Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Small Boats and Smaller Boats

Coconut drinks on the Mekong
Originally uploaded by yellojkt.
The tour boat we crossed the Mekong River on was maybe ten feet (3 meters) wide with moveable patio chairs for seating. We were greeted with coconut drinks as the picture shows. The boat was just a little bigger than one we had ridden on the Perfume River, but then the Mekong River is a bigger river. What it did not have was a small cabin in the back, which would be important later. Our crew consisted of the tour guide and the motor operator.

Our first stop was a ways up a small river tributary to a place where they made honey candy. The stop had working displays of the methods used to make this traditional snack. We bought several packs to give to friends and the Vietnamese nail techs my wife goes to.

On our way to the next stop, while out on the open waters of the main river, we got pounded by a large thunderstorm that sprung up out of nowhere. The flimsy vinyl awning that was the roof of the boat was no cover against the fierce cold driving rain of the storm. The boat driver steered to a mangrove patch on the bank of the river that provided some shelter against the rain, but we were soon soaked to the bone. Meanwhile our tour guide tried to raise the main office on her cellphone to get direction on what to do about the tour.

Up the river on a small boat.
Originally uploaded by yellojkt.
The rain soon let up enough for us to continue on our way. The next little river branch was too small for our “big boat”, so we transferred to another smaller boat with bench seats that drove us up the river to a fruit garden. This was the heart of darkness part of the trip. The river was very narrow with enormous tropical plants coming up right to the river edge. I imagined us being in Apocalypse Now going up river to find Colonel Kurtz. We ended up at a fruit garden where we could rest under shelter and dry of instead. A much more pleasant destination.

Really small boats
Originally uploaded by yellojkt.
Elsewhere on the river we saw some boats no bigger than canoes painted in the same color as the other tour boats. I think the tour got cut short a little bit by the rain storm, but I imagine that these smaller boats are also used to take tourists up even smaller creeks. We were expected to tip the driver of both boats as well as the guide, so missing out on the last boat ride proboably saved us just a little money as well.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Across The River

Map of the Mekong River
Originally uploaded by yellojkt.
Between My Tho and Ben Tre, there are four islands in the middle of the Mekong River. The islands are named after the four sacred animals of Vietnam, the dragon, phoenix, unicorn, and turtle. The boat tour goes between the islands to get to the Ben Tre side of the river. The islands are heavily planted with small villages along the water’s edge.

On the phoenix island, Phung Island, there are the ruins of a complex built by an eccentric holyman named called the Coconut Monk because he subsisted solely on coconuts. The grotto was built in the 1960s and looks like an abandoned amusement park. Right on the edge of the water is a large steel Buck Rogers looking space ship.

The pass between the islands is very busy as all the river traffic goes through it. Large ferry boats are the primary way across the river. A very large modern concrete bridge is under construction that will connect My Tho to Ben Tre. When finished it will open up the Delta area to considerably more traffic from the Saigon area.