All done … now wait for the next journey

So this journey has ended.

Now’s the time to draw breath, save money & wait for the next overseas adventure … possibly only eleven months away, and counting down.

Day 25 – Saturday 14th January: Journey’s end, Brunei to Melbourne

Brunei turns out to be a supreme disappointment, but maybe there’s still a sour taste left in my mouth from our previous dose of regulation & efficiency.

Breakfast is saved only by the discovery of pancakes resembling the pikelets my mother makes, alongside jars of Apricot & Strawberry Jams. It certainly enhances the serving of dry stale cornflakes, though Ben assures me the milk that swirls in his bowl is fresh. The little round bread rolls also prove to be quite a gastronomic surprise.

Faced with the possibility of sitting in the lobby of a remote hotel for two-and-a-half hours, we organize a taxi for $20 to take us to the city centre, to see the sights. Taking all of 30 mins this is the best Brunei apparently has on offer at 8:30 because most shops open at ten, though children already sit in classrooms.

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When ask if we can at least see the sultan’s palace, we’re told, ‘Oh that’s too far to go.’

Instead we must settle for an inferior mosque with a gold-encrusted minaret … or two …

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ImageHaving determined this snapshot of the classic vehicles in Brunei  is the last snapshot I’ll be taking of our trip, back at the hotel we arrange for an early transfer to the airport, & I pack away my camera & picture cards for safe-keeping.

When Ben notices his jade Buddha is missing from the necklace he earlier tightened as he sat upon the hotel bed, we retrace his steps since arrival at the airport & I eventually find it, face down in the centre of the waiting lounge, at a spot his eyes have missed, or overlooked, in three preceding passes. With an added stitch plus extra knots to secure it in place, I know he’s grateful I carry a needle & cotton when travelling, since he genuinely – and quite openly – says,

‘Thanks, Mum. For everything.’

In fact, if  he’s memorised anything at all in Cambodian, and could muster it at a moment’s notice, he might easily say, ‘Akun jann.’

And so in the relative peace & calm of a relaxed Brunei International Airport we sit & wait for the check-in staff for flight BI0051 to switch on their computers & to assign us our seats to Melbourne.

And all’s well with the world, with Ben – & particularly with our relationship – when we touch town on Australian soil & slip through Customs like fleas on a well-greased slip-knot.

Day 24 – Friday 13th January: Fare-welling Ho Chi Minh City with more than a tear

I scan my camera’s imagery bank for memories of  Vietnam and Cambodia  that must never be forgotten.

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It seems my footsteps have taken me to many intriguing places with untold, hidden stories . Nevertheless, because I enjoy walking & find my new decorative shoes really comfortable, Ben agrees to loan me an additional $10US so I can dash out & purchase another pair. As I wait outside the specialty gift shop beside the ABC Bakery, hoping for any signs of its early opening, a security guy reaches towards the lock & lifts the roller door.

I become the first customer of the day, even before all the lights are switched ‘on’.

I settle for a dull crimson pair – size ‘40’ – and feel blessed that this quick diversion from plans has not proved to be a fruitless endeavour (though it requires me to climb the stairs one additional ‘huffing’ time).

After breakfast we tip our ‘cook’, then gather our luggage, & sit again on the ‘smoking’ seat, waiting – loaded down with memories, souvenirs & well-contained tears –  for our taxi driver to take us to the airport, as arranged.

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He arrives at 8 am. We’re directed to the taxi, & sit together in the back seat while the driver dashes back to the hotel to retrieve an arrival card with a name printed on it.

He returns after ten minutes, then manouevres the unmarked taxi through the streets of Saigon for the 30 mins it takes to arrive at the Tan Son That International Airport in Tan Binh District.

Without needing to tip the driver because it’s already been covered by our hotel concierge, we move off with our bags – like crusty turtles heading across sand towards the sea – to the Malaysian Airlines check-in for the 6 45 mile trip to Kuala Lumpur, & to our flight that’s supposedly departing at 11 am local time.

