Halfway through the journey we stopped to visit a temple, with the highlight being three giant Buddha statues in three different positions, one lying down asleep, one standing up and one meditating. These where build around 100-200 years ago. There was also a burial site for monks who had worked here and some graves where very impressive.
Soon we arrived at the sea and after passing through a maze of people trying to sell us an enormous variety of different hats we got on our boat. Our boat was a long wooden thing with the captain and our guide at the front. Our captain was telling us a lot of interesting things about the Mekong delta during the boat journey, or at least I assume he did as we couldn’t hear a thing, the motor and a bad microphone restricted the back half of the boat from listening to him. Instead we marvelled at the change in scenery, from harbour to wildness and talked to the people next to us, a Check doctor and a group of girls from somewhere in South America.
After about 10 minutes in the giant orange coloured river we arrived at our first stop on a mangrove island. After jumping of the boat we reached a tiny coconut product factory. Here we saw how the coconuts where opened and pressed, then the pressed coconut would simmer over a fire for a while until it turned to a brown wax like solid. They passed around a plate of this and it was delightful, it’s taste is hard to describe as although it tasted like coconut it tasted nothing like coconut water, milk or flesh. After having a whole plate of this to ourselves we saw how it was cut up and wrapped by a line of women sitting in the shade. We also got to try different flavours such as peanut (my favourite), coffee and a variety of fruity flavours. Then we got to a giant jar filled with a liquid and something else inside. After closer inspection and explanation by the guide we could see that there where king cobras, lizards and bits of ginseng root inside, submerged in alcohol. At first nobody wanted to try a shot of this and I decided to give it a go, it wasn’t as bad as I expected and tasted somewhat like medicine. We also got to taste banana wine and these dried banana flakes that I really enjoyed even though I am not a huge fan of bananas normally. There was a table full of beauty products made from coconuts and a bunch of sweets one could buy at the end.
We got back on our boat and drove to the next island where we had a rather plain lunch. While eating we had a fun view as there where two giant ropes strung across a small lake and Vietnamese school children about our age tried to climb over this while the others swung the ropes trying to make them fall into the muddy water below. As we walked around this island we saw a big pit overfilled with young crocodiles snapping at bits of meat that one could purchase and dangle over them with a wooden rod. Next to them was an enclosure equal in size but instead of about 50 inhabitants it only had 3 crocodiles that where about 4 times larger than the ones being fed. Neither of the enclosures where that secure either, it would have not surprise me to hear that some of the reptile inmates had escaped. If one was fond of the crocodiles you could take bits of them with you, whether it was a belt or a full size skin, the souvenir shop had everything you could possibly make from crocodile leather.
We got back on our boat and drove to the last island, a mangrove swap like the last two. After walking for a bit a mysterious humming reminded me of an activity I used to partake in back at school. My guess was confirmed when we saw a man holding up a bee hive. We soon got to sample the produce of these busy workers as we were served tee with the island bee honey. This drink tasted great as the honey provided it not just the usual mellow sweetness that I am used to from honey but also a fruity aftertaste. The four of us (the Check doctor joined our table) finished a whole bottle of honey after drinking countless cups of tee. After our little tee break they brought out an anaconda that we could hold and take pictures with. It felt a bit odd having this giant mass of muscle wriggle around your body but we all held it at some point. I could not help but feel a bit sorry for the snake as it looked somewhat sedated but I suppose it’s life is better than that of the cobras submerged in alcohol.
After our little tea break we got on these wooden boats that would take us further into the mangrove swamp. At the front of this boat sat an old lady (65plus) that gave me a toothless grin as I got on. She handed me a paddle and together with a guy sitting at the back we propelled the boat through the jungle. The sun shun upon us mercilessly, however the rice hat we got given prior to embarking the canoe helped a bit in keeping us protected from the elements. Before paddling away our guide also reminded us to keep our hands out of the water because of the crocodiles. After a very interesting journey through submerged palm trees and impressive mangrove root systems my arms felt very tired, which made me feel a great sense of respect for the old lady who as soon as we got of paddled back the way we came.
Once disembarked from the wooden boat we walked to a bamboo hut in which we where served plates of fruit. Apart from the usual mango, pineapple and dragon fruit, there where also a few exotic fruits we had not had before such as the durian. While enjoying these and drinking tea a band serenaded us with traditional Vietnamese music. The women wore dresses and provided the vocals while the men sat on the side playing a variety of strange looking instruments such as a sort of harp with three strings. The last song they played was “if your happy and you know it”, which made everyone laugh a bit. Then we got back on our boat and tuckered of to the port past a few fishing boats that would always wave back at us.
On returning to Ho Chi Minh City we had supper and got back to the hostel. After we packed our bags we waited in the reception for a short while waiting for our bus. During this time I started talking to a young women who was working there. I asked her questions that I normally ask when I meet someone from a single party state such as if she liked the system. She replied that she doesn’t as it does not do a good job and because it is corrupt. When I mentioned the possibility of a people’s uprising she replied that there is no one to rally behind and that they don’t have it that badly, she giggled at the thought of rebelling, it seemed almost absurd to her. She also mentioned that if one was to criticise the Communist party, even if only a negative post on a social media platform, one would go to prison. Finally she said that in Bangkok and Malaysia you occasionally have bombs blowing up and that she enjoyed the safety of Vietnam. I guess the Vietnamese have it too good to risk loosing their livelihoods for political change. I also inquired a bit about Vietnamese education and where she wanted to go in the future (Singapore was her answer). The questions she asked me where of slightly different nature, inquiring about general life in Germany and about what we eat and more specifically what my parents fed me as a child (first time anyone has ever asked me that). After telling her that the staple food in Germany would be bread and potatoes that i had when I was a child instead of rice she pointed out that that was probably the reason I was so big (which was very odd for me as I am average height back home and rather thin (we also haven’t exactly been gaining weigh while travelling).
And so we left Saigon, sadly the way we came on a horribly long bus journey. On this journey we looked back on our time in the southern capital, we learned a lot in the museum and in the tunnels and had a great time in the Mekong river delta. Saigon was a good City to end our trip in mainland Vietnam.