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