Making our way to the restaurant in the Departure Lounge, Ben selects the Chicken with Rice, & I indulge myself in the Fish with noodles (though eat only the noodles & vegetables).

We’re soon called for boarding, secured by seatbelts, and then up & away. Sucking on some Werther’s Original Classic Cream Candies purchased at Tan Son That International for $8US, the ascent & descent occur without complaint or disturbance to all four ear canals.

At Kuala Lumpur, with boarding passes arranged we have a few hours to kill; so spend time circling the souvenir shops, and then grabbing a cup of English breakfast & a chocolate muffin at this country’s version of the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

With change from $20US given only in local currency, Ben goes on a whirlwind spending spree that’s topped up with his choice of American & Australian dollars when he buys a cute elephant mobile at the Home Gifts store; so he spends half on a Peanut Slab bar because he knows his ‘father likes chocolate’.  Nevertheless he’d been intending to get to the end of the American dollars still sitting prettily like flattened green-spotted frogs in his pouch. So he agrees to cover me for the necessary $20US needed for another pair of neat Malaysian material-lined sandals (making it quite evident to all I have a serious shoe fetish).

We then wait in the boarding lounge as rain falls outside on the tarmac; the first serious rain we’ve seen for over a month, though possibly a typical afternoon occurrence in such a tropical place.

As evening settles in, & the rain thins out to the intensity of a shower, we prepare to enter the secure Boarding Lounge & place all liquids in a plastic bag, ready for inspection. It’s then we put our bodies & our bags to a further surveillance check before joining our flight to Brunei.

The seating on board the Airbus Industrie A320 Jet is cramped & though Ben eats & enjoys his beef, I leave the chicken & eat only the potatoes & other veges feeling rather hungry & constrained by my travelling choices.

However The Help proves consistently engrossing as Minnie deals with Miss Celia’s miscarriage; learning it is ‘catch tonic – molasses & water from a Choctaw over in Feliciana Parish’ – that’s she’s been ordering in to hold on to the baby that’s now something in the toilet bowl to be dealt with, rather than any deliveries of Johnny Walker Whiskey.

After arranging to change Ben’s last $50US note to somewhat-equivalent Brunei Ringgits/dollars, we pay our $5 entry visas, get our passports stamped, find our backpacks strewn on the floor beside the baggage carousel as forgotten pieces, then breeze through customs because I say we have no cigarettes or alcohol.

Outside on the concourse our taxi driver is there waiting with our name on a card. In spite of the fact I cannot produce the voucher supposedly given out ‘when our itinerary was confirmed’, we are delivered to the Palm Garden Hotel, & rather surprisingly not the Orchid Garden as advised by our travel agent at Flight Centre in Lismore Square.

We drop our bags in a rather comfortable Room 102, a corner room with a window view to ‘nothing & nowhere’. Half an hour before the kitchen closes at 9:30 pm, we duck downstairs to tuck into overdone French Fries & Chicken smothered in mushroom sauce & mashed potatoes. I’m unimpressed by the place at this hour.

Back in the room & tucked into bed with the air-conditioning set to ‘Swing’, I find the perfumed sheeting overpoweringly sweet. The TV channels are limited to about ‘9’ choices, none offering any semblance of sport. Still the bed is super comfortable & I sleep reasonably well following an extended stint in a shower cubicle where the water eventually warmed to the perfect temperature.

Day 23 – Thursday 12th January: Filling my eyes to truly imprint HCM on my memory

I wake on the dot of ‘6’ according to my watch, the one that’s now keeping excellent time. Yet the early morning is taken up propped upon pillows with legs stretched out beneath a light cotton sheet cover, reading the next few chapters of The Help; where it seems Aibeleen’s writing voice is proving to be just what is needed for Skeeter’s book; that gathering the story in the kitchen is going to stop the teapot lid rattling (so to speak).

