Sunday, 3 August 2014

Vietnam - Mekong Delta

To avoid going back to PP we had decided to enter Vietnam at its most southern border crossing, Ha Tien.  Apparently it had a few things to look at so we decided to break up the travelling a bit and book a night there.  Our advice: don't bother.  There really isn't much to see or do, barely anyone speaks English (and didnt want to even try and understand what you were trying to communicate when we tried bits of Vietnamese) and it was an all round struggle and wasn't a great introduction to Vietnam, especially after leaving Cambodia on such a high.

Unusually our bus took less time than we imagined and we were over the border with no issues and in Ha Tien in about 1h 45. We found our accommodation (a bargain at 130,000 dong, £3.60 a night) checked in and went for a wander.  

We found a place to eat on a boat on the river and I ordered Singapore fried noodles.  In England these come with tiny shrimps, in Vietnam they come with huge prawns with tails on and LOADS of squid, both of which I am not a fan! I ate the noodles and left everything else which looked like a huge mound of food on my plate which I felt guilty about leaving.

A really skinny hotel

That night we were terrorised by a cockroach.  They're so bloody quick and each time we tried to trap it it escaped and we lived in fear of it jumping on us in the night.  We gave up catching it.  Later on I turned to Amy and said "I see..." I didn't even get to finish my sentence as she began to scream and shake her body manically. I asked what was wrong and she assumed I was about to say "I see it on your bed" when I was actually about to say "I see why Angelina Jolie adopted a Cambodian child".  Bless her.

The following day we embarked on an experiment of getting transport ourselves rather than booking via the hotel.  This decision was borne out of 1) always booking via hotel and being disappointed and 2) reading nightmare reviews of busses packing in 40 people on a 20 seated and taking 8 hours for a 5 hour journey.  This turned out to be quite stressful and more expensive than if we had just gone with the hotel booking, but you live and learn and we don't know what the alternative would have been like either.

In Can Tho we checked into our hotel and it was such a relief that most of the staff spoke English.  The hotel also had a proper shower cubicle which i got a bit over excited about.  The concierge recommended the restaurant opposite for dinner where we found the below delights on the menu....

We booked onto a floating market tour the next morning (5am start urfh) Our hotel ran their own tours which meant we had a guide and a boat all to ourselves.  We visited a smaller floating market first which is less touristy than the larger one.  Our guide bought us some fruit and then we sat at a cafe and had some pork and pho for breakfast along with a healthy portion of people watching.  The floating market was interesting, it's mainly women with little wooden boats laden with fruit and vegetables trading with each other.  They manouver their boats with such dexterity and clamber all over them whilst balancing so they don't capsize.  I struggle enough getting onto the boat so its quite impressive to watch.

some of the boats are a bit overfilled!

Breakfast of Pho at a riverside cafe

We then headed into the canals past little villages.  We got out the boat to go on a little walk in the countryside where we saw the littlest kittens ever (kittens are becoming a theme!!).

We also stopped off at a rice noodle factory, I say factory it was a shack with two staff!  In case you're interested, rice noodles are made in the following steps:

1) wheat flour, rice flour and rice husks are mixed together then melted
2) this mixture is poured onto a circular muslin cloth stretched over a fire and spread out using the base of a pan
3) the circular dish formed is rolled onto a large rolling pin and laid out on some thatched leaves to dry
4) once dried, the discs are rolled through a mould and strips of noodle come out the other end. Ta da!

Weirdly the "factory" had a collection of animals, including cats and dogs, salamanders, a weasel like creature, hedgehogs, guinea pigs and chipmunks.

On the way back it started to pour it down and our poor boat driver (captain?) got soaked and we felt very sorry for her.  Being on the river when its raining isn't much fun.  In one of the canals we came across a tree that had fallen down across the river.  No council tree surgeons here, only locals swimming in the canal with hacksaws and dragging bits of tree by hand.

stuck in the reeds

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The tour was a very pleasant morning spent on the water and I'd recommend it.

Exploring the canals

And then getting stuck in the weeds

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the streets of Can Tho with failed plans - it took ages to find the museum we were headed for as the map was wrong (I know what you're thinking, it really was wrong!!) then the museum was pants anyway, then we couldn't find the other museum at all, then we found a shopping centre for some much needed AC and a drink but turns out you need to purchase a membership to shop there... Sigh.  The main town area of Can Tho reminded me of PP and I didn't like it much - it was too busy, too much traffic and not very pretty.  Ladies charge people to stroke puppies and there were 2 monkeys on chains on a street corner.  Oh that reminds me, in Bangkok we saw a lady with loads of dogs sitting on a table and she had a hand written sign pleading for money so she could buy clothes for her dogs. Bit weird.  I assume maybe something got lost in translation.

Can Tho: higgledy piggedly shop fronts, huge roads and not the quaint delta town I was expecting

The evening activities more than made up for a rubbish afternoon.  After a bit of wandering, we found a restaurant to eat in which had an English menu ( we didn't want to end up accidentally eating pig womb).  There appeared to be karoke wars happening outside the restaurant, one guy had speakers attached to the back of his moped and was singing along to something, but then another guy opposite the road started up too. Our guy gave up and left, much to my disappointment.

Being practically the only Westerners in the town, we were apparently something of a spectacle and 5 waiters crowded round us trying to take our order.  The barmaid spoke good English so she became our server for the evening, showing us how to use the variety of condimemts laid out on the table (squeeze the lime over the salt&pepper mixture and use as a dip, use the additional bowl given as a food catcher when your chopsticks fail you).  

Continuing the interesting Vietnam foods menu, our menu had the following:

We played it safe, Amy ordering chicken wings, me grilled chicken with salt and hot pepper, and sharing a plate of fries.  We asked for some sauce with the fries and they brought out a bowl with margarine and sugar....I won't take this custom back to the UK.

My dish when it arrived was absolutely huge and turns out it was half a chicken.  Half a chicken literally means half, heart, foot and all.  When I spotted the foot I wanted to vomit all over the plate but I held back.  It was very spicy and Amy licked a bit to try some before realising she had accidentally licked the heart.  Once again I left most of the meal and nibbled on the bits I could eat.  When we paid the bill the barmaid asked why I hadn't eaten much and as she'd been so nice all evening I didn't want to disappoint her so I said I got full very quickly.  She then asked if I wanted it as takeaway...which I said yes to out of politeness. Bless her.   I tried to give it to our hotel guy but he didn't want it so it went into our bin,making the room stink of chicken all night.

This ain't no Nandos, kids...

The following day we were off again to Ho Chi Minh, having exhausted our entertainment options of Can Tho.

Places stayed:
Ha Tien: Viet Toan Hotel, 1 night at 130,000 dong.  Twin room, friendly staff but struggled communicating.  Random guy tried to get into our room?! WiFi, fan, fridge, no free water.

Can Tho: Nam Mon Boutique Hotel, 2 nights ($15.3 a night). Double room, WiFi, fridge, AC, lovely bathroom with shower cubicle, friendly staff with good English.

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