Day 3 – We woke up early as usual to be greeted by the soft morning sky. After a quick wash, we headed downstairs for our hotel breakfast. We realized that Chanh actually serves the same menu every day. The only variation possible was black coffee, white coffee, tea or scrambled eggs instead of sunny-side-up. We decided to try something different today so we ordered scrambled eggs. We ate breakfast in a similar fashion as Day 2, putting scrambled eggs into the bread with some sprinkle of salt and pepper. Simply yet wonderful.
Now about the juice. Yesterday, when we first had the juice, it was immensely sour! The first sip brought about an intense sour reaction from the both of us, wrinkling our faces and eyes just to cope with the sourness. It was definitely fresh and pure, but just too sour. Today, we sat at our breakfast table together with an old lady who was also staying at our hotel. A short chat with her revealed that she was born and grew up in Vietnam before migrating. And she was back in Vietnam for a holiday. Seeing our wrinkled expressions with the juice, she taught us how to better enjoy the drink. Add sugar, she said. One spoonful, two spoonful, not bad, it tasted much better, at least the sour taste was neutralized. Three spoonful, hey, it’s good! The sugar actually brings out the fragrance of the juice and allowed us to slowly appreciate its richness. We thanked the old lady for teaching us about the Vietnamese way of food. It certainly made our travelling experience much more engaging.
The tour guide came to pick us up as usual and took us to the bus that is going to drive us 3 hours to the Mekong Delta. Our first stop, as usual, was a toilet stop. This time, it was at an uneventful touristy stop where they sold lots of food, drinks and souvenirs. What was interesting was the walkway leading to the toilets. The walkway was sheltered by a wooden roof with vines and flowers dangling from above. The flowers were beautiful on its own, but what’s interesting were the numerous bees at work. These bees were big, roughly 2-3 inches in length. The bees largely ignored the crowd walking about and concentrated on their task of collecting nectar from the flowers. One bee would pop its head into a flower to check for nectar while its buttock (and sting!) faced outwards. If there was no nectar in this flower, it would quickly move on to the next flower until it finds one with nectar. In those cases, it would remain inside the flower for some time before flying back to its hive. Luckily, these large bees fly rather slowly and so wasn’t too terrifying, and we were able to observe their behaviour. However, these bees weren’t very smart. After the first bee checked an empty flower, a second will check the same empty flower again and of course still found it to be empty. Haha… Cute, but a little inefficient. :P
We arrived at the smallest of the five major floating markets in Mekong Delta, Cai Be at around 11am. The guide informed us that the rush hour at these markets was 5am – 7.30am in the morning and that there was no way we could see or experience the liveliness of the floating market in a 1 day tour. A 2 day tour would allow us an opportunity to experience the real floating market and also give us more time to drive to Can Tho where the largest floating market is located. We did get the see the floating market *area* but void of boatloads of fruits and merchandise. Quite a disappointment.
Next, we visited a coconut candy making production line where the guide showed us the various steps in making coconut candy, and also rice paper. We would get a chance to taste the rice paper later in our trip. Back to the coconut candy, we got to taste some freshly made candy direct from the cutting board, still warm and chewy and actually quite rich and delicious. So we put on our tourist cap and bought 6 packets worth of candy (buy 5 get 1 free) for VND20k each, as a treat for our friends back home. So typical Singaporeans. Lol. The next stop was a pop rice making production line. There, the guide demonstrated to us how rice grains in a hot wok with black sand would actually ‘pop’ very much like popcorn. In another corner, a worker carefully mixed some simple ingredients available from the village region to produce caramel. Next, the popped rice and caramel were stirred together to form a uniform consistency. The end result was rice crackers! I’m sure everyone would had seen this type of rice crackers before, just that now we get to see how they were actually made.
After leaving the ‘factories’, we would take a long boat ride (1 hour?) to a village area where we would have lunch. The boat ride itself was quite interesting and offered lots of sightseeing opportunities. We travelled up one of the many river deltas in the area to reach our destination. Along the way, we saw fishermen, we saw sand miners, we saw constructors laying those wooden foundation columns for a new fish farm, we saw ppl cooking on boats, living in the boats, we say children working with their fathers near the river banks, and we saw the livelihood of these river people. It was, to a certain extent, thought provoking.
The lunch location turned out to be a rather nicely decorated tourist restaurant. Our package included a basic lunch of rice, pork chop and macaroni soup. The rice was again good, and so was the soup. I really liked how all the food in Vietnam was naturally prepared and doesn’t use too much artificial flavourings. This was just the basic meal and it wasn’t long before the restaurant started selling their other local delicacies. They recommended to us this locally caught Mekong Delta fish which was deep fried without removing the scales. The fish was to be eaten wrapped with the rice paper we’ve seen earlier together with some raw vegetables, cucumbers and rice noodles. Finally, the wrapped rolled popiah lookalike was to be dipped into a special sauce and into our mouths it went. Surprisingly delicious! We were surprised how simple ingredients such as these produce such good flavours. The fish again was very fresh and the tenderness of the flesh immediately filled our taste buds. There’s some kind of light sweetness to the fish, maybe becos it was caught from the fertile Mekong river? Whatever the case, our stomach appreciated the great lunch. There was additional cost for the fish, I can’t remember the price but it was definitely reasonable, perhaps slightly cheaper than Singapore fish, yet much much fresher.