When e-mails have been accessed & Facebook’s been by-passed for today (so no  teapot lids are rattled in the Antipodes) , Ben joins me for breakfast. Again a hand-delivered, home-made omelette  – created from constant repetition, though filled with more secret ingredients than just albumin & yoke – works magic on bodies craving protein.Image

Heading out for our final perusal of the sights of HCM, we both pile onto one cyclo – with me needing to perch on Ben’s kneecaps – and paying the 100000 dong ($5US) to get to the Saigon River.Image

ImageHere we soak up a very different perspective of the new Trade Centre building which seems to wear its own cap; with a brim that extends horizontally into space as an architectural gimmick yet creating shade for its unsuspecting tenants – the money merchants of southern Vietnam – at various times of the day.

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After gathering a few more impressions of life in HCM, we continue in the direction of City Hall & see a host of workers busily measuring up bamboo structures in the middle of a closed-off section of the wide boulevard. We assume these will no doubt become part of the dragon imagery of the ‘Tet 2012’ celebrations in this section of the city.

Turning our heads skywards we gather yet another version of the imposing nature of the Trade Centre …Image

After stopping off for a Lipton Tea at the popular Cafe Central,Image

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we proceed to Le Loi where we discover the mind-boggling intricacies of the Saigon Centre, a large modern shopping centre offering relentless aisles of clothes – & everything else remotely imaginable & obviously ‘necessary’ – for the trendy Vietnamese teenager or pint-sized Facebook blogger.Nonetheless it’s impossible to find anything marked much bigger than ‘L’ (though this is still too tight when stretched over my petite Aussie frame). So we leave empty-handed. Still Ben’s proved yet again he’s an observant shopper, suggesting numerous styles he considers I’d like, or those he could imagine me wearing (though these may be gathered from his wildest dreams).

Not completely beaten we make a final assault on Ben Thanh. It takes me just five minutes to settle for a rather nice beige shirt with a buttoned front. After all it’s more my Western size (though a little crimped at the waist when I do up the bottom button).

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Walking back to the hotel we gather a couple of bread rolls & a generous piece of banana slice from – you guessed it – the ABC Bakery, for lunch (creating additional crimping of synthetic material at the waistline). At this point, & after purchasing a large Aquafina bottle for 1000 dong, the money purse that swims beneath my clothing like a stingray resting on sand is now totally bereft of substance, so the evening’s expenses rely on Ben’s subsequent generosity.

And though HCM never fails to offer impressive opportunities for the ardent photographer or ‘memoirist’, like my son, it never ever disappoints  …Image

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though often will surprise the unsuspecting passer-by with its brashness, its openness to all things.

After watching others take in afternoon cocktails at the Crazy Buffalo … Image… then climbing the four flights of stairs somewhat less vigorously than on our first day in HCM, when Vegemite rolls are devoured Ben rests up on his bed for the afternoon so he can later rise to the occasion as the sole provider of entertainment & sustenance in foreign lands. And he does, as we sip 7-Ups like lizards & slide through the streets of HCM like snakes through a theme park …Image

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It’s only a short stroll to Allez Boo for our last supper of sorts: you guessed it, Vegetarian Spring Rolls, Fried noodles with Vegetables, & French Fries (plus one 7-Up & an ice-cool Tiger Beer, the last for a couple of  years, at least, because I only drink beer when I’m travelling in Asia). Yet everything’s again served with an additional free smile, or two.Image

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We sit in the upstairs verandah section taking in the incessant sounds & sights of the city I’ve come to love like an adopted child.

After returning to the Phan Lan,Image replying to a mother’s loving & appreciative e-mail, & another confirming Sunday’s pick-up arrangements at Coolangatta Airport, and also making final arrangements for tomorrow’s taxi at 8:15, we then climb the stairs barefooted for the last time, this trip. When the air-conditioner doesn’t work a call to reception gets it going with the flick of a downstairs switch for the room soon becomes too cool to sleep in without some re-adjustments to the remote control settings.

