Floating the Mekong to Cambodia / January 28, 2010

One thing Ive learned about Vietnam is that when you buy a tour of any kind, you never know what youre going to get. It appears they have an itinerary and plan. They just don’t tell you what it is. Generally, you’re informed when you’ll be picked up and where you’ll be dropped off. So when we decided to do a two day tour of the Mekong Delta ending with a boat ride into Cambodia, all for $45, we went into it with a go-with-the-flow attitude. Good thing because we ended up on 7 boats, 3 buses and 1 floating hotel (and were passed between 4 different tour guides) to get to our final destination of Phnom Penh. It was super fun!!

Our tour guide for the Mekong Delta, An, was the best Vietnamese tour guide Ive had so far. He was very knowledgeable and cracked some pretty good jokes. He told us to make sure we didn’t lose him throughout the tour because he wouldn’t recognize us due to the fact we all look the same to him with our round eyes. Hilarious.

Life on the Mekong Delta revolves around rice and the water. Many families live on boats in the river and do their shopping at a floating market. Some of the boat houses even sport a little bonsai garden!

Ladies rowing canoes. They row standing up. Photo by Heather Kennedy

Life on the river looked serene but the poverty was apparent. The boat homes and stilt houses on the edge of the river beds were a bit dilapidated and our guide said “everything is full circle.” Which translates to: the water is used for fishing, washing, drinking water and as a receptacle for all their waste. And I mean all.

In addition to the water, life truly revolves around family. Multiple generations live in one house or on one boat for their entire lives. They take care of one another and the children seem happy as can be. They literally jump up and down and yell “hello! hello! hello!” as the tourist boats pass by. Adorable.

Family on the porch of their floating house Photo by Heather Kennedy

We stopped at a few villages where we saw rice wine and crackers being made. In addition, our guide offered the men some snake wine, which is literally made from fermented snakes and a bird (gross) and improves virility. I believe he referenced “superman” in his description of the snake wine effects!

An pulling a fermented bird out of a vat of snake wine. If you’re man enough to drink alcohol made from fermented snakes and birds, I’m thinking your virility is not in question to begin with. Photo by Heather Kennedy

One of the villages we visited has a large Muslim population of Malaysians that were kicked out of their country at some point in their tumultuous history. They settled on the Mekong and live there in peace.

After our tour of the Mekong Delta we floated toward our final destination of Phnom Penh, stopping off mid-way to go through immigration. As it turns out, both Betsy and I ran out of pages in our passport. We both thought we had 4 pages left but apparently those pages are to remain blank. Great. Luckily, money solves most problems and for $25 plus a note of apology, we got our visa.

In retrospect, I think the $25 might have been “unofficial”, if you will, and we just had to grease the wheels a bit to get into the country. But it all worked out and we went to the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, first thing. It was kind of fun, actually. After a very thorough security check we were ushered into the passport/visa waiting room where I met several Americans. It was like experiencing a little piece of home in the middle of Cambodia! Right down to the bathroom, which was 100% western style, including the brownish colored paper towels and florescent hand soap that always smells the same. Heaven! (Do they import that stuff???)

I heard Phnom Penh was gritty, but I found it to be just lovely. The main part of the city lies on the edge of the Mekong and the architecture reflects a French style due to the many years of occupation. I loved every minute there. However, I will admit we were offered drugs a couple of times, including opium, and our new friend Jason from England was actually offered a Vietnamese woman, which is a little scary. Kids, if you are reading this just say no to drugs! Particularly if they are highly addictive and offered to you on the street in a developing country. Who says “yes” to this stuff???

A surprising moment was seeing an elephant walking down the street. Not sure what he was doing there, but he appeared unnerved by all the traffic!

Elephant just minding his own business Photo by Heather Kennedy

My desire to visit Phnom Penh derived from learning more about the Khmer Rouge and to see the Killing Fields. Not uplifting, but important to know about. It was overwhelming enough to save for a separate blog.

Heather Kennedy
Current location: Cambodia
Visit Heather’s travel blog, The Heather Report

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