.
Endless cups of hot drip coffee, and jugs of warm, green tea flowed by that evening. A good time to stroll around the neighbourhood, as well.
Saigon Bia and water would typically replace the Coffee and Tea as the evening went by. Tables and chairs would be set up to prepare for an increased number of guests in the evening.
A view of Hotel Thuan Loi, set along the Hau Giang river, with a conveniently located cafe right next door. An interesting street with a school, an army building, numerous small stores as well as a local market.
The staff speak extremely limited English. I was looking for a cyber cafe to print out my Vietnam border exit form which I mistakenly thought I would need. It was impossible to communicate that to the staff. The owners of the cafe next door helped out. Ultimately I decided not to take the trouble of printing the exit form and take life as it happens. The form was not needed. More on that in another post...
The Hau Giang river is visible across the reception as you enter the hotel.
A neat double room with a mini-fridge (works well), air-con (also works well), TV (no idea whether that works!) and attached bath (with hot water) sets you back by about 250,000 VND (about US$ 13).
However, the sitting area over looking the river is the real bonus. It's almost a room with a view. Perfect for many hours of meditation after a several hours at the cafe next door, listening to the sound of an occasional boat going by in the darkness.
Life in Vietnam, particularly along the river, begins early in the day. Small and large boats start chugging by at about 4 AM, and some keep going till way after dark.
Stepping down towards the water's egde from the hotel brings you closer to people's homes, busy with their lives. I did not stay long, not wanting to intrude.
There was some more looking around to be done in the Chau Doc area the next day.
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