Vietnam Diaries 3:Christmas at Mekong Delta- ‘Rice Bowl’ of Vietnam
Despite the absence of Christmas presents and a Christmas party with family, the presence of close friends and the true Christmas spirit made Christmas of 2016, a memorable one, one that we certainly shall not forget for years to come.
A 3 hour drive from Saigon City and a ferry across the Mekong river on a boat and you arrive at the village by the delta. On the way we stopped over at Chùa-Vĩnh-Tràng Pagoda (Buddhist Temple). Peaceful, decorated in red and gold, believers and visitors, silently moved around and lit incense sticks for the Gods. Here in the pagoda, it was interesting to see a picture of the Divine Force- the Hindu Goddess Saraswati in front of The Buddha. The Hindu influence over Vietnam is visible in traces now. It influence exists because Vietnam was once ruled by the Champa Dynasty and they were Hindu rulers and because of trade ties over the sea between India and Vietnam, that took place over 2000 years ago!
Mekong river, a muddy brown because of the alluvial soil, was teaming with life as a number of motorized boats carrying tourists and locals make their way to the village. Tourism was slowly making its way to becoming a major source of revenue in Vietnam.
The village looks inconspicuous from the boat, hidden by a dense foliage of trees, only to be viewed by those who take the journey and make the effort to visit.
A walk through the village
The village looked like any village in the South of India where fishing and agriculture is the main occupation of people-small houses with banana trees, jackfruit trees, pomelo trees, clucking hens, mewing cats waiting for fish, narrow, stony paths and it felt like visiting home.. The only difference here, was that an effort had been made to integrate the daily life of the residents with tourism and thereby increase revenue for the residents as well as providing tourists a sneak peak into the way of life of the ordinary Vietnamese. We were shown how coconuts are grated (which was funny because we come from the land of coconuts), how coconut candy sweets are made. While most western tourists watched intrigued and tried their hand at breaking a coconut with a standing sickle, we were reminded of home again…
Our first activity for the day was fruit tasting (big, juicy guavas, dragon fruit, watermelons and Rambutans) where we were to be entertained with local folk songs; one of which was ” If you are happy and you know it” sung in the Vietnamese high-pitch voice and accent.
Note: In fact, an interesting fact is that as per Vietnamese cuisine, dessert is fruit. So, if you have a sweet tooth, please carry your own sugar, as there is no concept of unhealthy desserts here. And if it’s your New Year resolution to get fit, then this is the perfect place to visit because with green tea, ginger tea, lotus tea, honey-lemon tea served in place of water during lunch and dinner, loads of exploring by foot and no sugary desserts, you are well on your way to meet your fitness goals.
Just as we wondered aloud at what our families back home would think of us coming all the way to this part of the world to view, that, which we had seen all our lives, there was a clearing in the trees and there. in the midst, where a river flowed, a number of Vietnamese boatmen and women were waiting to give the tourists a ride through the village. The river was narrow and the boats were many, yet they glided past each other, occasionally bumping into each other, as we enjoyed the boat ride while watching floating markets and houses.
Out of the boat and we were treated to bee honey with pollen tea, ginger sweets and ripe banana chips coated in sesame. This was followed by a long walk through the village. The sun was hot and we could feel the sweat trickle down our back. Not too nice but a holiday is supposed to be a package, so if you sweat a little amidst the fun, I guess, it should be ok. A horse carriage ride after that to the ferry’s pick-up point was the end of the Mekong Delta experience.
After a truly exotic lunch at Mekong where we tasted sticky rice puffed up like the Indian puris, rice paper rolls (of which I have uploaded a video below), grilled Elephant ear fish, shrimps and banana flower salad, we took the ride back to Ho Chi Minh City; content and exhausted enough to sleep on the return journey.
A visit to Nhà Thờ Huyện Sỹ – Giáo Xứ Chợ Đũi -a Catholic Church
While we had enjoyed Christmas eve dinner the previous evening and seen the Notre Dame Cathedral from outside (the cathedral closes at 4.30 p.m. and our guide goofed up the schedule a bit so we missed going in), we hadn’t had a chance to go in. So we decided to go to the church in Mekong District.
While we had a great time in Saigon City and the heat and humidity did not dampen our spirits, we looked forward to going to Danang, the next day. Danang is in Central Vietnam where the temperatures are lower.
Photo Credits: Sanjay Nair
P.S. Hoping you’ll stay with me on my trip to Danang 🙂