Sleep proves slow in coming. I want to see more of the night (though can’t quite do it justice with an ill-prepared little Olympus Digital 600) …Image

 I guess I’m excited to be heading home, or otherwise quite sad to be leaving the homeliness of our pad. Nevertheless, after having raised the window to let in the night ( and everything within my compass – & perspective –  I wish to imprint on my eyes), sleep must finally overcome the busyness of my thoughts, for it is Ben who rises at 5:15 am allowing me to soak up another 45 mins as the warmth of a HCM breeze makes its way through the open window mingling with the early morning light & the incrementally-building sounds of low-level traffic on Pham Ngo Lao.

Day 22 – Wednesday 11th January: Bigger & better discoveries in HCM

 

 

The air-conditioner hum is replaced by the incessant buzzing of traffic, the honking – in fact every shuddering cadence – of horns, the underlying voices that waft as a hollow message from a loudspeaker in moments of relative quiet, the recognizable rising & falling scream of a siren, and the more gentle and sporadic – though insistent – sounding of Ben’s alarm from a wrist that’s twisted under an armpit.

I shower & dress, then sit on the bed to read a chapter or two of The Help before exposing my body to the bustle of HCM City; & feeling what it has to offer on this eleventh day of the year … though perhaps acting more like a confused chicken who follows the ducks around instead (as Aibileen says of Mae Mobley at p. 106 in my copy of the The Help in regards to her liking to be ‘setting with the help’ rather than being in the house ‘watching her mother look anywhere but at her’ .

Ben eventually emerges from the bathroom announcing, ‘I’m working properly, & finally it’s not runny’ … before flowing along into the morning with a delicious shower & spiraling down the four levels to breakfast: the usual juice, home-cooked omelette & crusty baguette.

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With the day only half-planned beforehand – though with camera always fully- charged &  ready – after breakfast we head out along Ton Tha Tung, then negotiate a few pedestrian crossings, take in the curious – and heart-wrenching – sights of the city,

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skirt round the Municipal Cultural Park to locate the Reunification Palace, though tracing at least three boundary sections before we discover the official visitor entrance in Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, where we hand over the necessary 30000 dong for the entrance fee.

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Once inside one must first pass through the gift shop. I feel quite touched when Ben offers to purchase a mixed-coloured stone bracelet for $15US, one that still spans my wrist as a most- treasured possession while I type, today.

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Then it’s off to explore the garden surrounds before taking to the stairs at the Palace’s façade.

Ben is keen to find a chair to rest his legs, but though they are stately, intricate, ornate & plentiful – in fact probably numbering in the hundreds – they are not for sitting on unless you’re a dignitary.Image

Instead we make our way up & down stairways we find are ‘open to the public’; locate the strategic war room in the bowels of the building by passing through poorly ventilated passageways;

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stand on the balcony or in the internal courtyard imagining quite different things;

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Imagethen settle for a visit to the first available ‘rest room’ followed by a quiet sit on the patio where I initiate a conversation with some American travelers caught in the middle a three-month whirlwind tour of multiple countries.

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Walking toward the fighter plane fixed in the corner of the spacious gardens, Ben spies a squirrel beginning its climb up the trunk of a tree, though I only catch a glimpse of a grey fluffy tail high in the branches before it scuttles up & away, & quickly out of sight.

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ImageWe leave the tranquility of the grounds & take a leisurely walk to the Notre Dame Cathedral.

We take a look inside without venturing past the door …Image

then snap an unknown couple’s wedding photo as we move on.Image

We similarly view the GPO & the City Hall, without crossing roads or passing through the doorways of either of these landmark places.

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It’s then we wind our way back to the Ben Than Markets, though escape this time without spending even one dollar or dong, in spite of the tremendous degree of local encouragement – or better still, persuasive badgering – to do otherwise.

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On the way back we stop at Allez Boo for French Fries & Honey Pancake, being nicely satisfied for around $9US,  perhaps a tad expensive by Asian standards, though perhaps things are beginning to even out ( in favour of the vendor over the tourist)  in such a dollar-driven city as HCM.

Nicely ensconced in our room we take it easy for the remainder of the afternoon; watching as Julia Robers & Dennis Quaide redeem a marriage on screen.