It started to rain during lunch. I didn’t mention it in Day 2 but it rained in the mid afternoon at Cu Chi Tunnels too. Somehow, it just seemed to rain at around the same time every day in the afternoon in Vietnam. The rest our tour group didn’t want to go on the bicycle ride and chose to laze a relaxing after lunch break on hammocks provided at the restaurant, imitating the many locals that we had seen during our trip who were also did the same. We, on the other hand, decided to put on our locally bought ponchos (thin plastic raincoats) and cycle to the nearest town (1.5km away) to take a look at local life. Sadly, we were only allocated 1 hour to complete both lunch and the bicycle ride, so we had to rush a bit. And exercising immediately after lunch was certainly not comfortable. We went our riding in the rain along the village roads. The village itself was nothing very special, just looked very much like our kampongs that we can still find at Pulua Ubin and also Malaysia. What I liked about this short bicycle ride was being part of the Vietnamese traffic as a fellow road user! One motorbike horned me from behind. Beep! Beep! I turned around, looked for the source of the horn, and moved slightly to the right for him to pass me. Yes, Vietnam drives on the right. As we approached a junction for a left turn, there were a few motorbikes on the road and we kena horned again. Beep! We stopped, allowed the motorbike to pass first before making our turn. We got off our bicycles to push up a slope and a Vietnamese lady behind us followed suit and push her bicycle up the slope together with us. Haha… It was truly interesting and enjoyable being part of the traffic. Throughout our ride, I think we met around 15-20 vehicles on the village road, mainly motorbikes. It wasn’t as chaotic as the traffic in the city but we did get a small taste of Vietnam traffic. Too bad our bicycles didn’t have horns, otherwise we could have ‘Beep!’ other road users too. :P
We proceeded to the next item on our schedule which was a river rowboat ride with a local boatlady. The slim boat was able to take 4 passengers and 1 rower. But the time all 5 of us got on the boat, the water surface was barely 3 inches from spilling into the boat. Every time the boat rocked from side to side, the river would come as close as 1 inch from the edge of the boat. Scary. This is perhaps the same kind of boat the local ppl use to paddle their wares during the morning floating markets. Surely those hills and hills of fruits and vegetable weigh more than 4 tourists. It certainly takes good control to navigation such a boat around the river. We got a chance to wear the traditional conical hat during our boat ride as well. 4 conical hat passengers and 1 conical hat rower on a slim wooden boat, I’m beginning to feel a little bit like the river people myself.
It’s getting late and time for us to set off back to HCMC. The long 4 hour bus ride took us to a toilet stop in My Tho, one of the bigger town in the Mekong Delta. There was a Bonsai Garden at the stop but nothing interesting and we continued back to the city.
Upon arriving, we quickly head back to the hotel for a quick wash up and set off to catch the water puppet show at 8pm. I’m not really sure where the theatre is exactly but I think it was somewhere near the Reunification Palace. We showed the taxi driver the address and we arrived there shortly after at 7.50pm, and just in time too. We bought the tickets and went in, the theatre was about 25% full at max. The water puppet show was indeed interesting. The puppets were constantly in motion, dancing and moving to the rhythm of the music. There were 6 musician cum voice actors/actresses at the side of the stage that provide all the music and vocals for the show. It was a pity that the entire show was performed in Vietnamese language and we could understand none of it. At least the body language of the puppets were realistic enough throughout most of the show that we could at least make a good guess of the story that was going on onstage. This is truly one of the highlights of the whole Vietnam trip, so glad that we didn’t miss it.
After the performance, we went for a very late dinner at Pho 2000, yet another pho restaurant chain. This one was special in the sense that it was visited by American President Bill Clinton before, and they have a photo of the visit to show in the outlet. Compared to Pho 24, Pho 2000 have a larger variety such as curry and vegetarian. But Dear2 didn’t like the thicker noodles used this this restaurant chain. Still, the soup is good. :D
Finally, after a long day, we returned to our hotel for the night, close to 11pm. We half expected to be locked out, but was pleasantly surprised that Chanh was actually waiting for us at the lobby with doors opened. Probably he had not seen us return and decided to wait for us before closing. Talk about good customer service! We thanked him before returning to our rooms for our last night in HCMC. The next day, we would spend our last morning visiting Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral again. Luckily it didn’t rain this time round.