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Homestay in the Mekong Delta

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We’ve been in Vietnam more than two weeks now and all I’ve done here so far is write a five-page rant about our border-crossing experience, so I guess it’s time for an update.

Needless to say, Vietnam became more enjoyable in the days after we arrived. From our upgraded hotel in Can Tho, the epicentre of the Mekong Delta, we arranged a homestay which became the highlight of our time in the delta. The homestay involved an overnight stay with a local family whose home is located along one of the many canals that extend like a network of branches throughout the delta. We were not more than a 10-minute walk from where the taxi dropped us off, yet it was a world away from the hustle and bustle of Can Tho. Along the canals, the paths are too narrow for cars, so the only ground transportation is by foot, motorbike or bicycle. Goods and people are also transported by boat down the canals—in fact, this is how most people get their goods to the floating market, which is also nearby.

We had a guide with us for the homestay. Although he had a Vietnamese name, he insisted we call him Jimmy because his name, he said, would be too difficult for us to pronounce properly. It wasn’t all that difficult, actually, but after thinking of him as Jimmy for a couple of days (and then not thinking of him at all for two weeks after that), I can’t remember what it is anymore. In any event, Jimmy led us into the family home and introduced us to the couple who lived there, and then showed us to our sleeping area. All things considered, it was generously sized and clean. Our room was essentially a bamboo cabin located near the back of the property with three double beds—more like thin rolls of foam on frames, but fine—covered by mosquito nets. Along a hallway by the room was a series of toilets and cold-water showers, and adjacent to that was our open-air eating area with bamboo table and chairs. A series of paths led away from our quarters through extensive gardens and ponds back to the family’s main living area.

Homestay.jpg

After we’d dropped off our baggage and met the caged resident crocodile (!), we set off for a two-hour bicycle tour of the delta. Riding along the narrow trail by the waterways as the sun went down, watching people working on boats or go about their business at their homes alongside the paths, was a fabulous antidote to the border scam business. As I rode along, I kept thinking, “Now THIS is what I came here for.” About two-thirds of the way through the trip, we stopped for a break near a tropical fruit orchard, where Jimmy walked us through an assortment of trees, pointing out what was growing on them. We ate mangoes, papaya, bananas, pineapple, jackfruit and lotus seeds.

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Jimmy timed the bike ride so that we could catch the sun setting over the Mekong before we cycled the last few minutes back to the homestay in the dusk. After returning and washing up, we were invited into the family kitchen to help prepare our own dinner. A lot of the prep work had been done for us, so this was not quite the same as a full-scale cooking class, but we stuffed, rolled, and fried our own spring rolls—the kids loved that—and cooked a vegetable stir-fry and pumpkin soup. After that, we were sent back to relax at our table while the family finished the preparations. There was a big cooler stocked with beer, water and soft drinks in our room, so we treated ourselves to some beer and the kids to some soft drinks while we waited for dinner to arrive. When it did, it was excellent. Along with the spring rolls, stir-fry, soup and some rice, there was pork cooked in the traditional clay pot and a whole boiled elephant-ear fish as well as all the fixings needed to make our own fresh rice-paper rolls.

Homestay_cooking.jpg

I would say the most interesting part of the whole homestay experience was talking to Jimmy after dinner, when we quizzed him about life and politics in Vietnam. Jimmy was about 26, with an English degree and a passion for photography, yet he makes very little in his job as a tour guide. His view was that elections don’t matter a whit because their outcomes are rarely fair, and never seem to change anything. (In Vietnam, the government is communist in name, but in practice, capitalism seems to be in full swing. All the same, my impression is that even if market forces are operating freely, the government still holds on to its control of the people—for example, according to Jimmy, Vietnamese are not allowed to leave their country unless they can show proof of sufficient funds to return.) Any political party can call itself whatever it likes, and do whatever it wishes, he said, but people his age don’t really care. “We just want to live the good life,” is how he put it. Unfortunately, that’s often not possible here if you don’t have the right connections.

After breakfast the next morning, we hopped into a boat that took us directly from the homestay to the Can Tho floating market, the biggest in the delta. We spent nearly an hour motoring slowly around the market, watching people in boats of every size and shape exchange fruits, vegetables and other goods. Because of the noise and crowding, most boats display their wares by hanging samples of them high up on bamboo poles. Aside from all the trading, it was interesting to get a close-up glimpse of how people live along the river—most of them in weathered-looking, crooked wooden shacks on stilts over the water. Jimmy told us that most of these people will be moved by the government within the next three years because they’re living in unsanitary conditions, using the river as a toilet and getting by without running water. I wondered if the people were being moved forcibly and might resist the plan, but he said actually they’re looking forward to it.

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Returning to Can Tho by about 10 a.m., we had just enough time to enjoy some fruit shakes at a riverside restaurant before boarding our bus to Saigon—a smooth, easy, five-hour ride in a clean, mechanically sound bus (the second antidote to entering the delta).

Posted by The Rymans 20:55 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel

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Comments

Hi there, your Mekong homestay sounds great. Can you tell me where you booked it? or how to arrange a stay there? Thanks Louize Darwin Australia

by lou

Sure, at Can Tho Tourist, right along the river in Can Tho. Our guide's name was Jimmy -- you can ask for him there if you like. He offers information & sells tours, but also is a guide from time to time. He was fabulous. Good luck!

by The Rymans

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