Around 4 we decide to indulge in a foot massage ($4US for 45 minutes) at Hoang Thy Beauty Salon, ‘Pham Ngu Lao’s longest running salon’ ( open 8am -9pm, 7 days a week) & just a stone’s throw away in Do Quang Dau.

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Directed upstairs to a dimly-lit room where others are having full body massages on a series of parallel beds, I’m led to a private room where the sensations are fine when fingers are smooth yet adept & purposeful.

Afterwards, feeling invigorated yet blissful, we wander purposefully with others

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I order spring rolls, mixed vegetables & French Fries while Ben enjoys a Club Sandwich with Fries.

ImageWashed down by a Tiger Beer my meal sits like a brick in my stomach, so a post-dinner stroll becomes a necessity.

Ben takes the opportunity to stock up on a variety of curios & CDs : The Cure ‘Galore’, U2 ‘Pop’ and The Crystal Method, ‘Tweekend’  ; together with a Saigon T-shirt; even a cool cotton shirt with a Scorpion label. I also find the perfect pair of shoes to remember this particular evening in HCM, for $10US. Thankfully I’ve already visited a Viet-com ATM & withdrawn 500 dong, so ‘the change’ should be able to be stretched out with a bit of care – otherwise it’ll mean a bit of additional borrowing from Ben – throughout tomorrow, our last full day in HCM City.

We settle in for the night, happy with all we have done – & spent – so far; seeing out the remainder of the evening watching V-tunes on the Rock Channel.

 

 

Day 21 – Tuesday 10 January : Cloudy, yet relaxed & comfortable in HCM

After waking to the sounds of Lady Ga Ga on V-Channel, an early morning stroll leads me to Madam Cuc’s ‘64’ hotel.  Though prior arrangements mean we’ve been allocated a room here for $21US a night (for the remainder of our stay in HCM), I cancel the booking & stick with the receptionist’s promise of a better room at the Phan Lan.

When Ben wakes we move down the hall & up a few more levels to Room 401: a room with a higher view & one that catches the HCM breezes that slide along corrugated rooftops.

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After breakfast of fried eggs & bread rolls, we head off to check out the city environs, crossing roads with the acquired ease that comes with familiarity, & intention.

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Being directed to the best photo shop in the district, I wait a sizable amount of time in Nguyen Cu Trinh Street as the contents of my 1mb memory card are transferred to a DVD, for $2US. Meanwhile, as I sit in the stuffy backroom with four busy employees – heads bent to the task of photo-shopping other people’s wedding imagery to their own satisfaction – I erase all that’s on my smaller card because, even here, I’m told ‘nothing can be’ retrieved or downloaded from it. Fortunately there’s not a lot to lose, just the last morning in Phnom Penh when we took our farewell photos of Sisovath Quay as we munched on cinnamon toast & slurped pots of Green tea; and also the Mekong sights en route to Chau Doc where I’d tried to capture the river life on the ‘movie’ setting. Nevertheless, despite a degree of latent disappointment, I’m happy to be now ‘back in business’ with a card that’s capable of memorizing all further strategic memories of Saigon.

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We proceed along Tran Hung Dao, then into Nguyen Thi Nighia,  before ducking up a few smaller side streets & ending up heading straight towards the main entrance-way to the Ben Than Markets. Inside, money easily departs from our pouches in the same practiced manner it’s always done … at a steady relaxed pace (though in the face of the same level of frenetic bargaining expected in Ben Than) … and with Ben lifting the shirt, exposing the belly, shuffling around for the right greenbacks, accepting the purchases, crumpling the change, then stuffing it into his pouch without always remembering to thank the stall-holder with his ‘strained, fractured’ smile.

Because my new watch no longer reliably tells the time, I search out two pleasant young stall-holders working a spiffy watch shop in tandem. First the girl gathers the screwdriver & removes the battery. Then when she hands it over & the young man tests it on the end of his tongue – & pronounces it ‘chargeless’ – of course it’s with a stifled chuckle I buy a new battery for $3US. I guess it’s because there’s something infinitely pleasant about the naivety of Vietnamese troubleshooting & tourist customer service that truly warms the heart of an aged Aussie, abroad.

