Floating up the Mekong

The Mekong river originates from the Tibetan plateau. Almost 5.000 kilometers upstream from where we are now and where we were 2.5 months ago. Amazing. The plan is to travel the impressive Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City to Cambodia.

Ho Chi Minh City

First things first: Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh is home to 6.6 million people and 7.4 million motorbikes. That’s on average more than one motorbike per person and still we see up to four people on a bike? If someone can explain, let me know!

Ho Chi Minh shows itself in all its glory. Mix of old, new and colonial buildings, traffic, neon lights, loud music, traffic, small alleys, sky bars (love it!), street food, commerce, traffic, multi-cultural people, and honking motorbikes (what else…). We enjoy wandering around without a real plan and feel the buzz. The capital is alive. At night the club music rocks us to sleep, early morning our neighbor wakes us with an early morning karaoke session.

Cu Chi Tunnels

A visit to the Cu Chi tunnels is a must-see when in Ho Chi Minh. It’s an immense network of tunnels where the Viet Cong operated from during the Vietnam war. It’s pretty touristic, but it does give a good impression (123) of the life in and around the tunnels. The most impressive is to crouch around the tunnels. It’s hot, narrow, low, deep and dark. And for tall Dutch people there is a free add-on: two days of muscle pain in your legs!

It’s unbelievable how the Viet Cong lived to survive. And to think the tunnels have been enlarged for tourists! Jumping into an original tunnel entrance and sit there for a few seconds, closed up, is extremely claustrophobic. It’s probably the closest you can get to the real stuff and yet far, far, far, far away from how it must have been. It’s unbelievable.

Above ground there is another thing that goes to the limit and I would not be surprised if it’s the only place in the world where it’s possible. I doubted about it upfront as there are plenty of good reasons why not to do it. But at that precise place it was a ‘what the heck, just do it’ moment. It’s ones in a life time to shoot with an AK47. A bizarre experience, I can tell you that… Well, at least we have a good story whenever we’re back in a meeting room, playing a ‘truth or lie’ game as an ice breaker.

Mekong Delta

From Ho Chi Minh we cross the Mekong Delta in a few days. Parts by bus, parts by boat. It’s wonderful to see daily water life pass by. People who are cooking, eating, doing the laundry, working or just relaxing. Kids playing and swimming. Floating markets with a diligent trade. Palm trees and wooden houses dotted along the shore. Floating forests surrounded by huge lilies and duckweed. Sometimes we go ashore. It’s beautiful and rustic. Exotic fruits are hanging in the trees. People are smiling and waving “Hi”.

One night, we stay over in a homestay which includes a cooking class. It’s been ages since we’ve cooked a meal! I don’t like cooking, but after months of no cooking it might be nice. At dinner we are asked to roll a bowl of spring rolls and then to take turns to throw one in a deep fryer. At first, we thought we missed the real class as we were too busy having a beer on the Mekong with two Dutch girls and a Spaniard. But this was it! Easy cooking, ha-ha, like it.

We also have a “yes-day” and thus we say yes to everything. And so, we eat mangostan, ramboetan, dragon fruit, ginger candies, durian pop rice, we drink rice wine, happy water, snake wine and hold a bee frame in our hands. Except for the snake wine all pretty nice. We’ve picked the right day. The next day we are relieved to say no to the BBQ rat, snake, fried frog and snails… and pretty impressed by the Spaniard who continued our “yes-day”!

Border Crossing

Our final night in Vietnam we sleep in a floating guesthouse with a fantastic view over the Mekong. From here it’s a few hours boat drive to the border. The boat moves through rustic farmers land where it is flooding season. Amazing to see how the farmers live in their houses on poles surrounded by water, far away from civilization. The sceneries make you feel peaceful. The comings and goings of the sun and rain is just the way it is.

The border crossing with Cambodia is an experience on its own. The border is some kind of floating building and we miss the custom officers. It’s just us, three Italian guys, our non-English speaking captain and a few locals playing cards. Our captain takes the passports and disappears. All we can do is wait, eat Oreos (perfect travel food, btw) paid with the last Vietnamese Dong and enjoy the view over the rainy Mekong. After a while, the captain comes back with the Vietnamese stamps. Apparently, a passport is sufficient, no need to see the individuals. We are in no man’s land.

The captain disappears again, once more with our passports. Will the same happen to get our Cambodian visa? All of a sudden, he is back, and we need to follow him. To do so, we have to wade bare feet (!) through the Mekong and climb a sloping shore with a rope. With all our luggage. Fantastic, what a border crossing! 🙂

Next, us and the three Italians are being stuffed into a van and a new guy drives us further on an unpaved road. It looks like that our passports are on the dashboard. We hope… The driver wants to keep them… Are we in Cambodia or still in no man’s land? He stops at a house and once more disappears with the passports. We are getting used to it and hang around a bit. And yes! He comes back with our Cambodian visa. The last step is to get stamped and leave our finger prints in a small office in the back garden.

We are in Cambodia!

Watch the Quick Story here for a snapshot of the border crossing journey!

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