Ringing in the new year with another dive into the unknown
We were greeted by the ant-hill formerly known as Saigon with a plethora of citylights. The youngest one suggested that all the millions of men living here had just jumped on their scooters to buy their sweethearts a dazzling weddingdress. Honestly, it's the only plausible explanation for the amount of bridalshops and motorbike galore around us, as our taxi waded through the nighttraffic.
When you manage to cross the street and reach one of the parks, a stroll through this big city is quite enjoyable, with shade and green provided. You come across some playgrounds too, so our boys could see if they could still function as children: they passed with flying colors.
Ho Chi Minh City offers a few sites we found worth visiting, once taking the bus, for the distances are long. We admired some Taoist temples, with their typical Chinese feel; blacks, reds, dragons, dark woodcarvings, paper lanterns and generals with long, sharp pencil moustaches and an atrocious look in their eyes. But mostly we just tried to take the place in, with all its foodstalls, foodbikes, foodcarts and foodladies - carrying their delicacies around.
Travelling to the south we had a fun first: we took a long chair bus. Unfortunately, not long enough for our western legs. We stuffed ourselves in the high seats (it was a 'double-decker') each with a kid tucked away between our knees. Obviously it's supposed to be a luxurious mode of transportation, but in the future we are happy to simply sit straight up in the bus again.
Arriving in Tra Vinh, it was clear that not many tourists visit or stay in this town. The enthousiastic calling and waving was heartwarming. When we walked down the street, we saw young, athletic men practising jumping on each others shoulders, holding the frame of a dragonhead: you could see a wonderful dragon-performance for the next festival come into being. The women have a signature look: florid flannel pyjamas. And of course the traditional conical nón lá hats are omnipresent. A parade drove by us, an uplifting beat blasting through the street, almost like a Brazilian samba. It turned out to be a funeral, judging from the coffin in the second show-vehicle. The motorbikes are packed to the max, horizontal as well as vertical, optimal efficiency: why drive thrice when you can take it all at once? We found an eatery and I suppose we ate duck. Next to the fish laid some pieces of meat, I assumed it was chicken, so pointed at it, however upon tasting it, I guess it was another bird.
After driving to the left for four months, it takes some getting used to cruising on the right side of the road again. The motorbikes were rather worn out, but they took us through the Mekong Delta nonetheless. If the waterways were a tree, with the trunk being the wide Mekong, we drove the smallest branches. Canals on one side, endless, blinding green ricepaddies and large ponds filled with lotuses on the other. The very narrow and precarious dirt pathways are quite the challenge to ride and the holes in them allow the water to constantly flow to the ricefields; an elaborate and ingenious irrigation system. The scenery is splendid, we drove over bridges and passed petite farms, containing merely a shed for two or three cows, a large cone-shaped haystack and some ducks. The ducks eat the pests off the riceplants, and produce a natural fertilizer as well. It's clear that water plus sun equals fruitfulness in abundance here.
At night we ventured the streets again, looking for a place to eat. We sat down on some tiny plastic dwarf stools on the sidewalk. Most foodstalls serve only one dish, so it's just a matter of putting up your fingers, indicating how many you wish to order. One time we got pho, a sort of generously filled soup, which our boys devour with chopsticks, like real pro's. Another night we were lured by the smell of roasted meat; a tiny barbecue on the pavement. Our table was stuffed with large lettuce leaves, ricepaper, ricenoodles and a fresh salad with garlic. Thankfully the lady showed us what to do, composing a wrap with all ingredients plus the meat, tied together with some sort of edible grass. Needless to say this costs next to nothing: 48.000 dong for the pho (less than 2 euro for the five of us).
Through the shimmering, colorful delta, to the haze of the incense smoke taking up the shining, mystic temples, and the extensive roadworks disguising the streetscenes in dust; slowly, Vietnam unveils itself to us and it appears to be a real gem.