I can’t remember why I thought this was a good idea when planning the trip. The Delta sounded, and indeed is, interesting, the question was more one of time and travel to Phu Quoc. I’d only allowed an overnighter in the Delta, and reading the bus timetables while on the way to Vinh Long, began to wonder whether I would be able to get to the ferry in Rach Gia in time. Certainly, the girl whose blog I was reading indicated it would be a challenge. I’d already booked the room, plus that for the return to HCM before heading north, and, besides, I had a particular interest in spending time on the island.
As an aside: Futa bus lines offer wifi on their buses. They also have their own bus stations often far from the main ones, but do offer free minbuses to get you from their bus stations to your hotel.
A minibus duly took me to the ferry for Anh Binh, which is across the riverfrom Viny Long, and a couple of minutes later I was relieved of 2000vnd and followed the sign that said Ngoc Phuong, the homestay I had somewhat randomly selected. It was lunchtime, I was hungry, the pack began to way down on me, and the 600m the sign had said was closer to 1 km or more. Nevertheless I found it, entered the compound and let out a hoy. A smiling woman appeared, welcomed me and showed me to my room, of which more later. I asked whether she could give me something to eat – perhaps one of those lovely baguettes they do so well in HCM, stuffed with tofu and salad with a dash of chilli sauce. She offered noodles with pork or chicken soup, a variant of the ubiquitous pho. I had no choice but to tell her the bitter truth.
‘I’m sorry, I should have told you I don’t eat meat.”
She was initially not phased.
I shook my head.
Again, I demurred. She grew increasingly astonished
“But you eat prawn?” At my response she seemed lost for words, but the Vienamese are made of sterner stuff “I will make you some noodles and call you when you are ready.” With that, she bustled off leaving me to unpack.
I wouldn’t call that lunch the best I ever had, but it hit the spot. The noodles were pot noodles,but the vegetables were booked in a nice sauce that more than made up for it, especially in view of the notice I’d given the lady, as in none at all.
I don’t think I’m a homestay person. This one was pleasant enough, the setting all the guide books could imagine, the hosts more than helpful, and the food very good indeed. You do meet other people, but they tend to be other tourists, of which there were quite a few at this particular one, rather than locals. Nothing wrong with that, of course, although it does depend on the cast list in your particular homestay play. Mine included a retired French man who was using his retraite to travel around the world as he had in his youth. There were some other much younger French people staying, with whom he seemed more than at ease with, as they were with him. I noticed, though, they gravitated away from him as the evening progressed. Just before going to bed on the way to the bathroom I passed him sitting outside his hutch, alone, reading a book. I would have stopped to speak to him on the way back, but he had disappeared into his room.
Me, I got the Australians. They were the caricature Australians one meets on holidays, at least, the man was. He was loud brash and opinionated, That he was a supporter of Pauline Hanson came as no surprise, given the views he had expressed in the first couple of minutes of our conversation and his concise analysis of the problems in Australia and its obvious solution. I attempted to demur, while his girlfriend, rather more sensibly, plonked herself in a nearby hammock and went to sleep. At that point the retiree arrived, and was treated to an explanation of why the French were the best team in the world at football, why he hated them, and why they wouldn’t win the world cup. The french man listened politely, then slipped off for a beer at the first break in the conversation. Funny how one thing leads to another. Minutes later I could but follow his lead. The speech had drifted off into electrical standards world wide, and no longer needed any contribution from me.
Communal dining does not worry me, in fact I’m used to it, given how close together the tables are in French restaurant. We sat together on one long thin table, oldies at one end, youngies at the other, and participted in the best meal of the trip, up to this point. We made spring rolls, ate whole fried fish, followed by various pork and chicken dishes. For me they had made an array of egg and vegetable dishes, the highlight of which was the marinated and fried aubergine.
I did not enjoy the homestay. It wasn’t the people, it was the fact it resembled the backpacker hostels of my youth and relative poverty. True, there were no dorms, but we slept in open-topped wooden hutches sitting under the roof of the forecourt of the house. Toilets and bathrooms were spotless, but down a path some 50 metres or so. Not a problem, you say, unless it rains, and boy, did it rain that night. I had determined to leave early, and was relieved, after a disturbed night – jetlag and thunder are a powerful cocktail – when dawn broke. I slipped out before breakfast, anxious to get the first bus.
In the end, I can’t really comment on the Mekong delta. I managed a long walk down some of the paths which wound between the houses and the various fruit and vegetable crops, but cannot say any justice was done to the place. On the next trip I’ll take the bike, and spend a couple of weeks exploring.
I did have time to visit the local town, however. The atmosphere was distinctly laid back: almost like a French village
sleeping under the midday sun.
The only discernable activity was the two women chatting in the temple grounds, and a man snoring quietly under the awning of a shop. Even the dogs had bowed to the pressure of the day and were sleeping in clumps around the houses.
Here and there were the bikes of Asia, carrying loads way beyond manufacturer’s recommendations,
although the moto has become the major form of transport here as it is throughout Vietnam. As I was to find when slipping away the next day, bikes still ruled for the school children and commuters, who hurtled down the path in the certain knowledge obstacles such as pedestrians or dogs were few, and those who had ventured out would leap obligingly out of the way. Since all traffic was heading to the ferry, I soon developed that sixth sense that alerted me to bicycles approaching from behind, although it has to be said that the noise of motos was easier to live with than the hush of tyres on the concrete path .