Connect the dots

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mama Mekong: The Delta

There's no better way to end or start a Vietnam adventure than at the end of the Mekong River. Here is where it makes its final journey after over 4000 kilometers. If you dip your thermometer into some of the people, they'll be the warmest you'll find. This is also Vietnam's rice basket, producing half of Vietnam's rice output. If you're looking for river fish, you'll find that in droves too, since this is where they farm all that basa and catfish that even gets exported to the U.S. We then headed upstream to make our first ever border crossing by boat. One of the quietest in all of Southeast Asia.  

Here's rice used in a variety of ways: rice paper for those tasty rolls, popped into Vietnam's coconut milk and palm sugar version of the rice crispy treat, and the culprit for a group of rowdy Vietnamese men - rice wine.

But this factory not only limits itself to rice products, it also makes some sticky sweet, taffy-like coconut candy. 

Fish factories float throughout the delta. Here's a bunch of basa competing for food.

With so many islands and water level variation depending on the season, ferries are the best way to get across sometimes. 

We opted for dinner at a local open air spot complete with fresh Russian beer on tap! We didn't BBQ any of these guys for dinner. They are raised at a nearby farm.

Here's your view in the morning when you sleep on a floating hotel. Don't plan on sleeping too long, the loud engines of the long tail boats will give you an early start.

Before leaving Vietnam, we stopped at a local Cham village. Arab traders came into contact with the Chams as early as the 6th century, bringing Islam to Indochina. To this day, the southern Cham people are practicing Muslims. 

Our final stop at Ving Xuong, Vietnam to get our exit stamp and head to Phnom Penh by boat. Tam biet, Vietnam!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Same, same. But different.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mui Ne? Da.

When you first drive into Mui Ne, you'll find yourself slightly confused. Am I still in Vietnam? Did I take the right bus? That's because many (maybe even, most) of the signs are in Russian. Yes, you heard me correctly, Russian. In fact, Mui Ne is even referred to as the "Russian Village". Why this particular spot in Vietnam? Russian expats describe the perfect conditions for a vacation getaway  - beautiful, sunny, windy and quiet beaches. That pretty much fits the bill there and many enthusiasts of windsurfing and parasailing, the ideal sport at this spot, happen to also be Russian. But the Vietnamese residents are not shy at all to take advantage of this opportunity. On the contrary, they are economically thrilled and willing to print signs and flyers in Russian since Russian vacationers stay long, sometimes weeks at a time (keeping occupancy rates high) and are willing to spend loads on luxury items such seafood and jewelry.

Mui Ne's layout may not be appealing to many independent travelers since it's mostly one sprawling resort after another. We weren't initially won over at the first place we stayed and thought we would leave after a day or two, but Mui Ne has some impressive and easy to get to sights by motor bike. So, before you say dasvidaniya, you might want to hang on the beach or poolside for a while, get a massage at Tam Spa (don't hesitate to ask for a 20% discount - $13 for a one hour massage!) across the street from Allezboo Resort and then get on a motor bike to see that Mui Ne is more than a little likeable.

Young Saigonites on a weekend romp
Ever wonder how that pungent fish sauce aka the salt of Southeast Asia is made? You can see it and definitely smell it at the many factories that line the main road. 

Right past the fishing villages and fish sauce making factories are the famous red sand dunes. There are apparently bigger and more scenic white ones further, but we were just too lazy to drive further. These are no match for the ones in Namibia or in the Sahara but they're fun to visit and being so close to the ocean makes it even more spectacular. 

Away from the fish and the geological phenomenons, you can trace Mui Ne's rich history by visiting two Cham ruins perched on a hill only 3 kms from the main beach area. 

Only 6 kms from our hotel was a hike through a sandy creek called the Fairy Stream. Magical it was! Walk through the chocolatey water walled in by white and red sand spires on one side and greenery on the other. The end of the "road" leads you to a refreshing waterfall. Stay and cool off with picnicking locals. If you decide to leave the beach/pool to do one thing in Mui Ne, this is it. 

Then there's the seafood. You can splurge on lobsters but we stuck to the BBQ seafood specials laid out in front of restaurants on the main drag. Pick what you want and a plate of it is only 50 cents! Scallops, tiger prawns, mackerel, squid, and clams are some of the treats on offer.

You can even take home this 6 liter bottle of "seahorse medicinal liquor" for $550! 

Didn't expect to like Mui Ne this much, but we liked it so much we stayed an extra 3 days. Maybe these Russians have the right idea after all.

Poolside at Allezboo Resort - the coziest resort and best beach on the strip