Saturday, April 5, 2008

Day 7 - The Mekong tour

I was arguing with my sister last night that we should get up at 5:45am, which will give us 1hr 15mins for the 3 of us to shower and get ready. She starts screaming that we don't need to get up that early and that she's getting up at 6pm. So when the alarm goes off, my sister scurries into the shower. Since there's 3 of us, I'll just wait my turn. The lights are on, so I open one eye just to check the time on my mobile. 4:55am. W....T....F?????? My sister comes out 10mins later, and I ask her if she changed the time on her mobile because Vietnam is one hour behind Singapore.


I almost threw my phone at her before I went back to bed. When all finally got up and showered, we all sat around watching TV as its 6am in the morning. Around 7am, we get up and go searching for breakfast. Last night we had walked around trying to find a food massage place (Which was completely booked out) when we spotted this noodle place just down the street from our hotel. My sister finds out that they open at 7am, which is perfect for us to have breakfast at. We rock up at 7am, and all the staff stands there staring at us. Apparently they're open at 8am. My sister starts going on about how THEY told us 7am, specifically one of the girls. They must've felt guilty so they told us to sit down and they'll serve us.

The specialty of the place is Bun Bo Hue, which is beef and pork noodle soup, where the broth has been stewed for hours with beef bones. Unfortunately, I accidently deleted the photo of the delicious noodles. I do have one of the banana blossoms they served with it??

My first Vietnamese drip coffee

Steamed rice paper rolls

After breakfast, we go back to the hotel and wait in the lobby where the tour guide picks us up. He drives us to the office we booked the tour at yesterday, where we change to a bigger bus. Meanwhile, my sister ducks into the local shops to grab some pastries and pork rolls for us to snack on:

My first pork roll in Vietnam - Same but different to the Oz version

We didn't realise its a 3hr bus ride to get to the Mekong Delta and the floating markets. So I sat by the window and amused myself with taking photos of the locals:

Taken from my seat on the bus, with the traffic coming DIRECTLY at us

All of the traffic is moving in this photo, including the pedestrian

We eventually get to our destination, where we all transfer onto this tiny wooden boat where the floor creaks as you walk to your seat. The guide explains that we're on our way to a smaller floating market, as the big one is too far away. So I get myself a good seat and start snapping away:

Doing their laundry

The Mekong Delta has lotus growing everywhere

This girl was so cute!


Taking a nap on their hammocks

Bananas and coconuts

Some guy fishing

It was at this point, the boat turns around and goes back to the direction we came from. My sister is looking at me, and I'm looking at her going WTF? I ask her whats going on? Aren't we going to the floating market? Apparently what I just saw WAS the floating market. The one watermelon boat, and the bananas and coconuts. There were a few other boats with things like sugarcane, but THATS IT. We had bought extra shopping bags with us so we could buy some fruit and other stuff to take back, but theres no market for you to buy from! GRRRRR

The boat continues on down the Mekong Delta, and our next stop is to look at the rice paper and puffed rice making:

Look at how the guy is steering

Because he needs both hands free for lunch!

The boat eventually pulls up to this shack looking thing, where we all get off. The first thing the tour guide takes us to show is this:

Yep...cobras and scorpions

They did offer us a taste, but if I won't drink the 4 snake wine my uncle makes, I'm not about to drink theirs. Next he decides to show us coconut candy making.....which took all of 30secs, 15 of which, was him taking the coconut out of its shell:

We got to taste the coconut candy before we were shuffled into a tiny room at the back of the shack, where a little old lady is making rice paper. We also got to try the freshly made ones:

We ended up buying a whole heap of coconut candy and rice paper to take home with us. We then walk about 100m to the next shack where they make the puffed rice. This was actually the most interesting part of the tour. The rice in its husk is stirred and tossed around with hot black sand. The rice will then start popping and puffing like popcorn. They then put the whole mixture through a sieve for all the sand to go back into the wok, then transfer it to a second sieve where all the husk falls out. The leftover husk is then used as fuel for the fire they use to cook the puffed rice! Genuis!

Puffed rice cakes - like LCM!

Removing the longan from the seed, which is dried and sold

We then sat down for awhile, tasting the different puffed rice cakes they made whilst sipping on lotus tea. We then get ushered back onto the boat, where its a 1hr ride to our lunch destination.

There was a lady from Sydney sitting right behind me. She also had a Nikon SLR, but it was a traditional film camera. Plus her camera had duct tape all over it because she had dropped it recently. So she started asking me all these questions on where to get a DSLR, and how it compares and responds etc etc. So whilst the boat is going along the river, and we were all enjoying the view, I could see in amongst the trees, a woman with 2 babies on a bike about to ride over a bridge. "PLEASE!! Lets the timing be right!!" I prayed silently to myself. And as the boat is about to pass the bridge, out of the corner of my eye, I could see the lady raising her camera simultaneously with me, and both of our cameras went *CLICK* *CLICK* *CLICK* *CLICK*. She immediately goes to me "Did the shots turn out???" since I could review my photos straight away. What do you think?

I should edit that power cable out

They have a poo stick to hold onto so you don't fall into the river!

By the time we got off the boat, I swear my butt was flatter than a sheet of paper sitting on that wooden bench. Lunch was served at a cultural village type thing:

Although its a tour, and I didn't expect authentic Vietnamese food, but come on, this is quite dismal. We didn't even get drinks, they were additional charge:

Pork chop, boiled rice, cold spring rolls, paper-thin-see-three cucumber and tomato

The best part of the meal was actually the veggie broth we got:

After lunch was over, we had about45mins to relax, where most of the people found themselves a hammock to take a nap. I went for a walk around the village and found out that they had a crocodile farm, good thing I wasn't exploring at night:

There was also a traditional Vietnamese singing performance, and the minute the music started, I knew what to expect......

