Saturday 28 March 2015

Ho Chi Minh Day 2: Mekong River Tour

Thankfully Baby Boy and the rest of us were able to sleep well last night. Well, except for my mother because Baby Boy kept kicking her! Oh dear =(

Anyway since she can't sleep, she dragged all of us for breakfast at our hotel's restaurant.

Bread section
(I only have one usable photo of the breakfast buffet because I really don't function well in the morning)

The breakfast spread wasn't fantastic. Didn't eat the pastries as they were hard (not going to waste my calories on these) and the mains weren't great. Porridge was ok; Baby Boy was eating most of it until he tried to cough out his phlegm and ended up vomiting all of his porridge *sigh*

The only redeeming factor is the Chef section. The omelette and other variety of eggs as well as pho freshly made by the chef were really good! We ended up eating only those in mornings to come.

After breakfast, we got ready for our Mekong River Tour that we had booked at our hotel's lobby the day before. There were two tour agencies to choose from and we chose Ginkgo Voyage even though it was double the price of the other agency (820,000 dong, approximately S$50, per adult). They guaranteed us a smaller group size, better service and great food. I have learnt my lesson that anything dirt cheap is bad news. You pay for what you get.

Although the tour was supposed to have a maximum of 10 people, we ended up being the only ones in the tour. Our guide said Saturdays and Sundays are usually the non-peak periods, which was really surprising to me. Our guide and driver picked us up in a 7-seater SUV, which was really spacious and comfortable. Best tour ever! =)

Just us in our tour, own time own target =)

Our guide started explaining the unique features of Saigon (the locals prefer to call the city by its historical name), including its uniquely slim buildings and strong French influence (Vietnam used to be a French colony). As the Mekong River is some distance away (about 1.5 hours journey), we stopped by a rest stop to use the toilet and buy some drinks.

Mekong Rest Stop

We were the last to arrive at the rest stop but were the first to leave. Benefits of being the only folks in your tour group! =)

We made our way to our first destination, the Vinh Trang Pagoda. Located at My Tho, a town situated near the Mekong River, the Vinh Trang Pagoda was built by an architect who wanted to marry Eastern and Western architectural elements into its design.

Entrance to the Pagoda
Left: Group photo at the entrance taken by our tour guide;
Right: The mosaic patterns are made out of broken Chinese ceramic bowls and cups. Very cool!
Front of the Vinh Trang Pagoda
(The overall look is Asian but the pillars are European, a very nice hybrid of both worlds)
East meets West entry way

The predominant religion in Vietnam is Buddhism, therefore the pagoda holds special meaning to the Vietnamese. The inside of the Pagoda feels like a typical Chinese temple, with Chinese words lining the pillars and door entrance signs. Our guide explained to us that before the French colonisation, Vietnamese was actually written in Chinese characters rather than English alphabets (rather like the Japanese kanji). The meaning was exactly the same in Vietnamese as it is in Chinese. Hence, a few centuries ago, technically we could all communicate to each other in writing even though we speak different languages. Cool isn't it? =)

However after the French colonisation, written Vietnamese was changed to English alphabets so that it was easier for the French to learn the language. Something new I learned everyday =)

We proceeded to transfer to a boat next, where we got to see the Mekong River up close and personal.

Our boat looks something like this
Left: Mum and Baby Boy sitting on one of the seats (Baby Boy never quite like boats);
Right: Sister sitting on the bow of the boat
It was just us on the boat! =)
Selfie with the wind blowing in our hair

The boat ride was slow and somewhat sleepy (you can see that Baby Boy was sleeping soundly). We soon arrived at the coconut farms where they sold everything that they could make from coconut: coconut candy from the fruit as well as bowls and cutlery from the bark.

Coconut candy "factory"
At the jetty where they dropped us off
Clockwise from left: Walking on the pathway to the coconut farm;
Sample coconut candy for tasting;
Machines that grind the coconut into smaller pieces
Walking through a fruit farm

The Mekong River is rich in minerals which was why fruit trees grow so well at the Mekong Delta where the soil is very fertile. Fruits that grow well there include banana, mangosteen, mango, and of course pineapples. We were on our way to sample some of the lovely fruits but in order to do that, we had to walk a long, long way to get there.

Walked passed a hut where a woman made some kind of Vietnamese flat pancake
Placing the dough onto the hot wok to cook before letting it cool on bamboo sheets at the side
(These are not rice paper although the method to make them is similar)
Walked through an old bridge across the river
Clockwise from left: Crossing the bridge under the clear blue sky;
Boats lined up along the river;
There were gaping holes in the bridge so do tread carefully (hold on to your kids!)

We arrived at a clearing and were taken for a horse-cart ride.

