Chau Doc

Water Life and Cambodia Ahoy!

I have been dreaming of seeing Angkor Wat and today -when we leave Chau Doc, Vietnam and take a speedboat to Phnom Penh, Cambodia- I will be two days closer to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.  In between there is much to see and two immigrations to go through.

As we are leaving the hotel we spot a little girl apparently alone, but actually waiting for her dad.  She’s on a bike with her own little rattan “throne” in front.  We all start waving at her and she timidly waves back.  Dad comes out and takes the veil off her face.  She stares at us and is probably wondering what the fuss is all about!  

After the bus drops us off we still have to walk through a market to get to the boat.  We pass by a temple with inscriptions in Vietnamese and Chinese: Chau Phu Temple.  You would think at this point I would be tired of temples and markets but I still find them fascinating, each generating different emotions in me every time.  

Though small, it is a thriving market the one we go through on the way to the pier.  A crate of chicks reminds me of a Spanish children’s song that goes: “Los pollitos dicen, pío, pío, cuando tienen hambre, cuando tienen frío…”  (The little chicks say peep, peep, peep, when they are hungry, when they are cold…)  These must be really hungry ‘cause their pío, pío is loud and strong!  Somehow it saddens me and I look away.       

The lanes are narrow and motorbikes and people coexist in them.  I’m so enthralled by these huge grapes that I don’t realize that a bike narrowly misses me (or I it).       

And yet, on my next photo none of the craziness is reflected.

We go through an alley  and my inner voice goes “water ahoy!” (I know it’s land ahoy but I wasn’t up for arguing with myself.)

Soda anyone?  

And had I not had breakfast, I could of gotten it at the boat that offered a hot meal to all.     

A houseboat floats by and my thoughts float with it.  I wonder how it must be to live like that. 

I have a few minutes to ponder this as our boat gently advances to a fish farm that we are visiting.   But before that, we shall pass and visit a floating wholesale market.   Another boat offers us a burst of color along with its wares (somewhat like a 7/11 on the water).   A good indication we are entering the market.  

Each boat has a long mast that has, instead of a flag, the fruit or vegetable they are selling waving at the top.

Here’s the coconut boat.  

Want to guess what this one sells?

   

We leave the market with another blast of color from a boat.  

A few minutes later we arrive at the fish farm. 

I try to pay attention, I really do, but the smell from the fish paste so commonly used in almost everything here is so overwhelmingly nauseating that all I’m thinking is getting on our new boat that will take us to Cambodia.  Not that I haven’t smelled it before but it was always intermingled with other scents.  Alone, and in mass quantities, it is hard to breathe.

Relief as I take a huge breath upon boarding the boat that will take us to the Vietnam exit border     and the Cambodian immigration.  I had wondered this morning how it must feel to live on the water and I’m getting a taste of it now.

I have learned to be patient and smile my way through every immigration process but the Cambodian immigration control is unique.

A curious local (as usual it is the people that draw my lens).    

After leaving the boat and walking for a bit there is an immigration control like no other.  

I get the usual “Paraguay?” question but with it comes a smile and a look.  And just in case you don’t believe it actually is a border crossing here are some officials to prove it as we head back to the boat.   This is not the plank we take back to our boat… 

  Back on the boat our trip leader entertains us.  

I relax for we still have about two hours till our arrival to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.       

My stomach growls, my eyes blink open, and I spot land.     

Thaly, our local guide, and our first and only female guide on our journey, welcomes us at the dock.  This is a bustling, metropolitan city.  We check in at the Almond Hotel where we have lunch.     At this stage of the game most have a hankering for familiar tastes so they serve us ice cream for dessert!  We are all like little kids verbalizing our delight with many “yummms and ahhhs”.

Off to the Royal Palace.      

As we cross the gates the sounds of life outside seem to decrease to nothing.  Isolated perhaps by the tall walls that surround it.  What it doesn’t isolate us from is the brutal sun.

The king is in residence, indicated by his flag waving high.  

I know I should be most impressed by the Throne Hall

-that we are asked not to photograph even from the outside looking in.  In fact, today we can’t go inside at all.   But aside from the Baccarat crystal chandeliers that are certainly captivating, it is the Moonlight Pavilion that holds my eye.     

We head towards the Silver Pagoda set of buildings.  The walls are painted with the Khmer version of the classic Indian epic, the Ramayana.  

I sit and contemplate how manmade beauty is framed and enhanced by nature.  

Life outside the walls has not stopped.        

We go back to the hotel to freshen up and go back out for our ride in a remok (the Cambodian version of a tuk-tuk) along the riverside to our restaurant.  We are served Cambodian food which, as in all of Asia it seems, includes curry something.  We taste fish amok (steamed fish with herbs in a banana wrap).  I am not warming up to Cambodian food as much as I have to the rest of Asian food.

Tomorrow we will have a somber morning walking through The Killing Fields.

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Categories: Cambodia, Chau Doc, Phnom Penh, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Oi Goi Oi!

