We wanted to do a short, 3 hour, small, local boat trip just to see the river life. I thought I was getting quite good at communication Vietnamese style, so I thought this is what I had organised! I managed to pantomime to the chap that arrived to take us to the boat that my husband’s leg was no good and he couldn’t possibly go on a pushbike or walk too far. He needed a motorbike. Off he ran and came back shortly on a motorbike, all good. He and Jeremy sped off and I rapidly followed on the pushbike.
We get to the boat. It is not a small, local boat like I had anticipated but a slightly larger one run by a tour operator, complete with the oligatory, crappy life jackets. I am at the end of my communication ability so we decide to just go with the flow. The boat had proper seats, which proved better for Jeremy anyway. Along the way, our boat driver had to run a few errands. Like collect a man from the end of his jetty and take him a short distance to his boat. And help another tour boat reverse out in the river. The sense of community and people helping each other is obvious in so many ways.
Quite quickly we stopped again, pulling up at a small pier with touristy looking shops behind it. Oh, dear, what happened to our gentle cruising of the delta. We were obliged to offload and go and inspect the shops. It actually prooved quite interesting. We were shown a bee hive with some local bees and then we sat down and tasted jasmine tea with the local honey and lemon. It was very nice. I purchased a couple of souvenirs and a Christmas present for my mum.
Then my boat man indicated that I follow him to some more shops. Some nice local art by a woman’s sister and brother. One of the paintings in particular caught my eye, I considered a purchase. But it is way too much for our tourist dollar. Obviously, they are catering to the likes of those staying at the more luxurious resorts that line the river.
Then onto another building where I watched some women wrapping home made coconut candy, tasted some homemade rice wine, and watched a wheat popping demonstration. The popped wheat was made into a local sweet delicacy. It was all very interesting. I purchased a small sample of each.
Our driver wanted to know if we wanted to do a small boat ride through a traditional village. Well, he showed us the brochure and after determining that it was only 30 minutes in a small boat, we decided that, yes, we would do it. Well, that was a mistake. The river was quite low, so all we saw was mangroves and rubbish and scenery very much like that around our homestay, which I now realise is in the middle of a ‘traditional’ village! But we got to wear silly hats!
Back on the main boat and we thought that was it. But oh no, once on the tourist boat there is no getting off. This is why we actively avoid this type of travel! Our next stop, which only I did, was to a local music theatre performance. I was given a plate of fruit and we had to wait until enough other tourists had been dropped off. Once we reached the required quota the performance began. The music was good, the singing fine and the performance short and sweet. Then they broke into a Vietnamese version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ complete with animated clapping, which we were obviously meant to join in on. I looked around, the tourists were looking bored and pissed off but the tour guides were clapping.
Just as I was wandering how to get out of here, my boat man came back and rescued me. “Quick, quick,” he indicated, “Time to go.” Back on the boat and a sedate cruise further up river and then obviously our time was up, cos he U turned and chugged quite quickly back to our landing, where a motorbike awaited Jeremy to take him back to the Lodge. I followed by trusty pushbike.
Back at the Lodge, and I have more guests. A lovely French couple, dressed quite well, not really in fitting with our surrounds, they chat to me, and ask for my help, thankful to have found somebody who speaks English. Seems I am not so bad with this homestay business, Ok, so I failed with the Germans, but the Basque boys and this young French couple really appreciate my help. I gave them the bike map and sent them on there way. Hehe.
Jeremy’s leg is really playing up, he is in increasing pain and is not having a good time. He is concerned his leg, which has had the lymph nodes removed, needs an operation to have a drain placed. He wants to fly back to Melbourne tomorrow and he wants me to continue on my own :-(. But then he has a conversation with his doctor who says it is something different, not so bad, just get hold of these various drugs, and all should be ok. Jeremy asks me to head into town and purchase said drugs. No problem, I can do that. We write down the information and off I go. On the way into town I pass another French couple looking for our lodge. I tell them to say hello to the mother and she will ring her daughter in Saigon.
I check out the name for pharmaceuticals in Vietnamese, it is duoc pham … of course. So I ride the streets seaching for a shop with this name and with counters selling drug type items. I find one and manage to negotiate the purchase of some aspirin and some anti-inflammatory cream (this was after much pantomiming and acting…and then he pulled out a tube of Voltarin!). But the other two, no, he didn’t have them. So I went to another pham, which turned out to be more of a beauty product shop.
The ladies all looked at my note, talked animatedly and suggested I try up the road. I indicated that I had tried there. They nodded and pointed further away. I shrugged. They then indicated that I get on a customers motorbike and she will take me. I indicated what about my bike. No problem they said we’ll look after it. So off I went.
She dropped me off at another shop and in I went and did my pantomime. Indicating that I had a sore leg, and then pointed to a picture of a man on a poster and mimed kissing him…I think I am showing her that my husband has a sore leg and needs anti-inflammatories and some opiate pain killers. Ahh, no problem she says and selects some pills. One she says, what I think she says anyway, is for his leg…the other will make him sleepy. Feeling very satisfied I head back to the Lodge. After googling the drugs active ingredients, it turns out I have three out of the four right. It appears the pain killer is actually an anti-phsychotic drug for schizophrenia, only available on strict prescription. So we flushed those down the toilet!
The French people return from their bike ride. They did not get lost. The Germans have gone into town, the food here is too pricey for them. Martin and Laun return from Saigon. I report in to Martin all the comings and goings. He laughs and is suitably impressed with my management. However, I think Luan is copping it big time from her mother with all the unexpected arrivals. And now as I sit typing, awaiting the second course for our meal, she is alone in the kitchen. Her mother is nowhere to be seen.
Next door a party is beginning, Jeremy heard the slaughtering of a pig earlier on and there is a continual stream of bikes down their drive. Martin said there is a competition in rural Vietnam to possess the biggest and loudest speakers and we can can hear several blasting out. Gone is the peaceful Mekong…It is Saturday night. I think mother is over next door, she appears with a glass in hand and then disappears again. Maybe I will go join her for a home made rice wine…