Monday, March 11th, 2013 – Around Vinh Long (where else ?)

Distance travelled today 0 kilometres – Total distance travelled 176 kilometres

We woke up, still in Vinh Long, to another beautiful morning. David was fed up with laying in the room so we both went to breakfast but, this time, I had pork and rice.

David is a much more of a traditionalist and his target was the more conventional continental style. Seemingly now as a matter of course, the waiter brought me a glass of boiling water for the iced coffee.…..

After breakfast, we took a leisurely stroll and finally saw the garden. It had a somewhat grand design and had certainly been built with good intentions. Regrettably, like everything else around there, it was somewhat beyond its zenith. It had two, ornate bird cages, but one inhabitant was missing. The other contained a peacock that looked a bit bedraggled. David wanted to report the absence of the other bird to the front desk, but I told him not to.

There was also some strange fruit growing in the garden trees and some lovely flowers.

To amuse David while he was healing, we went to an internet café. Utseom appeared, as if by magic and offered us a ride, but this time we refused. David needed to exercise his swollen knee. We searched on the internet in vain for the train station in Vinh Long, thinking we could, at least, begin our trek north by rail. Information was very scarce but, finally, Wikipedia made it clear to us that no train had ever arrived in, or left, that area of the Mekong Delta.

Thus, Plan B fell away and Plan C came in. We mapped and recorded the trip back to Ho Chi Minh City. Of course, on Google Maps, it seemed like the easiest thing in the world, but we had not been born yesterday. We had already learned that the most crucial thing was to know the road number. Along the route, we would have a critical approach to the highway right at the start. This would actually be to the “old” road, because the new highway is no longer for motorcycles. We had already almost been fined for being where we should not have been. There was what seemed like an easy part, the trip through the countryside, but we could already guess it was likely to involve some unforeseen complication. Then, of course, there would be the endless tangle of the city itself. David had decided that as soon as he saw one of the “Honda taxis“, which function as both motorcycle taxis and as “guides” for clueless tourists, he would pay one to guide us through.

So, we had a plan for the next leg of the trip, but we were not about to leave because David’s knee was still too sore and a bit weak. Even though time was flying by, we decided to spend one more day in Vinh Long, but we would use it to take a trip into the Delta proper. The town was full of palm trees around the road and had many small bridges over the canals, many of which were lined with decrepit shacks and clogged with garbage. At low tide, when the water was low, it was far from pretty.

It was very green though and, everywhere we looked, there were exotic fruits just growing on bushes in the street and bright flowers in all possible colours.

We wanted to see the Delta outside of the town, so we arranged for Utseom to come by early and take us to one of the boats that toured the waterways.

Although it was lunchtime, David was not hungry at all, so I helped myself to some more pork and rice. He did not even want a little pho soup, which was a mistake on his part as I tried it and it was delicious.

On the way back to the hotel, however, a taste for beer came to him, which quickly turned into a taste for coconut milk. There was no shortage of coconuts for 8 Crowns. In another friendly cafe we had iced coffee with jasmine tea. From my experience, the day before, I already knew that this should be drunk by first sipping the very sweet and good coffee at the bottom and then pouring jasmine tea on the rest of the coffee and ice and rinsing it all out.

When we returned home, we found that there was warm water in the shower. There never was any, first thing in the morning, because it was only during the day that the sun heated up the barrel on the roof. We took a glorious warm shower, without further injuries and lay on the bed to rest and gather strength for dinner. This is the right time to mention my slippers or house shoes. Thanks to Vietnam Airlines, I did not have to buy any, because I had very comfortable slippers from the flight. David looked at me strangely, when I quickly packed them after landing, but I think he envied me later !

We managed to sleep a little in the afternoon and as soon as it evening started to fall and it became a little cooler, we went to the city again. This time, at the front of the hotel, instead of going to the right, we walked in the opposite direction. The Lonely Planet said that there was a temple somewhere and, to the left of the hotel, a dome was visible in the distance. We originally thought that might be the temple, but I stopped thinking that when David sent me upstairs to the roof terrace to “check it out“. There was a nice aerial view of the garden.

From up on the terrace, I could see over most of Vinh Long. I found that the top of the dome more closely resembled a vertically positioned medium-range missile than a temple tower.

Up close, I was correct, it was some kind of a socialist construction, bearing placards with slogans and intended as a kind of encouragement to the workers. Whatever the thinking behind it, it quite fulfilled its purpose, Vietnamese children, young people and families all gathered there to fly dragon kites, eat pho and relax in unusually well-kept greenery.

It was obvious that westerners were a bit of a curiosity in Vinh Long. All along the way, we were greeted by most of the population, especially young people and small children. They did not miss the opportunity to wave and call “Hello!“, to which we, of course replied. David also tried to improve their vocabulary and, particularly to the younger women, replied “Good afternoon, ladies“, to which all the girls older than four years giggled. I got the impression that David relied more on teaching the Vietnamese to speak English rather than the other way around. The worst side of this attitude was, of course, enjoyed by me. I did try to speak the local language and I could usually understand in the end, even though it was often something of a pantomime. Someone had to try !

So that it does not seem as if we were only entertaining the younger generation, I have to add that we were greeted in a friendly way by practically all of the locals we met. The ladies all expressed sympathy for my injury, which, by then, looked really unpleasant. One Vietnamese woman, about a century old but riding on a bicycle, winked at us in a conspiratorial way and showed us a smile which revealed she had not a single tooth in her head !

We saw a temple of some kind which appeared to have the dreaded “Swastika” motif everywhere ! It was actually, if you looked at it carefully, the same design, but reversed. This is a Buddhist symbol for good fortune.

Of course, when we needed Utseom the most, we did not see him and he did not emerge from somewhere. All that was left was to step out on our own. We ate something along the way, especially me, David was still not hungry. To go home, or more precisely to our favourite cafe, we had to take an unknown motorcycle taxi ! It was not until we finally arrived at our coffee shop for the last coffee that Utseom appeared like a bolt from the blue. We agreed with him (at least we hoped we agreed with him) that he would pick us up at the hotel in the morning and take us to the river for a ferry.

So, we needed to get up early, at seven, in order to leave before the heat started. I spent a little time writing, but soon closed the computer and tried to sleep. David, needless to say, was already snoring. I had a momentary urge to kick his knee !