I called my friend Hau to let him know that I was in town, and surprised that I had arrived early. It seems he was on his way to Nghia’s house for the 6th anniversary of his mother’s death. I quick couple of phone calls, and I was on the back of a motorcycle to join in the ceremony. After a climb up the 4 levels to pay respect to Nghia’s passed mother, we sat for a catered lunch. It was a great meal of stewed frog, and an excellent beef stew before the chicken came out. The party was on!! It was only 12:30 pm and the head of the chicken was put onto a plate for a game of drinking. Not surprisingly the head was pointing to me on the first spin. With roars of laughter I reluctantly downed my glass of beer, and the games continued. By 3 pm the party was winding down. I met both Phuong and Joy who were to be part of the adventure in the Mekong.
And an adventure it was. I must have taken a hundred photographs. I will start by introducing you to some very good people. I
became friends with Nghia and Hau a couple of years ago and am so impressed by the quality of their service that I recommend them to other travelers without fear of an unsatisfied customer. Nghia owns V’Explore Travel and Hau is his general manager. Every opportunity I have to come to Saigon, I visit with them. They are good friends and are always fun to visit. Joining us on this Mekong trip is Phuong, a friend of Nghia and Joy who is the owner of a Tour company in Laos called Asia Reveal. None of us except Hau has ever been to this region of Vietnam. It is an area not traveled by tourists. We traveled via Nghia’s car. He owns a shiny new Honda Accord and it was very comfortable to be in. The drive took us along a newly finished freeway that followed the Saigon river and connected with another new highway that launched us quickly away from Saigon towards our intended destination.
After crossing a long suspension bridge over part of the Mekong river, the newer roads ended and the journey truly began. The roads from here on in were small and shared by every kind of thing imaginable. There were card and trucks, oxen covered carts, two wheeled tractors pulling wagons, and every kind of life form a person can imagine. We reached the Con Tho area where the majority of the tourists go to visit the floating markets. Close to this area we stopped for a simple lunch of soup and continued on our way. About another 2 hours south from Con Tho we crossed a branch or one of the endless Mekong river branches. I had been here before. Back in 2006 with a friend on another adventure into foreigners rarely see. About another hour south west and we were at a second ferry. This is now further than I have ever been and it was obvious as day foreigners never made it this far. There was a line of street vendors selling snacks to the waiting people to board the ferry. This was the first time That Joy and Phuong witnessed the strange phenomenon that I used to write about in the past. One of the venders, an attractive woman in her 20’s just stood mesmerized by this big bald westerner in front of her. She stopped selling and just stared at me with those big brown eyes. The guys could not believe it!! I could probably been married to her on the spot. That stare was swallowing me whole and thankfully the ferry boarded before I was trapped forever in it. This was only the beginning of a long line of similar events that had Joy endlessly entertained. We stopped At Phuongs sisters house in the country along the way to use the toilet and have a cold drink. The toilet was a hole in a wood floor with a canal beneath it. Very simple, but it served its function. I decided that there would be no swimming in the canals for me. As we came close to out destination, the roads narrowed and there were very few cars to be seen. People started to stare curiously at us driving by as the only cars they see are Government people. Gradually there was a transformation in the countryside and the structures and before I had realized it, I was in the middle of what I had always dreamed of Vietnam would look like. Concrete and brick buildings were replaced by grass and wood huts.
People relied on the intensive canal system for transport and there was very little evidence of any machinery with the exception of motorcycles. It was absolutely beautiful, and I felt like I had truly found paradise. We were met by a man on a motorcycle and we proceeded to follow him down a small road that ended at an entrance gate to a reserve named Vuon Quoc Gia U Minh Thuong. In a grass hut in the middle of a bomb crater we dined on a big mud fish a rare vegetable I do not know the name of, and chicken. There was a unified call of no!!!…. as Hau jumped up to retrieve the chicken head.