Again my eyes open early though I can’t capture a sunrise on my lens due to the fact that the hotel is in a very busy area of Ho Chi Minh City.  Not much of a sky to see here.

After our morning ritual of coffee, breakfast and climbing on the bus we are all set for our day-long trip to Chau Doc via Cantho.

A few hours in, most on the bus need either a coffee or a bathroom  break so we stop at the Vietnamese version of a Starbucks.   Much more relaxed atmosphere than the chain, with much better coffee!  They use this aluminum coffee filter and place it on top of a glass, one-third filled with condensed milk.  They pour hot water on the filter of ground coffee beans and when the condensed milk and freshly brewed coffee meet, the result is heaven to the taste buds! Don’t know how these people remain thin!     

There are hammocks all over and when you order your coffee they will bring it to your selected hammock.  We congregate around some low, small tables so we can chat.  Again, Vietnam unexpectedly is providing me a flood of memories of my childhood and my country.   Hammocks are a standard in Paraguay.  Rarely will you see a back yard that doesn’t have one.  The shade from the trees they are usually tied to, providing a perfect setting for a siesta and shelter from the brutal sun, while the hypnotic side-to-side swing helps keep the flies away and you sound asleep.  But no time to sleep now.  I do not waste the chance to go back in time and space and lie on one, nonetheless.  I recall, while I do so, that it takes a bit of balance to climb on!  

After a few more hours (observing daily life alongside my window)  

and a stop at a lotus plantation

we arrive to Cantho   and it’s time for lunch near the river.   

Lunch of vegetable soup,  steamed shrimp with mango sauce,

stuffed pumpkin flower   and crispy pork with mushroom sauce, is divine.  Heavenly coffee, divine lunch… there’s an out of this world theme in this post. 🙂

There is a market on the side and I buy yet another scarf and t-shirt.   Our guide has taught me to say “Oh my god!” in Vietnamese and when I exclaim:  “Oi gioi oi!” when a vendor quotes me the price, I get a look of total surprise and the most charming  of giggles  as she calls the other vendors and has me repeat it.  This was me just before I said it.  They are having a ball.  Didn’t get me much of a discount but it did make for fabulous interaction.

A short distance from there we climb on scooters for another of what my tour company calls UFE’s (Unforgettable Experiences).  Scooters and drivers wait for us to take us to a bird sanctuary at the other end of the town, Banglang.    Didn’t spot many birds.

They leave us and we walk through town.  My “inside quietness” surfaces as I photograph their faces, their houses, their town.   


Back to bus.   Karaoke or Internet anyone?  

Long Xuyen is our next stop where we visit the Cao Dai Temple.  Not a promising start…  

Then a surprisingly pretty building…  

Then puzzlement when I see the monument in front with a reverse swastika embedded. Turns out that the reverse swastika, which happens to have a Buddhist influence, is sacred to many Vietnamese.  The swastika (a Sanskrit word) is also a tantric symbol to evoke ‘shakti’ or the sacred symbol of auspiciousness.

Cao Dai is a religion that aims “to unite all of humanity through a common vision of the Supreme Being, whatever our minor differences, in order to promote peace and understanding throughout the world.  Cao Dai does not seek to create a gray world, where all religions are exactly the same, only to create a more tolerant world, where all can see each other as sisters and brothers form a common divine source reaching out to a common divine destiny realizing peace within and without.”  May get my vote on that premise.   I am mesmerized by its colors and by its principles.  About 2 million people practice it in Vietnam.  Persecuted by the communist rule, it gained in the ’80’s its acceptance.

Back on the bus.  Am really liking crossing the countryside.  We are taking this route so as to be near the Cambodian border.  Tomorrow we are cruising from Chau Doc, Vietnam to Pnom Penh, Cambodia on the Mekong River.

On the way we view a bit more of daily life.  School is out and some girls are in the traditional ào dái dress, used as uniforms in the school. They are heading towards the local ferry which will take them home.  A lot of life takes place on the river; they are so dependent on it.  

We arrive to the Dong Nam Hotel in Chau Doc.  I take a shower and again get on the bus to go to dinner at a local family’s house.  It’s actually a bakery by day and at night she hosts small dinners for tourists.  I try taro and rice soup –purple in color with what to me was a pretty strange taste.   Egg noodle with seafood –great.  Stir-fried morning glory (a plant not the same as the one in the US which is not edible) –delicious!   Catfish cooked in a clay pot –good.

When we arrive it was pouring. First downpour in almost 20 days of travel. It reminded me so much of the storms that hit Asunción and used to scare my mom so much. Ay Vietnam, what are you doing to me?  You have generated so many memories!

The rain brings in a visitor that was not invited to the table.    Mom did not like them; I liked them less.  She got accustomed to them; my aversion got stronger.

Back to the hotel.  The rain is steady and strong and turns into the prequel of dreams of times long gone.

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cantho, Chau Doc, Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon, Long Xuyen, Ramblings, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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