Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Can Tho, Mekong Delta area

Wed. Nov. 4 2009

So far, Vietnam is a lovely place - relatively modern, clean, safe, and full of lush beauty. Today's Mekong Delta trip has been relaxed but interesting. Fascinating how the Vietnamese seem to be so practical, using every byproduct for something - fuel, fertilizer, path coverings, etc. For instance, in today's demonstrations of extracting salt, making coconut candy, and popping rice in hot black sand, the fuel used to stoke the fires was always rice husks, which they have an abundance of.

This trip was a good choice for me - even though it's still clearly designed for tourists, we're not surrounded by thronging hordes, the villages are real, women holding babies smile shyly from their doorways as we walk by on the muddy pathway through the dense delta vegetation. So much more fun to shop in a tiny village, assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that the money will go directly to those making the product. It was fun finding more Christmas stocking stuffers here - cocunut candies I'd watched being made, for instance!

Our hotel in Can Tho is quite upscale - the dollar still goes a long way in Vietnam. Breakfast, included with the room, is a wonderful combination of Eastern and Western, with your choice of, for example, French Toast and croissants or fish soup with assorted Vietnamese condiments.

This area is noted for its floating markets and fruit orchards. We motored through hundreds of boats literally bursting with bananas or pineapples, yams, or cabbages. Apparently, these are wholesale vendors. On our little sight-seeing boat, we had a plentiful supply of local fruits to try - fresh coconut milk, rambutan, dragon fruit, dragon eyes, monkey finger bananas - I liked all of it, though the notorious Durian was conspicuously absent. I think they assumed, probably correctly, that we wouldn't easily get past the initial stink of the thing.

When we stopped in one of the Delta villages for lunch, we were treated to a performance of Vietnamese folk music, including singing, which I enjoyed much more than I would have expected. I had memories of finding Korean folk music almost impossible to listen to, but I was an intolerant teen then, and this just seemed charming and not all that strange anymore. Back in Ho Chi Minh City, I followed up on a restaurant recommendation, The Blue Ginger, because it included live folk music. Now THAT was magical! I went out the next morning and bought 4 CD's!
Speaking of shopping, I have actually enjoyed shopping here. Good prices, really friendly people, not unbearable pressure, and fun goods - I'm looking forward to Christmas! Oh, and the traditional Vietnamese dress, the Ao Dai, is perfect for me! Small upper frame, and right where the lower bulge starts, an all-forgiving slit on each side - Very comfortable.

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