22 January, 2011

My bit of Việt Nam. Part 3.

I know I don't have to travel.  I could have profound, life-rearranging experiences in my own backyard.  I think. 

It's just that, given enough time, I get this travel itch.  If I can't scratch it, which is usually often the case, it gradually recedes, only to return at some later point, more present than ever.  It's just one of those things, probably due at least in part to a gypsy lifestyle that began shortly after birth.  This persistent itch for change is unfortunately a bit hard to reconcile with my concern for the environment; I haven't satisfactorily worked that negative out yet.
A honey-sweet banana that fits, whole, in my hand.

But making the choice to travel (and I mean as immersive an experience as one can manage) is making the positive choice to break routine--even abandon it--to let in a little uncertainty.  And to begin to connect with the unknown.  It can even mean re-connecting with the things you thought knew, like your own family.  Or a banana
For me, traveling with young children means helping them to recognize and embrace, at a visceral level, ambiguity. It means directly teaching them that things can mean one thing in a given culture and something completely different in another, for example. It is about being able to show them that the world is actually this gorgeous crazy-quilt of diversity, despite the human race's best efforts to homogenize.   
The Mekong River is unlike any river my children or I have ever encountered.  From a high Tibetan plateau, it flows through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, and finally Vietnam.  The tenth longest river in the world, it defines southern Vietnam culturally, economically--and physically--as the fertile Delta continues to expand through sediment deposit as much as eighty meters per year.  Many places are still best reached by canal or river. 

The Mekong Delta is the flat, coastal 'rice basket' of Vietnam, which is currently the world's number two exporter of rice.  In the northern mountains, rice is harvested just once a year, toward the central region twice yearly.  In the Mekong Delta, rice is harvested three times a year.  As lovely as rice paddies are, cultivating rice is back-breaking, time-consuming manual labor; it is difficult to look at a bowl of rice in quite the same way.
One could also argue the Delta's a bit of a fruit basket, as well.  As well as the familiar tropical staples, it's full of fruit I'd never tasted before, like custard apples, and some I'd never even heard of, like milk fruit. The Delta is densely cultivated and pretty densely populated.  Unfortunately, it is also regularly flooded, a reality which the locals try their best to work around, but houses can still spend a good while inundated every year.

Another (diminishing) feature of the Delta are the floating markets, where, directly from their houseboats, middlemen peddle produce to sellers who then go to markets on land to resell.
It's easy to see what each middleman has to offer: simply look at what's hanging from the long bamboo pole attached to the boat.  Despite how hard they work and how challenging their day-to-day lives are, southern Vietnamese are considered by their fellow Vietnamese to be generally the most easy-going.  I can't disagree. We were charmed by their broad, warm smiles.  
Speaking of toothy grins, I didn't get the impression that crocodiles are to be found in the rivers or canals anymore.  These days they're farmed, and the curious can partake of reptile meat in any number of ways, but their skin is where the money is, of course.   
Essentially, we wound our way in a large, uneven circle taking in the pattern of life in the Delta, and making time for visits to a temple or three.  This is where I found the most decorative incense.
Incense wafts through any place of any significance, really, and manages to seem utterly perfect and essential to the place and moment.  The kids were more tuned into the incense as they had already seen it being made by hand and by machine up north.
Distances doesn't look all that great on a map of Vietnam, but vehicles travel relatively slowly there, due to stringent speed limits and often flood-damaged, poorly maintained roads, so everything takes longer than you'd imagine.  Thing is, you really don't see people shaking fists or swearing no matter how backed-up the line is, even in the horrendously dense, motorcycle-clogged traffic of Saigon.  After what sometimes felt like a snail's pace, we found ourselves in the small town of Chau Doc, just some forty kilometers from the Cambodian border. 
Chau Doc is a fishing town, as evidenced by this prominent statue.

This is where some visitors take a several-day boat trip to Angkor, that extraordinary twelfth century temple complex in Cambodia. 
We stayed in Chau Doc to celebrate Christmas.  And it really was among the very best of Christmases. 

After that, we were off by ferry, to the island.


  1. I'm always so impressed with people who have the sense of adventure to go have those life-altering experiences! I do like some new scenery every once in a while, but I must admit, there's no place like home for me.

    I admire you for taking your children to such amazing places. I have neither the courage nor the budget for such endeavours. But as you said, it's good to show them what the rest of the world is made of. Perhaps when my kids are old enough to appreciate it and not just complain...

  2. Un peu de notre conversation sur ta terrasse au soleil l'autre après-midi.
    Beau voyage, belles photos, belles réflexions sur la vie.

  3. Hello Rose,
    Travel is often profoundly exhilirating for me, even with all the inconveniences that can come along with it. I remember thinking I'd no longer be able to travel once I had children. While this proved to be a needless worry, the travel has slowed down, also for budgetary reasons (i.e. double the cost). I do have some tricks up my sleeves for when kids are challenging while on the road...

    Bonjour et merci pour les compliments, Micheline!


Thanks for visiting my blog and joining in the conversation!

Related Posts with Thumbnails