Today has been a much more interesting and eventful experience than the past few. It started early enough (5.30am) when the metal grinders thought they would greet the sunrise. I did manage to go back to sleep around 7.30 but Simon woke me at 8.30 bright and breezy with a cup of “lucky draw coffee” that stripped the enamel from my teeth.
I then discover the packet of cookies in my bag has a hole in and a bite taken from one. We accuse Maisie but she is so outraged that we decide to investigate further and I’m slightly upset to find mouse droppings in my bag. Mystery solved and the biscuits are binned! Still after a shower I’m feeling excited about doing something and we set off for the river.
Chau Doc is a small, very busy and extremely noisy industrial town. On the way to the river we take our lives into our hands as we struggle to cross the roads. They are teeming with bikes, pushbikes, motorbikes and 3 wheeler things with a shelf on the back. Actually there are very few cars so it isn’t too dangerous but there isn’t any let up and the knack is to step out into the road and move across at a steady pace hoping they will go around you which seems to happen most of the time anyway!
The shops are all open for business and the market is bustling. Everywhere we look are piles of fruit and vegetables. We don’t recognise them all although we are getting better and can spot durian, rambutan and sugarcane amongst other things. I see some chickens scratching around waiting for the chop, as well as cakes, biscuits and all kinds of food sizzling in pans, boiling in pots or grilling on skewers.
The Bassac River is massive and we arrange with a lady to have a one hour trip up the river to see the fish farms and the indigenous Cham peoples floating village. We all clamber into the boat and after pouring a litre of green fluid in the engine the lady starts it up and we set off. There are lots of other boats on the river, mainly rowed or steered by women. In the long silk “pyjamas” that are the Vietnamese national dress and the conical hats the women are very elegant and serene looking as they row the boats from a standing position.
First we stop off at the fish farm. The river people live in houses constructed of oil barrels as floats and wood and corrugated tin. Underneath many homes are fish cages. We read that over 90% over the fish is exported to the US and Europe. We stop off and get out, it’s interesting and we are given handfuls of fish food to throw in. The water immediately becomes completely alive with hundreds of large fish all battling each other for the food. Three fellas are fishing with a line and we eventually realise that a large eel is in there also and they are trying to catch it. We guessed that it has perhaps been eating some of the farmed fish.
Next we go to the Cham floating village. As we pass the houses we talk to the kids about the differences in the people’s lives here and our lives. Although the river people don’t live in complete poverty it is obvious that money is very tight and they don’t seem to have many home comforts. The river looks quite dirty and the Cham people use the water for bathing, washing their clothes and as a toilet. I tell Ali not to trail his fingers in it and give him some alcohol gel to rub on his hands. We then watch two, cute naked little boys swimming like otters in the river. It’s funny watching them throwing themselves in and although they must have, in those 5 minutes, swallowed several mouthfuls they looked as healthy as can be so maybe it wasn’t too bad after all.
After slightly longer than an hour we ask to be taken back and are expecting a full on discussion about how much is owed. Basically that’s what we get! We had agreed a price of 3 dollars but when we go to give the lady 4 dollars in Vietnamese dong. (Local currency) she looks at us as if we are mad and obviously don’t understand the currency. Simon is too savvy for that though and after pointing out on a calculator that we have in fact over paid she concedes to him and gives a dirty cackle when she realises we guessed what she was up to. It makes us laugh and we set off for the Victoria hotel for a swim.
This hotel is the best in town and we have to pay to swim there. We manage to get Maisie for free and all head straight for the pool. Its lovely to splash around in the bright clear water and when I get out I sit on a comfy sunbed over looking the river. Simon says it’s quite a paradox sitting in luxury looking at the jumble of metal that are peoples homes just a 10 minute boat ride away.
We have a blissful afternoon soaking up all the luxury of the hotel including huge fluffy towels, free wifi and great western food. We have lived very cheaply in the past few days spending around 15 pounds a day on accommodation and food. Although it justifies to us today’s extra we always end up feeling guilty when we splash out a bit and seeing the Cham peoples simple and basic homes adds to that. Quite rightly I guess.
In the evening we book bus tickets to Can Tho. This is on the way to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and should take around 3 hours. We have also spent a lot of time looking for somewhere to stay with mum and Paul, that fits in nicely with their idea of a decent hotel and our budget. Could be tough but I’m sure the place is out there somewhere.