Horse and cart
Baby Boy was really fascinated by the horse

To be honest, I kinda felt bad for the horse. He was small and looked like he had a lot of difficulty pulling us (sorry little guy!). Thankfully the horse didn't have to take us very far as the next half of the road was paved with sharp rocks (they were probably in the midst of building the road) so we had to walk.

Trying to keep our balance so that we won't fall and cut ourselves =S

It was actually really tiring in the extreme heat especially for my mother, who has a bad knee. We were so happy when we had finally arrived!

No idea what the sign says but this is our destination
Colourful fruits and tasty honey tea welcomed us when we arrived
Clockwise from top left: Vietnamese apple (looks and tastes strange);
Old school pot of tea;
Honey tea that's sweet and sour;
Fresh pineapple

The tea and fruits were a refreshing treat after a long walk in the burning hot sun!

We then continued our journey on a small rowboat, complete with traditional Vietnamese hats to add to the experience.

Clockwise from left: In a small rowboat typically rowed by small-built yet strong Vietnamese women;
Sister pretending to row the boat (but gave up after like 5 minutes);
View of nature as we proceeded down the canal.
Sister looks good in this photo, so good that it's obvious she was faking the "rowing" lol

The boat ride reminded me of our experience with punting in Cambridge and bamboo-rafting in Phuket, with Baby Boy not enjoying it yet again. There's something about boats that just does not sit well with him! =(

Clockwise from left: Contrary to popular belief, Baby Boy was only rubbing his nose and not covering it
(side note: I look good in a Vietnamese hat haha);
Selfie by the sister;
Mum and sister look strange in their hats *laughs*.

We transfered to our bigger boat, which brought us to a restaurant by the river for our lunch!

Restaurant by the river
We were seated by the fountain with a clear view of the sky and sea
Clockwise from top left: Rice paper spring rolls with prawn;
Fragrant rice to go with our dishes;
Our favourite morning glory! Just as good here as it is in Thailand;
Full-size fried fish propped up for photo-taking only. They later took it down and cut it up nicely for us.
Clockwise from left: A member of staff cutting up the large fried glutinous rice ball;
How it looks like before it was cut up;
The base is made up of gooey glutinous rice while the skin is thin and crispy.

The food was delicious! We ate till we were so full! *yum*

A group photo taken by our guide

Our guide then hurried us to our boat, where we were treated with a fresh coconut each!

Super refreshing in this hot weather

As we drank our coconut juice, we proceeded to our final destination: a fish farm on the Mekong River itself.

Good view of the Rach Mieu Bridge
Fish farm

The locals built their farms directly on the Mekong River because it was cheaper (no need to buy land) and the fish could thrive better since it was their natural environment. However, this meant that the farmers' whole family, including the children, will live on the river.

Clockwise from top left: Hooking up our boat to dock at the fish farm;
Good size bullfrogs;
Lots and lots of fish;
Sister feeding the fish with the fish feed provided by the farmers.

It's too bad my girl didn't come along otherwise she would have thoroughly enjoyed feeding the fish!

And with that, the tour came to an end and we had a long 1.5-2 hours drive back to our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. All of us, including our guide and Baby Boy, slept the whole way back! We were exhausted!

After we had arrived safely back at our hotel, we headed to the famous Cuc Gach Quan for dinner (details found in our printable itinerary at the end of this post). Sister had read good reviews about this quaint cafe so we were there to check it out.

Pure Mango Juice with honey, a glass of ice and a vegetable stem as a straw! Very organic. Definitely recommend ordering this =)
Clockwise from bottom right: Mango Juice, Fried tofu with pork floss, fried softshell crab (sister's favourite dish of the night), stir fried beef, morning glory with garlic and a simple but very tasty fried rice.

The food was pricey but really good. We loved the quality of the ingredients and attention to detail.

We caught a cab back to our hotel, where we joined the night shoppers at the night market right below our hotel (have to make mention that although the street below our room was bustling every night with activity, we didn't hear a thing in our room).  

Tan Hai Long Hotel, the Vietnamese name for Silverland Central Hotel
Bustling night market
(Some things like magnets are cheaper here!)

I saw a few Vietnamese women carrying a baby and a small rack with various goods on it walking around and selling their wares. Talk about multitasking. These women are the real full time working mums!

We stopped by at the salon beside our hotel to have our nails done at a dirt cheap price of S$10 for classic manicure and pedicure.

Getting her pedicure done

I had to do it while entertaining my Baby Boy. Quite a feat in my opinion! *laughs*

We were finally exhausted after a super long but extremely fun and fulfilling day! Totally enjoying myself here =)

Continue to >> Ho Chi Minh City Day 3: Cu Chi Tunnels & Swedish Massage
<< Back to Ho Chi Minh City Day 1: Silverland Central Hotel & Ben Thanh Market


Visit MADPSYCHMUM TRAVELS for the rest of my posts on Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 
as well as other travel itineraries!

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