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krisek Vinh Long - A travel report by Krys
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Vinh Long,  Vietnam - flag Vietnam -  V¹nh Long
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krisek's travel reports

On Water. Vietnam Trilogy - 1. The Mekong Delta

  17 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Vietnam received mixed reviews from my friends. For number of years! I wanted to see the country myself but I wasn’t sure how long I should wait. I waited until the end of 2003. This is the first report of three, which summarise my experiences.


Vinh Long travelogue picture
I entered Vietnam with a burden of mostly unfavourable stories about this country. Predetermined views are those I always want to avoid most so they don’t influence my own perception too much on any place, but this time I might have let it happen somehow.

One of the great disappointments of Vietnam was the dirt on the streets. I couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t clean their own country, their home, and chose to live in such a pigsty – no offence to pigs! Absolutely anything could be found on the streets – from pieces of paper to food, any form of packaging, and condoms. It would’ve been such a nice country otherwise. The Vietnamese wanted to leave an impression that they were a proud nation, but the dirt they left on the streets didn’t (or indeed it did) say much about them. I also hated their attitude towards foreigners, who, according to them, came to Vietnam to buy their illegal copies of books, CDs, DVDs or countless number of postcards, and who’ve never seen a motorbike in their lives and would want to spend a fortune to ride them all day long.

I was seriously and genuinely impressed with the landscape, but largely disappointed (in fact not truly disappointed as I was actually warned) with the people. As the country is quite long, it offers a vast variety of landscape and climate. The south is very flat complete with the Mekong Delta providing striking contrast of endless rice paddies and industry. Boats, boats, boats everywhere!

There are over 80 million Vietnamese and the country is not very big for this number. Therefore, water is used for living purposes almost in the same way as land is. As soon as I found myself in Vietnam, I realised that a large proportion of the population lived on water. Well, not literally – on the boats actually. In the Mekong Delta, there were entire cities, on water, where people lived and traded. There were no roads – there was just the river and endless canals. I went on a tour and I spent entire day in a boat myself.

Favourite spots:
Vinh Long travelogue picture
With the Mekong Delta, I had my hopes to see millions of boats and the colourful river floating markets. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen as many markets as I wanted to see. My original plan involved an independent travel by a commuter boat from Saigon to Vinh Long, and then to the floating markets. What I eventually ended up doing, was obtaining my ticket from the Vietnam Airlines office, which took me half a day, and booking a commercial trip to the Mekong Delta with a tour operator. It wasn’t a bad idea. The individual commuter boat would’ve cost me circa 16 USD, while the commercial trip, including boat trips, visit to a village, lunch, visit to rice paper factory, pottery factory and rice cakes factory – 9 US dollars. It was a good value and the tour group was small. It was a great deal and I had much more opportunity to see local people at work and in their everyday struggle than I would’ve, had I chosen to organise myself independently.

What's really great:
Vinh Long travelogue picture
I did see many boats. Most of them were large heavy duty boats used for the transportation of rice, bananas and wood. In addition, I saw an uncountable number of private boats transporting people, private cargo, rubbish, and everyday essentials.

The rice paper factory was in fact just a group of small houses on the shore of the Mekong river and a few families who converted their homes into a manufacture that was famous enough to attract tourist escapades from around the planet to see how they produced rice paper. It was made primarily for cuisine purposes and my favourite version of it was used to wrap giant tiger prawns, and then grilled or eventually deep fried. However, I found that the rice paper could also be consumed by itself, I mean 'itself'. The family made some chilli flavour rice paper, which looked and tasted like crisps and was delicious.

Then, the rice cakes factory did not surprise me at all. It was again a group of households, etc, etc.

Sights:
Vinh Long travelogue picture
The pottery factory at the other hand was an unexpected piece. I knew what pottery was, I just didn’t fully realise how big it could be and how few people could handle it. In a room with probably a 1000 three-four foot-high clay pots, there were just four guys servicing the entire factory! They were shaping the pots manually and preparing them for the oven. Everything manually. Where was I to believe that only small pots were made manually and the large pots just made themselves by themselves? Ha?! In fact, this was hard work! Those guys were sweating their guts out to make those pots, and I was actually struggling to imagine for whom exactly those pots were being created. An average person doesn’t have four feet pots in their houses, there’s no room for them!

The Delta was superb for people watching. I could stand on bridges and watch people and their boats.

I thought I could say a few words on Saigon, where I based myself - what to see and do there. I can’t. I didn’t see much of it.

Accommodations:
Saigon
Saigon
There was one interesting thing that stroke me as soon as I arrived in Vietnam. It was the architecture. The houses, which were build on the side of the road, would always face the road, were very narrow (the front would have a single window) and very deep. They would also have four or five floors as well. At the Delta, it was slightly different for the villages of course. There were no roads but canals and rivers splitting from the Mekong. The houses were single storey buildings, some of them quite spacious. The majority with many rooms, some with few large rooms.

