It's just that, given enough time, I get this travel itch. If I can't scratch it, which is
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.
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.
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.
After that, we were off by ferry, to the island.