Biking in the Mekong Delta – Day 2

This is the second entry of a three day bike tour of the Mekong Delta with SinhBalo Adventure Travel.

Watching the sun rise over the river from the dock of the guest house in the quiet of the early morning, the noise of the previous night fades away. Crowing roosters, barking dogs and chirping geckos are replaced by a quiet, soft pinkish glow through the clouds.

Breakfast was mostly unremarkable except for the individual coffee contraptions. An aluminum coffee filter placed on top of a glass. Hot water is poured in the top and coffee drips into the glass. Small and lightweight it would be great for backpacking. Also of interest was the plate of jack fruit, one of those big ugly things you see at Asian markets. The mildly sweet yellow flesh has a faint putrid smell. Definitely not going on my favs list.

Our day of biking starts on a small dirt road behind the island guesthouse. Colorful houses peek through the trees and shrubbery lining the pretty lane. We soon reach the ferry dock where we wait among the mass of motorbikes and bicycles to board the ferry. Unlike the daily commuters we leave the bikes with the guide and climb to the top of the ferry to watch the river. Large and wide there is always something going on on the Mekong, from small single person skiffs to barges loaded down with dirt. Dirt is constantly moved, dredged in one spot to fill up holes in another.

We meet the van on the other side of the river in Vinh Long and head to our next biking site. Along the way we stop for a quick visit to a local manufacturer of clay bricks, pots, and other clay products to decorate the home and garden. The dried clay is fired in large beehive shaped kilns that burn rice hulls. The ash is then sold to farmers to be used as fertilizer. Nothing is wasted.

Biking was calmer and prettier today. Not as many people on the smaller lanes that ran along the water ways, through small towns and aside rice fields.  An intimate view of daily life here on the Delta. Taking care of ancestors is an important part of Vietnamese culture and well tended tombs dot the rice fields or are predominately placed in the yard in front of the house. While everything else is covered in a grimy film, the tombs gleam a brilliant white.

We took a short morning break at a local market where we tasted watermelon, red and sweet, and a fruit called sapodilla. About the size of a small apple its pale green peel encases a super sweet orange flesh the consistency of a plum. This one I would try again. As we eat the fruit the merchants watch and laugh. Our guide tells us that they find us strange and amusing, so tall with pale skin and hair.

Back on the road our ride is not without mechanical difficulties. First the French guy’s chain breaks, then one of Don’s crank arms and pedal fall off, and the Danish woman has a flat tire. Fortunately there are many small bike shops along the way.  The mechanic crouches on the dirt floor and hammers the chain back together with a rock. It’s missing a couple of links and won’t quite go into third, but it’s serviceable. Don’s pedal falls off a time or two more but finally they get it on tight enough that if he only pedals on the one good side it won’t fall off again. And even after replacing the tube in the Danish woman’s tire, they stop every so often to pump it up again. Such is Vietnamese repair work.

Lunch is back in town at a small open air restaurant. Our table is the only one with a table cloth. Not the most pleasant setting, at an intersection along a busy main thoroughfare with the air filled with motorbike fumes, dust and the incessant blaring of horns. But we are tired and hungry and the food is good. Actually more of it and tastier than the previous day. Stir-fried noodles with vegetables, a plate of savory wontons, sausage morsels and small spareribs, a whole fish, a flavorful vegetable soup with beef chunks (more gristle and bone than meat ), and rice.  We ate heartily, mostly in silence.

More biking after lunch. Needing a restroom we stop at a little restaurant which supposedly has a “toilet”. Our guide takes us through the open-air dining room to a little yard in back. He points to a section of garden wall along the side of the yard underneath the clothes line and says “this is for the men”. The womens’ is in a little hut at the back of the yard. He says Vietnamese toilets are on the floor. The four of us girls are all familiar with Eastern squat toilets. Xina opens the curtain first and then ask the rest of us to come look. Did he literally mean you pee on the floor? No hole, just a crack where the two slabs of concrete don’t quite meet. A women and her daughter are sitting in the next yard watching us and smiling. How can four grown women not know what a toilet is? We decide, yes, this is the toilet. “But what do you do if you have to do more than just pee?” Xina asks.

By this time back on the road, the sun was high in the sky and some of our companions were not used to the heat. The French woman, hot and tired, fell off her bike. Not really hurt with just the seat of pants marking where she fell in the dust. Others limped along to our final destination with their various mechanical problems- Stephan not shifting into third, Don not pedaling too hard and Xina’s tire being pumped up every so often.

A short van ride later we arrive at our hotel, Tay Do in Can Tho, just a couple of blocks from the river front. The Majestic it is not, but it is clean and comfortable with a hot shower. After a longish nap Don and I explore the local market. It’s late in the afternoon and the wet market has closed but vendors still crowd the roadside, crouched down over their small selection of items – a few fish, shrimp or mollusks, a couple kinds of greens or fruit.

Our guide leads us to a riverside restaurant, Sao Hom, for dinner and then heads off to eat elsewhere. Large tables of tour groups fill the open air restaurant. This is what I don’t like about tours. They take you where all the other tour groups go. The preset menu ordered for us included a vegetable soup, pumpkin flower fritters with a pork filling, simmered pork, a whole fried fish in a sweet tamarind sauce, stir-fried green beans with garlic, rice and mixed fruit for dessert. Nothing particularly tasty or interesting, but our bellies were full, the air was soft and the evening pleasant.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Vietnam page.

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