Ah, the slow boat. Since I was getting a little tired of buses, and trains weren't an option, I opted for alternate transportation from Phnom Penh to Vietnam-- the slow boat. Aka 7 hours on a wooden longboat with 2 long benches down the sides and 8 other tourists. Actually, it was about 4 on that boat, then after the border formalities, myself and a European couple (she was Italian, he Spanish-- they spoke a mix of the 2) were put on a different boat-- still a wooden longboat, this time with lawn chairs set up in the middle instead of benches. Everyone else got a boat with seats. Apparently we paid for the cheap trip, but it was really perfectly comfortable in the lawn chairs.
We got to Chao Doc, Vietnam, which is in the Mekong Delta. However, the three of us immediately caught a minibus to Can Tho, where there is more to do and more hostels to stay at. A few hours later, exhausted, we arrived. I found a decent hostel and checked in, also booking a river tour the next morning to see the floating markets and the canals.
The next morning, at 5:30 am, I was picked up on foot by the driver of my boat, who spoke very minimal English but was very kind and good at communicating with what he knew. We stopped at another hostel to pick up two more people-- a Canadian aerospace engineer and a British student-- and headed to the docks.
Our trusty craft was a small wooden boat with 2 benches facing forward, with no roof. The driver stood on the back and ran the motor and steering system. The sun was rising, and the river was coming to life, bathed in orange light.
The first two stops were floating markets. These entail boats of all sizes, stationary and in motion, buying and selling mostly produce, but also some clothing and meat. Women in triangular rice paddy hats stood on the front of their small wooden boats, paddling around each other and pulling up beside a boat to make a sale. Boats were laden with one kind of fruit or another, filled to the brim. People bargained, gossiped and weighed produce on the boats, simultaneously selling their goods and buying supplies for their own houses.
Next we went on through the canals, past wooden houses on stilts, people bathing, swimming and cleaning laundry in the river. At one point, we got out and walked around in a village, and our guide showed us fruit trees, a duck farm (where all the ducks had been dyed pink...I'm assuming to keep track of them), and then let us walk down the path by ourselves, while he went ahead and waited for us farther down the river.
Lunch was at a nice little family-run place on an island, with tables under huts outside. Just when we got there, it was starting to rain. While we ate, it poured. Though we stayed mostly dry under the hut, I was chilly for the first time in weeks.
That didn't last long, and soon it was hot again. However, apparently we had had a folding roof on the boat the whole time, which the driver put up as soon as it started to rain. It would have been nice to have that in the hot sun! Oh well, though. It really wasn't too hot.
Later that afternoon, after we finished the tour, I got on a bus to My Tho, another small city in the Mekong Delta. I was planning on going from there to Ben Tre, which is an island across the river, and supposedly less touristed and more relaxing. But, I arrived to My Tho in the evening, so I decided to stay there for the night. The hostel was nice...I was on the fifth floor, and had a great view of the river and canals, illuminated in the setting sun.
The next morning, I headed out for Ben Tre. A bridge had recently been built to the island, so I wouldn't have to take a ferry. I took a cyclo to the bridge with a very nice older man. A cyclo is basically a bicycle with a carriage seat on the front, so you sit in front while the driver bicycles from behind. It's a pretty slow way to go, and I always feel bad for the driver, but this one was nice. He had been an interpreter for the American Army in the war, and spoke excellent English. We had a great conversation on the way to the bridge, where he dropped me off and waited with me for the city bus...much cheaper than a moto taxi (on the back of a motorbike) would have been. However, before the city bus got there, a moto driver came to offer to take me. He started at an exorbitant price-- 50,000 dong, about 4 dollars-- but my cyclo driver talked him down to 10,000--about 50 cents, and maybe 10 cents more than the bus. I took it, since he would drop me right at the guesthouse.
I checked into the guesthouse, then wandered around the city. At this point, I hadn't seen another tourist since I got off my boat tour the previous day. It's low season, and tourism in the region is suffering from the bad global economy and also the instability in Thailand. Many tourists use Bangkok as a base, and fly in and out of the airport there. Since there were protests a few months ago, and a crowd of protesters occupied the airport in December, tourism has dropped sharply. Thailand is the most developed and stable country in the region, so if people don't feel safe going there, they won't go anywhere in the region. (Don't worry...it's perfectly safe as long as you're not stupid, it's just peoples' perceptions)
There wasn't much to do in Ben Tre, and the boat tours were way more expensive than the one I had taken. So, I had a nice, relaxing day, reading in a park by a lake, and spending a lot of the afternoon in an outdoor cafe that for some reason was showing Tom and Jerry on a flatscreen TV. It's a universal show...the Vietnamese people in the cafe thought it was hilarious. I must admit, it was pretty funny.
The next day, I took another minibus to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. Back to a city, but only for a short while.
"Words have no wings, but they can travel a thousand miles" (Korean Proverb)
Welcome to Flying Words, Jon and Aileen's blog of our adventures in South Korea! We will be in South Korea for a year, starting in mid-July, teaching English in a private school. We just graduated from college this past May, and are looking forward to having some adventures before continuing our education.
We started this blog to keep all our family and friends updated and to share our photos and stories. We hope this is entertaining for you! We will miss you all, and are very thankful to have the internet to keep us in touch.