At the end of the performance, the prettiest and most timid looking girl came out with a MASSIVE donation box...... They were lucky I had a lot of small USD notes left in my wallet.

We hop back onto the boat and 20mins later, we're back on shore where we have 45mins to explore the local markets to buy any fruit and veggies we liked. This was probably my favourite part of the tour (Despite it being 35degrees), as I got to see all the local produce. The things I was hoping to see at the floating markets:

Nashi pears

All different types of gourds

Fresh straw mushrooms

My sister insisted on buying a watermelon

We buy a whole heap of fruit, even though we get complimentary fruit from the hotel before we jump back onto the bus. Its another 3hour trip before we get back, so we settle in, draw the curtains and nap. Next thing you know, the bus stops and both the driver and tour guide gets off. I open my curtain and see the bus driver pull out spanners and screw drivers etc. Oh great, the bus has broken down. Within a minute, the whole bus heats up. You'd think that the bus will remain cool for 5 minutes because the air con has been on for an hour, but no. Within a minute everyone starts to break out into a sweat and fanning whatever they could get to cool down.

I look out the window again and see the bus driver walk past with a hammer. This can't be good. I jump out of the bus to see what's going on and to also get some fresh air.

The fan belt is broken and he's desperately trying to get it fixed. Its slightly cooler standing out here, but the sun is killing me, so I opt to get back onto the sauna of a bus. 15mins later, he finally gets the engine going and the air con comes blasting out.

We have a pit stop at another cultural village thing, where theres souvenirs to satisfy all tourists. Whilst my sister hits the shop, I decided to go take a few more photos. This has got to be one of my favourites for the day.

30mins later, we're back on the bus and it breaks down again. Luckily, this time it only takes them about 5mins to fix. We eventually get back into Ho Chi Minh City and they drop us off at our hotel. We went and scrubbed ourselves clean before going out to search for dinner. Rache's husband recommended this really nice restaurant that was near our hotel, we walk up and down the streets for about 20mins before we find it. We take one look at the menu and realise the entrees cost about 5x the amount of a main meal. We decided to pass on that.

Since it was getting late, and we had a foot massage booked in, we went into this place called Vietland. It was a touristy place, but the prices were much more reasonable and close to the massage place. Surprisingly, the food was really good!

Green Papaya & Prawn salad with rice crackers

Grilled lemon grass pork

Summer rolls

Seafood stir fried noodles

Hot and sour fish soup

Fresh straw mushrooms with tofu

After dinner, we take a stroll before heading to the foot massage place. When we got there the night before, we were quite skeptical. Its a building in the dark empty streets of HCMC. To make matters worse, when we were looking for the place, this random guy offered to help us, but snatched the address card off us and refused to give it back for awhile. Suddenly we were surrounded by 3 guys trying to give us directions. I'm not sure if he was trying to help or not, because he gave us directions and didn't try to offer us a lift there or anything. But we were all a bit shook up after that. I mean, I was on high alert with my hands on my bag, ready to kick some self-defence ass if I had to.

So we walked into this place and its like a day spa...but at night time. It was serene and almost zen like atmosphere. When we walked back in tonight, they seated us and gave us some fresh fruit and tea whilst we waited. When we were done, they asked us to go upstairs for our massage. So we climb up these steep stairs, and at the top of the stairs was this dodgy looking door with a curtain hanging in the doorway. We walk in, and I was gobsmacked. It was a MASSIVE room, with about 30 chairs lined up next to each other. The lights are dimmed down with a reddish glow. There are men on all the chairs getting massaged, and it looks like they're all sitting in their boxers. The first thought that popped into my mind was if they offered "Special" massages. I wanted to throttle my sister for recommending this place.

Since we didn't speak Viet, and they didn't speak English, and theres a no talking policy in this room, we started playing charades with them trying to explain what we wanted. Me and my sister wanted foot massages whilst Rachel wanted a head and shoulder massage. 10mins of playing charades, suddenly me and my sister get shoved into a change room and told to take our pants off. WTF? Luckily they clarified that we need to put on the boxers they've supplied. Now I know why all the guys look half naked.

We get ushered to our chairs where we laid back and waited for the massage. Once they left us, I turned to my sister and hissed at her "WHO THE HELL RECOMMENDED THIS PLACE??". She just tried to stop laughing in my face. The next 10mins, they have the massage girls running back and forth. They kept walking past us, as if they didn't know what to do. We kept explaining in sign language that we wanted foot massages. They eventually got the message and we could finally begin. They came out with buckets of hot herbal water to soak our feet in, and it was hot. So hot, my sister lifted her foot up straight away, but the woman put both her hands on my sisters knee and pushed her feet back in the water and held it down. *blinks*

They also gave us a cool cucumber mask before starting the foot massage. The foot massage was pure bliss. Until she started massaging my calves. Now that was painful, but not as painful as they started massaging my thigh. Now THAT was painful. And I was certainly uncomfortable with the fact that they're practically massaging my groin! Maybe we accidentally told them we wanted a "special" massage? Near the end of the massage, they got us to sit up so they can massage our necks and back. This was good, until she massaged my arms and I felt like she was trying to break my bones. I had my eyes closed at one stage, and the woman taps me on my shoulder and asks me if I wanted "that" and then points to my sister. I turn to look over, and the woman had flipped my sister onto her knees and had her hanging upside down. I started shaking my head going "NO NO NO!!!!".

By the end of the massage, my feet has been pampered and the rest of me is all bruised up. We stagger back to the hotel where I pass out painfully in bed.

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