Sunday, January 20, 2008

Delta Blues and Greens and Browns

So we bid farewell to Cambodia in the best way possible, namely by taking a slow boat from just outside of Phnom Penh to Chau Doc on the Vietnamese portion of the Mekong Delta. After an absurdly fast and dangerous 45 minute bus ride, short-cutting the construction on the main road and flying down dirt roads through tiny villages to the boat dock--we boarded the first boat that would carry us to the Vietnamese border. On this leg, the shores were uncluttered, the water clean and the scenery beautiful. As the boatfull of people were just drifting into a deep trance, we pulled up to the Vietnamese border.

Again, I wondered if the experience of crossing the border would be a hint of the culture to come. In short, we hope not. At the border we were ushered to the "health check." The health check consists of a man accepting $2,000 dong (about 16 cents) and letting you leave. I think it might have been a healthy wallet check, not sure, but we did receive an official looking stamp for our troubles. Next, we were ushered to a nearby resteraunt to wait for the border officials to review our passports and visas. Strangely, the time it took to complete the task was exactly how long it took for the only restaurant at the border to serve travelers lunch and collect the checks. It was made clear that ordering was not optional.

Anyhoo, when we finally crossed the border on our second slow boat and began our float down the Vietnamese leg of the river into the delta, the idea of a border became abundantly clear. Suddenly, there were houses stacked close together, there were small and medium scale industries spaced between houses, and the river was full of all forms of vessels cruising in what appeared at times a haphazard pattern. We docked that night in Chau Doc and had a fun and final evening out with our friend Kim before she headed back to Chicago via Saigon.

Day two we took the boat to Can Tho by way of a few floating markets, monkey bridges (rickety bamboo river crossings), a rice noodle cottage operation and a rice processing plant. The floating market saw our first true failure in the art of bargaining. Apparently, mango prices are much more firm than that of nock-off designer wear. Lesson learned. The monkey bridge was a bit underwhelming after the truly rickety bridges of Laos, but the walk along the banks gave us a different view of the river that we had been floating on for the past two days. As for the factories, they were extremely interesting, and they certainly seemed to fall more than a hair's breath short of OSHA standards.

With the completion of the slow boat trip, we were herded onto buses for our next stop: Saigon.


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