Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Touring My Tho and the Mekong Delta

Matt and I gathered our film gear and met a taxi right outside the ship where Pedro and Bianca were waiting for us. They had hired a taxi for the day and were ready to search the wetlands of Southern Vietnam for a plant that would fit their water purification set-up. The taxi took off and we excitedly shared about the adventures that we had been on during our days apart.  We sang along to music and the taxi driver danced a little bit.  Everything was hunky dorey!

Then...after about 45 minutes of driving, we asked our non-english speaking driver how much longer.  He said something in Vietnamese, then tried to do some sort of hand signals.  Then, he pulled out his phone and typed in 11.  "Do you think we'll be there in about 10 minutes?"  No...we would be there at 11am.  Swish pan to the clock: it was 9:30am.  "Oh."

So, it turned out that Pedro had decided to go to My Tho which is southwest of Ho Chi Minh City.  About 2.5 hours away.  We're always down for whatever as a documentary film crew, so we just kept filming and went along for the ride.

With such a long taxi ride, a bathroom break was in order.  The driver stopped off on the side of the road where a little lunch shop with a covered patio and about 25 hammocks resided.  Pedro and Matt went to get beverages while Bianca and I headed to check out the facilities.  Around the back of the dilapidated building, through the rubble piles and mud, we found a tiled walled.  There was a small door and a raised squat toilet, so we made ourselves at home.

Pedro noticed right away that there wasn’t proper sewage disposal at the place, and realized that it could be the perfect place to hunt for the plant he was looking for.  He followed the dribbles of bathroom waste down to a nearby pond where a bunch of cattail-like plants were thriving.  As he expected, they were only thriving in this one area where the brown- and gray-water from the building was going, and decided to take a few samples back for the students on the ship and for further research.  He began plucking out three plants out of the soggy, brown mess and rinsing them off at the other end of the pond.  Mind you, these plants are about 7-feet tall.

Our friendly cab driver went into the hammock establishment and got us some plastic bags to put the root side of the plants in and delicately carried them to the cab and placed them in the trunk.  Little did he know the smell that this would result in later…

We got back on the road with a happy Pedro and made our way through the motorcycles and trucks to My Tho.  The cab driver wasn’t going fast enough for Pedro’s taste, so he proceeded to push on the driver’s leg to go faster than 60km/h.  The cab driver was so patient with us and found it funny.  He pointed to the side of the road and said, “police.”  Must be the only English word he knows.  We all understood and gave the guy a break.

We rolled into My Tho around 11:30am and were dropped off at a Makong Delta tour shop.  After much haggling, Pedro talked them down from $25 a person to $19 a person for the four of us to charter a boat down the delta to search for the plants.  He argued the man into giving us 2.5 hours instead of the standard 2-hour tour, and felt happy as we loaded onto a motorized boat across the big river.

Now, what Pedro didn’t know was that he had just paid for the most touristy tour there is on the Makong Delta.  The loaded us into the motorized boat that took us to the first of four tourist-trap islands where they stranded us in little shops and huts that made fun little items for a little bit, then came back to get us to take a boat to the next little spot.

The places were really fun and would have been a relaxing place to play with bees, drink honey tea with lime, hold a python, eat yummy fruits and hut-made coconut taffy, but Pedro was bent on getting one of the boats to take us aside to look for these plants.  Of course, this led to some hilarious encounters where he opened up his computer to the local tour operators (one being a 16-year-old boy) and showed them a picture of the plant species to see if they’d be able to help us.

It was such a beautiful location and there were so many fun things to do at each spot that we eventually lost ourselves in the tourist game and found ourselves in the coconut candy hut with a vat of snake wine in front of us.  Pedro and Matt looked over the bottles of yellow liquid with floating snakes in them that had scorpions in their mouths and decided it would be a good idea to stick that yellow broth into their tummies.

Our little tour guide, which we called Tye because we couldn’t pronounce his real Vietnamese name, opened a large jar full of the liquid and a large, coiled up python (dead, of course) and dipped a shot glass in and handed it to Pedro and Matt.  Both drank it down pleasantly surprised.  There is not enough Cipro on this earth to make me drink that stuff, so Bianca and I very rudely declined.

The rest of our tour was pleasant, but it ingeniously ended around 2:00pm at a lunch stop where a single plate of fish and rice was 1 million dong.  We were hungry, but not about to pay that much for rice, so we opted out of lunch.

The boat took us back to the main part of town where we found our cab driver who took us to a snack station before driving us back to the 2.5 hours to Ho Chi Minh City.  We feasted on the equivalent of Pringles, some sesame seed crisps and honey-coated cashews.

Along the way, Matt spotted a rice paddy with three women dressed in traditional hats and had our cab driver pull over so he could get a shot.  It was quite epic.

Pedro and Bianca dropped us off at the ship and went off to enjoy the rest of their time together in Vietnam.  Little did we know, Pedro had a ring stashed away and proposed later that night.  Eeek!  She said, “yes!”  Yay!

We were pretty darn hungry after our late lunch snack and met up with the rest of the film team who had just gotten back from their Cambodia trip to go out for one last dinner in Vietnam.

We went to a little sidewalk place that we had eaten at before and decided to try some new dishes.  We got the usual garlic rice and yellow noodles, but added some garlic escargot (snails), sour beef and roast pigeon.  The snails were massive and too much of a snail texture for me.  The sour beef was wonderful, and the pigeon was surprisingly appetizing.  It was greasy like duck but had the taste of pork.  I’d eat one of those dirty little birds again if I had the chance.

We wrapped up dinner with a Saigon beer toast and headed back to the ship where we crashed into bed exhausted.