|Susnet on the Mekong.
Well, I started this last lap of the Mekong -- Ben Tre, Tien Thuy, and
Can Tho -- with the hope of learning how to make my way around using
public transportation, without doing anything too foolish. The word
"fool" has come to my mind several times though in the past days, as in
"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread". But I have been reading (the
English version) of a Vietnamese classic: The tale of Kieu. It's about a
woman who expected the best of people, and more often than not ran into
trouble from it, but yet ended up quite ok. I hope that will be true of
me (the last part that is).
First stop was the river town of Ben Tre, known locally as City of Heroes
as many Viet Cong were secretly in the area during the war. So also was
Steve Spangler, and my first job, silly and small as it may seem, was to
give some soccer balls from Steve to some soccer team in Ben Tre. I
started out with backpack and bottle of water, determined to get to the
Sai Gon Mien Tay
bus station without using a cyclo or honda man. There's
a local bus going to the station, but I got the wrong directions, and --
followed by frustrated cylco drivers who wondered what this foolish
Yankee was trying to do -- padded around for a while before finding the
proper "bus"-- a xe lam
-- a small open cute little vehicle. It started
off as I was trying to take a photo of it, but as people in it were
friendly, I later got a good photo of them.
Got to Mien Tay where a hundred people waved me (and other travellers too
I noticed) to the ticket counter and then the bus. Where we waited until
every seat was filled (a little girl entertained me while I waited), then
headed for Ben Tre. Thank goodness there was no rock music.
During the trip, we had to get off when crossing the Mekong at My Tho and
buy a ticket. I followed a young man, who, it turned out, knew a bit of
English, and was kind enough not to ask me: Howoldareyou? areyoumarried?
Howoldisyourson? Well, he ended up saying if we stopped off at his
friend's place, he could get a motorbike and take me around Ben Tre.
Being innately a child of the 60's, I agreed, and after a coconut drink,
we set our goal on finding the soccer field.
Well, to make a long story short, a team was playing in the soccer field,
we talked to the coaches (AFTER the game, Kevin), gave them the balls,
and got some marvelous photos for Steve.
The next goal was Tien Thuy, a place not in the Lonely Planet, with a
phone # of someone else. This was the home of the aunt of my Vietnamese
Amerasian son Tan. We did find it, in the middle of a wonderful
banana/coconut forest that had so enthralled me the last time I was here.
Unfortunately, Hoa, the aunt, has TB, so I didn't stay long. But long
enough to eat. I don't quite understand how it's done... I was in this
small thatched roof hut with no food in it. Then I saw that a chicken had
just been killed (not the best time to point out that I was a
vegetarian, eh?). They told me to take a nap, and when I woke up less than
an hour later there was a FEAST on the table -- chicken and shrimp and TWO
kinds of beautifully presented fish and rice soup and herbs. With mangos
for dessert! All in one hour! [Bong and Ellen -- the husband must have
Finally, I wanted to go to Can Tho, river home town of my Vietnamese
teacher Hoa. Getting there was done as follows: I thought it would be
simplest to go by my host's Honda to Ben Tre, then to Can Tho. The map
showed that the two towns were close. But in Ben Tre it appeared that you
can't get there from here. Gotta qua pha-- cross by ferry, at My Tho.
So Tan's brother took me back toward Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho,
then to another
ferry crossing at My Thuan, then we sat down for what I thought was a
little rest at a cafe by the side of the road. I had just ordered my
cafe sua, when this mini-van,
packed to the gills with humanity, was waved
down, and -- without cafe sua,
but with non-la (Vietnamese hat) and heavy
backpack and instructions: ba chuc thoi!
(30 thousand only -- $2) -- I
was squeezed into a seat. Your knees must go either up or down. I don't
mind closeness, but I tend to get phobic if I can't move. But everything
worked out fine.
As long as you didn't look out of the window, that is. This driver was
determined to get to Can Tho in half the normal time, so he passed every
vehicle he could. Honestly, half the time you looked out to see a huge
bus hurtling right toward you, and we just barely swung out of his way. I
don't know why more Vietnamese don't work as New York City taxi drivers
-- they would feel right at home.
Well, I looked around Ba Hoa's beautiful city, and in the morning took a
"before-sunrise" personal boat trip down the incredibly beautiful canals
and rivers of the Mekong. I highly recommend this to anyone visiting Can
Tho. People rowing boats over the Mekong as the sun came up; vegetation
and fruit trees mirrored in the still waters; and then an up-close view
of the boat markets. Avery restful trip.
But now it's time to head back to Sai Gon for two weeks there. A Honda
driver has said he'll take me there for 170 ngan ($11), and a possibly
crowded mini-bus would be 25 ngan ($1.75) What will it be? :)
Hope your weekend was great, and that the week ahead is full of
challenges for you