Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Mekong Explored

Moody Mekong
Ho Chi Minh City - What a city! Vibrant, alive, amazing - previously unexplored - I was excited! There is nothing more exciting than exploring a new city, but today we decided to get out the city. Confusing I know, but when you are in a place with a history as rich as Vietnam, the inner city takes a backseat. We landed late the night before but were up early the next day to get picked up to go and explore the Mekong Delta and soak up the rich history of the Cu Chi tunnels.

It's about a 2 hour drive out of the busy city, narrow roads meander through small towns along rice paddies leading to a bumpy road which gets you to the tunnels. My suggestion - go early to beat the heat and the crowds. We arrived around 8.30 am, signed in, got our stickers and went through into a sunken room where they showed us a clip on the history of the war. Our awesome guide had already warned us on the drive over that the video they would show is propaganda and let me tell you - it is! Luckily it is not too serious but brings across the gist of it in a very entertaining way. After the video we started on our tour. First stop - a tiny tunnel entrance disguised by leaves pictured above. When the guide stops, at first you don't know why because there is nothing visibly present to stop for, which is a part of the demonstration. Once everyone looks well and confused they reveal the tunnel entrance - then you get in! I am not particularly fond of small spaces but I had mentally prepared myself before the trip that this is an opportunity I refused to miss out on based on a silly fear, it seemed disrespectful toward the people who lived, breathed, ate, fought and died in these tunnels for all those years.

Tanker from the war

It was time for the actual tunnels - they have rebuilt a replica tunnel for tourists to get the full experience without damaging the originals. As mentioned above I had mentally prepared myself to do this, excited and ready I opted to do the long tunnel walk, eagerly getting down the steps into the tunnel when reality hit me - the tunnels are tiny! Hunched over, bent through my knees, overwhelmed by the smell of being underground surrounded by clay with no immediate way out I panicked internally determined to make this happen but I would be lying if I said I didn't consider turning around and going back all of 2 steps in. My pride refused me turning back but I decided that I would be doing the short walk instead! The short walk is only 20 meters but feels considerably longer. Getting up those stairs out into the air being able to stand up straight it all kind of hit me all at once - people lived like that! What I had just experienced was nothing anywhere near what they went through for all those years and only at a fraction of the depth - not to mention nobody was trying to kill me! Even though I didn't do much of it, I am extremely glad I did it - a humbling experience to say the least! 

All along your way through the (gorgeous & lush) forest you will find old war tankers, equipment and the traps they built to fight, survive and ultimately win this war. They didn't have the machinery that the American's had but they outfought them on an intellectual level; from air supplies to the tunnels, diverting smoke from the underground kitchens into the early morning mist to not get discovered and using chilli powder to throw off the dogs' sense of smell, this is a piece of history that will leave you completely in awe. oh - and at a small extra cost - they will let you shoot giant war guns! 

Once all tunnels were crawled through, guns shot, pictures taken and even having learned how they traditionally made rice paper with the limited resources they had - we continued on our journey. Off to the Mekong!

We hit the road for another hour or so until we got to the harbour to find our boat that would transport us across the famous Mekong River. Next part of the tour was a lunch that would take place on a small island situated on the other side of the river. Excited to continue on this amazing cultural outing we were ready to hit the water - but not before buying a traditional Vietnamese hat! ($2) 

Despite the dark clouds and drizzle, the views over the Mekong were incredible. It is really hard to put into words the full size of the river and just the enormity of the scenery as a whole. The river is a hub of activity - other tours, fishing boats, factories and everything in between. We docked on the other side of the river at a gorgeous restaurant in the most picturesque setting. 

 Greeted by a hostess in bright traditional dress, we were lead along bridges and water features to a beautifully set up table for 6. Drink orders were taken (fresh coconut anyone!!) and food arrived. In Asia it is fairly common that the restaurant brings you either a tea or soup before your meal - today it was a yum vegetable broth. soon plates of amazing looking food arrived - prawn crackers, rice, bamboo shoot salad, spring rolls, grilled prawns and lastly, a whole grilled fish that our waitress swiftly turned into delicious rice paper rolls!

After lunch we explored the restaurant a bit and set on our way out to dessert - a donkey drawn cart picked us up to take us to a second location where we were served fresh fruit with a side of karaoke! In the meantime the aforementioned drizzle had turned into a crazy downpour with no sign of let up. Obviously used to the climate, our guide equipped us with rain ponchos and we climbed into a typical local canoe style boat as we sailed along the beautiful river back to the main boat.

Sailing along in the canoe was probably the most incredible experience of the day. Surrounded by nothing but nature, soaked from the rain, the whole world fell kind of quiet - it forced you to be completely present in the moment. 

Back on our boat more adventures ensued - we went off to go find a bee farm on the other side of the river, where we tested and tasted some of the local products they made; After that - a local cocoa plantation where chocolate was consumed in all it's different forms; We discovered how nougat is made; Snake wine was tasted and lastly I somehow ended up with a giant snake around my neck! 


Eventually it was time to head home as we had still had a long drive ahead and after all that everyone was slowly running out of steam! Fresh coconuts on the boat and a small nap in the car on the way home - it was an unforgettable day that comes highly recommended!