It’s when our pouches no longer bulge we call it quits for the day.

However, even after taking a leisurely stroll down the central promenade of 23/9 Park

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( with its quaint playground full of  squealing – though far from precocious – toddlers),

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on our way back along Pham Ngu Lao I still manage to scrounge enough hidden dollars for two more delicate scarves inscribed with painted butterflies, as gifts for friends.

Of course we stop at the ABC Bakery for some rolls, banana cake & a chocolate muffin, then – when back in Room 401 – spread Vegemite over the rolls for lunch, though put the cakes aside for dinner to have with a selection of fruit collected from the street vendors at the nearby market at Nguyen Thai Hoc.

The afternoon is then devoted to relaxation in our room: with Ben watching a Robert De Nero & Billy Crystal movie & with a surprise cameo performance by Anthony La Plagia (as an Aussie entrepreneur afflicted with an over-exaggerated ‘Aussie twang’) before he closes his eyes for a well-deserved afternoon nap (as an exhausted Aussie tourist now suffering from constipation!)

I head down to engage in trawling the Internet.

Late in the afternoon, somewhat more up-to-date with e-mails detailing new developments back home, I climb the four flights to our room,  in the mandatory bare feet.

Ben’s awake & ready for an evening stroll to the church we can see reaching skywards from our window

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– the Catholic Church –

then along Nguyen Trai (where the shops are particularly trendy, meaning young Vietnamese ‘clotheshorses’ shop here for the full range of up-market clothes & shoes ).

We then continue down Nguyen Thi Nghai, & to Bui Vien, perusing souvenir & knick-knack shops on the way, till we reach the massive roundabout with its statue of Tran Nguyen Hai on horseback …

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and then stopping for a refreshing 7-Up for 12000 dong at the Crazy Buffalo, where we sit & watch as the traffic builds … and as a line of cyclos transports a group of tourists for ‘the sunset ride’ through the backpacker district, their cameras clicking & resonating in space like the tones & semitones of a 12-note scale.

We walk feeling a little lost for a time until I recognize Madam Cuc’s 127 & realize we’re in Cong Quynh

So we continue along to its end, turn right into Pham Ngu Lao & hurry back to the hotel for our dinner – the mixture of fruits plus cake & muffin – as a means of breaking the relentless servings of fried rice (though intending to help Nature take its digestive course through Ben, a little more freely).

We settle our accommodation bill using most of the remaining dong retrieved from the cancelled Mui Ne tour, then spend the rest of the evening watching The Last of the Mohicans on Channel SDV, & consider it quite a pleasant way to end the first of our last three days in HCM City.

Day 20 – Monday 9th January : Chau Doc to Phan Lan

 

 

Having slept reasonably well at first (considering we’ve been suspended on water for hours on end), without an illuminated watch that acts as a night-time guide, I believe it’s breaking dawn hours before it is really is. So the day proves to be a long one … and plans are eventually changed.

According to a variety of sources:

as part of the violence against the Ngo Dinh Diem government  (a low level campaign during the early years of the Vietnam War, targeting government officials, school teachers, and village chief’s families), anti-Diem insurgents stormed a bar in Chau Doc (on July 11 1957), killing 17 people who were drinking inside. The victims were tied up and then machine gunned. The New York Times reported the killings as being the result of propaganda spread by communist forces; that the killing of 20 people would allow the person to fly and that anyone who killed 100 would “become an angel”. Blamed on communist insurgents and fighters of the banned Hòa Hảo sect, while urban Vietnamese did not take these claims seriously, the more rural a person was the more superstitious they were and the more likely they would believe that the murders would grant special powers’. 

Thus, even Chau Doc, & especially its people, did not escape the ravages of the war ; neither the American bombs, nor the cryptic undermining of the enemy within.