In Saigon, a central part of Ho Chi Minh City, the first former type of houses dominated. I stayed at a Hotel based in one of them, called simply Hotel 70 (Bui Vien Street, Pham Ngu Lao, 15 USD). It didn’t feel that weird inside, actually. The rooms were clean and well equipped (satellite TV), and most of all the hotel was based right down in the middle of the action: bars, restaurants, clubs, pubs, tour agents.

Nightlife:
Vinh Long travelogue picture
In fact, there were very many places to eat and party in that area. Some of them really very good quality and excellent value. My favourite was Allez Boo Bar, but Guns ‘n’ Roses, Bar Rolling Stones, the Backpacker Bar and Long Phi Bar were also very good. Their quality was no different from what one’d expect from a decent pub based in a large, modern city in the US, Europe, or OZ (stereotypically, of course). I never had a chance to go clubbing in Saigon, but there were many of those, too. There was no need for me to look for late night action, since the bars and pubs were open late.

Around Vinh Long, and other places at the heart of the Mekong Delta, nightlife did not compare favourably. Not even in cultural terms like theatres, cinemas, etc. The area was predominantly agricultural or focused on it, dotted with small towns. The larger Vinh Long of 120000+ inhabitants didn’t have obvious placed for going out that I’d spot, though I didn’t stay for the night there, so I might be wrong.

Hangouts:
Vinh Long travelogue picture
I was happy with hanging out at the bridges watching the boat traffic. I could last remarkably longer that I normally would in hot weather, in full sun. In places, where it was great to watch the water flowing with boats, there were no facilities to get drinks or hide under a roof. My boat tour kept taking me to places, some rural places, whose names I didn’t know. The spot for lunch (rather great one), for example, was based in a small village somewhere around the Delta. Perhaps it was a town, I don’t know. It had few shops, where drinks could be bought, but great places to watch what was floating in the Mekong. An obvious hanging out place in the area was a boat. The majority of them had a small roof or a something creating a shaded area and could carry whatever drink or food you brought with you.

Vinh Long did have cafes and a small harbour close to facilities - typical hangouts. I was on a schedule and could only try the harbour. It was a good spot for taking photos of people.

Restaurants:
Vinh Long travelogue picture
At Allez Booz pub & restaurant, I witnessed how the streets got filthy and unhygienic. I sat at a table near the window. A newspaper in English lied there. I started to read. Then, there was this waiter, who said I should pay a dollar for reading the newspaper. I took it as a joke, but until the very moment I left the bar, I wasn’t sure he was joking at all. I ordered papaya cocktail and kept on reading. He later joined me at the table and I figured that it must’ve been a sort of waiters-only table. He kept asking me for words in English (which were in fact underlined in the newspaper) and their meaning. As soon as we finished, I told him that he owed me ten dollars for the lesson. He thought that I was joking. Then, he decided to have yoghurt and as he was finished with it, he threw the empty container out of the window. Without even checking if there was someone passing by! Dung was his name – how appropriate!!

Next part of the trilogy, part 2, is on Hue & the Perfume River.

Other recommendations:
Vinh Long travelogue picture
The Vietnamese seemed to me that they wanted to rip me off on every occasion. For a distance of two blocks, a cyclo-rickshaw man demanded the fare of a taxi ride to the airport! How could this be a genuine fare? I’m lost for words. Another example of the implausible Vietnamese ripping off techniques was used in bars and restaurants. The personnel would employ the Arthur Andersen's style of counting magic, which made the total figure twice as large as it should be, although the individual items on the bill were priced correctly. It happened to me twice in the same day in Saigon and a couple of times elsewhere in the country.

I wasn’t prepared for that. Had I been, I would’ve enjoyed myself more.

It’s not my intention to deter people from travelling to Vietnam. It’s a great country with interesting history, beautiful landscape, magical and unique cultural and natural sites, which I appreciated more north of the Mekong Delta, but I did love the delta, too. It was a good experience.

Published on Sunday March 2th, 2008


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Sat, Jan 23 2010 - 08:37 PM rating by alexsbg

It's been 6 years that you traveled to Vietnam, but after my recent trip to Vietnam in 2009, from Hanoi all the way down to Phu Quoc, I must agree. Vietnam is slow, it has not changed much since.

Thu, May 01 2008 - 10:07 PM rating by brucemoon

I really appreciate 'honest' (or what we australians call 'warts and all') reports. No glossing over the obvious.

A credit to you.

cheers

Tue, Mar 04 2008 - 11:09 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Text and pictures are first class. Thanks for all your gifts.

Tue, Mar 04 2008 - 02:57 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

again a wonderful report from you ,i wish this will be the best for month ,keep it up ..

Mon, Mar 03 2008 - 04:32 PM rating by adampl

Stunning report packed with lots of valuable info. It's a pity to read about the locals' attitude towards foreigners. Honest and decent locals are always the most important asset of a country. Seems Vietnam lacks it.

Mon, Mar 03 2008 - 01:08 PM rating by rangutan

Can't wait for part 2! A very honest review making interesting reading [4.75]

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