DAY 3 OF BROTHER VISIT

After the Cham Charm indulgence of last evening we wondered how we’d fare during the night. But seems we did alright!

8am find us ready to eat again!  Breakfast at Sasa Café in the well known Pham Ngu Lao tourist area of Saigon.  Tour buses smoke lazily choking the morning air.  We are travelers today.  We will appreciate the air-conditoned comfort once we board our bus.

So we bear the fumes and eat a pretty ok breakfast washed down with the famous drip style French coffee.  It’s thick like oil.  You can drink it with syrupy sweet condensed milk…or black.  Hot or iced.

By 830 we’re off.  Headed for the Mekong Delta.  Our destination is the area surrounding two cities…My Tho and Ben Tre. We head out of the city without incident in the dense morning traffic.  Soon we’re on the only stretch of highway in Vietnam where there are no motorscooters allowed.  For an expat like me it’s a thrill to actually ride at 80km/hr without screeching horns and scorching brakes!

In a short hour and half we’re there. It’s a place where several islands dot the wide river. Our bus parks in a treed park surrounded by a few pavilion style structures.  And a dock where we step onto a boat that appears to be a retrofitted barge.  Woven seats and a wailing engine accompany us to our first stop 20 minutes later.

We are surrounded by tropical forest.  A packed mud path at our feet and sunshine on our heads.  It’s a magical morning.  Really.  Our first stop is a family business that produces rice paper rounds.  What Vietnamese use to wrap their spring rolls.  Both the deep fried crunchy variety and the fresh salad roll style.

We get a demonstration from our guide and some of the workers.  It’s a primitive method.  Almost all steps in the process are done by hand.  Very little electrical machinery is involved.  We like this old fashioned way of production.  Every product is one of a kind.  No cookie cutters to make everything perfect.  The small differences in each rice paper round…about 12” in diameter intrigue us.

There is a souvenir kiosk here.  There is one at every stop we make today, we discover.  But we don’t mind.  The simple farmlike settings we encounter make us realize these people work hard and long to make a living.  We applaud their serene smiling faces and their invitations for us to buy.

Dave buys a beautiful carved coconut wood tea pot warmer.  A coconut purse painted with a huge pink flower.  I bought 6 small coconut wood forks.  Perfect for spearing chunks of fruit after dinner.

It’s time for lunch.  We stop at a cool enclave of a few newer concrete homes, a wooden (museum) furnished like in an upscale country manner from a hundred years ago.

We sit at round tables.  Lunch is a variety of Vietnamese dishes.  Caramelized Pork, chicken, Pomelo Salad and a hot soup of pork and okra and sprouts and tomatoes.  A delicious and healthy meal.  And I know it’s authentic.  I’ve been here long enough to know what that is!

After lunch we trek a short distance to waiting ponies attached to wooden carts with benches.  We all board one of the carts and canter off to our next stop. Again we tramp through the trees. We reach the river again. On to another production venue.  Aboard our clamoring boat. This time we disembark beside a few rows of beehives.  Weatherbeaten boxes. Silent. No buzzing. But we know they are there. A hundred yards down the path we discover a young lad of about 10 holding a framed honey comb swarming with bees.  Dave poses bravely.   I know he’s not nuts about bees.  He had a few stinging experiences as a kid. But he seems ok today.  We snap a photo.

Nearby we taste honey tea.  It’s sweet. But not cloying.  Just like honey and tea should taste.  I buy a small bottle.  This will be nice dribbled into fruit smoothies.  Fresh from the islands of the Mighty Mekong.

We move on yet again.  This is a day trip worth every penny…all of $15.  A lot of places to go and things to see. But all within a very short distance from each other.  And all with some small snack or drink.

And the ubiquitous souvenir stall!

This time we embark on small canoe-like barks. We step into the middle of the boats.  A single line of us.  Maybe 5 per boat and a oarsman…or oarswoman.  Our boat is guided by an oarsman.  Maybe 16 or 18 years old.  One oar moving us briskly through the small tributary of the main river.

It is drizzling rain.  The wind flashes through the Water Coconut Palms.  It’s cool and mysterious.  A bit eerie.  But I love the glide through the water. Another boat tries to overtake us but someone grabs an extra oar and pushes us a little faster.

Raindrops dot the water happily.  Only a few of us have hats.  I don’t see one umbrella.

Just as we near our next stop, our vociferous boat, the rain stops.  There is sun again.  We move to our final stop.  A coconut candy production house.

It’s another place sheltered in the forest. More handmade products from the coconut flesh.  A grinder.  A masher.  A mixer.  A few hands to fold nuts and coconut mash together.  And many more hands to wrap the small candies in rice paper (edible) and a wrapper.

I see a small boy at the table.  He must belong here.  I wonder how much coconut he eats.  Or maybe non at all.  He’s outgrown it.  Familiarity breeds contempt!

We all chomp on a few samples.  I buy a package.  I don’t need it.  But it’s one way to add a little income to the community.  And the coconut candy is quite tasty.

Time to head back to the bus.  Once more we board Noisy Nancy.  Or Noisy Ngan.  We are Vietnam after all.

Our trip back to Saigon is another hour and a half.  The traffic is calm.  I’m surprised.  We end up right back where we started.  Next to Sasa Café where we had breakfast.

Sinh Tourist really know how to give us all a Good Time in the Delta.  A Great Day.

Dinner is just around the corner.

Maxim is where we’re headed.  Right beside the Majestic Hotel.  And it is majestic.  But Maxim is majestic too.  It’s my favorite Vintage Elegant Restaurant in all of Vietnam.  And it’s been there forever.  A landmark.

It’s beautifully and elegantly decorated in embroidered fabrics and vintage tiles and painted walls…superscaled Lotus flowers and Champa flowers. The light fixtures are silk paneled and embroidered.  There are crisp white table cloths and waiters at your elbow.

At 7pm the musicians arrive.  Piano, bass, violin and saxophone.  Just what you’d expect.  Quiet music to fit the ambience.

Our day ends about 930pm.  It was long and lovely.

Tomorrow we’ll relax a bit more.

Goodnight. Again.

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