Situated near where the river (known locally as the Cuu Long, or Nine Dragons) splits before emptying into the South China Sea, during the turbulent years of the Vietnam War, locals viewed U.S. patrol boats working the stretch of the Mekong near the border with Cambodia.

Now tourist boats bring foreigners to this working town, this place with its Mubarak Mosque – the oldest, largest and prettiest mosque in town where the call to prayer is done live by a muezzin –  though a place not really quite geared to tourists.

And though there may be now peace, it obviously hasn’t brought the promised prosperity to the people of An Giang, one of the Delta’s least developed provinces, where a lack of jobs has led many to some hard choices (apparently, HIV/Aids clinics have no shortage of patients). And while local villages may have once been known for exporting their daughters – as brides to lonely businessmen from Taiwan – commercial fish production now seems to be the priority for most, helping to raise the living standards of many families when about $17,000 a year can be made from raising fish. Yet  most are now concerned about the river’s health.

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We rise with the sun (yet long after the local fishermen), & prepare for the day.

When many fellow passengers appear to be decidedly unwell (some vomiting into plastic bags or eventually into the water), we’re glad we didn’t taste all that was on offer at the Floating Restaurant last night.  Still we drop our bags at the designated spot beneath the ‘HCM’ – rather than near the alternative ‘Phnom Penh’ – sign, & board a long boat with others obviously journeying on to Cambodia.

The boat leaves a trail of ‘burley’ through the murky waters before passing houses floating on heavy metal drums,  & stopping first at a local fish farm’  to view the feeding frenzy of the fish raised in suspended metal nets so they flourish in their natural river habitat;

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 then finally berthing at a rustic pier near the hamlet of Chau Giang after crossing the Hau Giang River.

Stepping with care along creaky plank-ways, we’re soon on dry land,  being led along dusty paths through a Cham village to the local mosque. Our guide is informative, & with a somewhat wicked sense of humour, explains that Muslim men granted the opportunity to take more than one wife, really are crazy if they do because ‘a man has only two ears, & one woman generally fills these sufficiently with her requests, & complaints; so who could disregard the effect of two at once!’

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Yet as we retrace our steps, black-scarved women (devoid of complaint, request, veil or even hijab,) willingly offer a  smile towards every camera that’s raised as we pass by. And it’s easy to return the smile when there’s obviously no ulterior motive.

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And there’s the occasional quaint decorative window cut into corrugated tin.

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After a brief stop at the tourist souvenir shop (& WC) it’s back onto the long boat, then to gather our bags that sit like scruffy travelers among the two distinct piles at our original spot. They’re then stuffed into the boot of a waiting tourist bus. Sadly, it seems this is the extent of our Mekong River experience.

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The rest of the day is spent traveling for hours over land:

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 through tiny Delta villages, checking out temples &  local marketplaces,

& purchasing a much-needed timepiece (with fake inset diamonds that dislodge after only a few months),

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climbing a hundred of more steps to a  mountainside temple – probably on Sam Mountain – with  views  toward a much-browner Cambodian landscape (because ‘they don’t know how to cultivate rice there’, according to the Vietnamese),
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then onward toward HCM – avoiding the overnight stay at Can Tho when I find our designated room still occupied – and experiencing a somewhat novel form of traveling for a prior tourist in Vietnam; even a rather new concept for Vietnamese traffic:

a journey along the Expressway; one that takes only cars, vans & buses towards the city whereas motor bikes must travel on subsidiary roads because high speed traffic has been separated from slower, local traffic along such key corridors.

Eventually the road before us becomes Ben Chuong Dong, and we ride beside an arm of the Saigon River, with an identical Ben Van Don on its other side taking a similar trail of traffic towards a myriad of coloured lights that reach up into the night to mingle with the stars.

And we are delighted the Phan Lan is able to offer a room (though it’s small & windowless, & with only cold water service) because we’re promised a bigger room if we intend to stay longer (which of course we do). The air-conditioning does wonders for the washing that’s drips from hangers hung on the wall fan all night.

And we sleep like those returning to their own sheets.

 

 

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