Friday, August 6, 2010

Swimming in the South China Sea

Mui Ne was the last weekend trip we took. The info that I read said that it would take 3 hours with stops. Great! Perfect! Sounds wonderful!! I can't wait to go to the beach!!!!

Apparently something was lost in translation because they meant it would be another 3 hours after the first stop.... which by the way, the first stop wasn't for 3 hours. So with awful traffic, distance, rest stops and lunch it took over 7-8 hours each way in a two day period. Not my most shining moments in Vietnam. I don't do well on really long car rides. I tried not to let the rest of the group know but they may have noticed I was a little irritated.

Now let's add to the fun. When we arrived, the weather was gloomy and rainy. Ok, I was really looking forward to this trip. Perhaps I played it up too much in my head. So I fixed my problem by getting a 45 minute foot/hand massage and a 45 minute fresh aloe facial in the spa at the hotel. They took U.S. dollars so I started spending. I think I spent $9 on my feet and $18 on my face. Big spender, I know. I almost went back for something else due to boredom and my inability to stop taking advantage of the great spa prices.

Had a relaxing dinner in the rain with Hillary, Paige, Judy and Ali. The power went out in the restaurant for 30 seconds. Got a weird bug bite that started to swell. At that point I think I was done. Went up to the room to play on the computer and that is probably why there were so many blog posts that night or soon after.

The next day redeemed itself. The sun was sort of out with less cloud cover and I was swimming in the South China Sea by 9:00 am. I stayed in for a long time. It was exactly like my dad said, bathwater. I didn't even flinch as I got in, it was like taking a cool bath. I stayed in for quite a while and let the waves hit me or just drift me back and forth. The hotel had an infinity pool looking out to the ocean but I only ended up going in it for a minute. Spent some time reading on the beach. Got a little sun burn but it was gone by the next day.

We left by noon to start the trek back to Thuan An. We made a stop or two along the way and had lunch. Overall, it took 8 hours to get home. We spent the last few hours singing summer camp songs in the car trying to come up with something good to sing for the teachers on our last day since it was a given they would sing something for us.

Overall, it was a quiet weekend and several parts of it were relaxing. I guess I shouldn't complain: great travel companions, yummy food, and killer spa services... and I did get to swim in the South China Sea.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mekong Delta - Warning this is a long one!

Warning that this is a long post so that I can remember some important points to add to my scrapbook later.

Weekend in the Mekong Delta included an exceptional guide named Quang. He knows so many little tidbits about so many things. He told us about history, people, botany, geography, pottery, religion, linguistics and so many more things I can't even remember. He has been a guide for many, many years (probably over 20 but I can't remember exactly). I realize it's his job... but still! He went above and beyond. Quang's stories about the people he has met along the way are hilarious one minute and poignant the next. He was really an important part of the trip and I made sure to get his card for next time.

We traveled everywhere by boat on this trip. First we saw a floating market. People congregate their boats in an area and you ride up on your boat to make a purchase. This was a wholesale market so we didn't buy anything. Next we headed to cross the Mekong River. The river starts in the Tibetan plateau flowing through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and then into Vietnam toward the South China Sea. Mekong is actually the Chinese name. The Vietnamese call it Song Cuu Long (River of the Nine Dragons) because it splits into nine branches in Vinh Long (the town we visited) before it heads toward the sea. There are so many little branches of water to follow.

Quang took us to a candy making shop. They showed us how they make the Vietnamese version of a rice crispy treat, taffy, rice paper, etc. There was an artist there with oil paintings for sale. I purchased one of his paintings. It was a bright and colorful abstract representation of a typical marketplace in Vietnam. This took a lot of stress off my trip because I really wanted to bring back a piece of art for myself. It didn't matter what kind of art. It could have even been pottery or whatever. But that was all I wanted. When I saw this painting I knew it was perfect. So thankfully I have not had to do any more significant shopping since then. The picture of me with the artist and the painting is on Judy's camera so sorry I can't share until I get it from her. I guess you will have to come over to my place to see it when I get it framed.

We made several other stops including lunch and a bonsai garden where some of the plants were over 80 years old. One place that was particularly interesting for blog posting (because I was able to get a little video) was the tea at an old French colonial home. Performers there used traditional Vietnamese instruments to give us a flavor of the traditional music. However, my internet keeps crashing every time I try to upload. So never mind. You don't get to see the video.

After other stops we finally ended up at our home stay. I would say this would pretty much equate to summer camp. Four of us stayed in one big room on cots with pink mosquito nets! (Btw, our new favorite activity in the tour van taking us everywhere is to think of as many camp songs as we can.) We went for a walk in the rain so we wouldn't waste one single minute in Vietnam. Maybe it would have been a better idea to hang out in one of the hammocks. Covered in mud and some bug bites (deep woods OFF didn't even keep these things away), we made it back for a home cooked meal and stories with Quang. Turns out he knows a Speech-Language Pathologist, Charlotte, from New Orleans that works with Operation Smile. Our group has been conversing with her over the past few months to tap into her knowledge and experience in Vietnam. It really is a small world after all!!!

Everything is going great! It's 9:30 pm, dinner is done, we are having a great time, I'm thinking I would love to get my book out and read to relax.... but they basically put us to bed. They started turning the lights out and locked us in our "room" which really wasn't a room because the walls didn't go to the ceiling and the windows didn't have any glass (see pic). I'm wondering why they even bother to lock the door. So now, I'm sitting on my cot (bottom left in pic) with the mosquito net pulled down perfectly around me, it's pitch black and I'm not tired. It's like I'm in jail b/c I don't want to mess with the net (even though it doesn't really matter if I do). 10:30, 11:30, 12:30 1:30. Now I can't sleep b/c I'm stressed, uncomfortable, and irritated and I don't want to venture into the night to use the bathroom. Who knows what time I finally fell asleep, all I know is that a bunch of roosters woke me up when the sun rose.

We spent the next day on a canoe trip and then headed back across the river to go to a market where we ate a banana wrapped in sticky rice and a banana leaf. It was grilled, then the leaf was taken off and a coconut sauce was added on top. OMG I wonder if I can google the recipe?? Made a few interesting purchases and received a lesson in unknown vegetables from Quang. Did you know that bird's nest soup is a delicacy? I'm not really sure about this and I didn't ask too many questions. I really don't want to know. We also found out that this market is like the breakfast club for the ladies in the area. This is where they find out all of the gossip in the morning.

On our way home we stopped at a famous Buddhist temple with an enormous Buddha and a really yummy lunch at a very westernized rest stop that we were thankful for.. and I bought Pringles (I was so happy it was pathetic)... but I didn't buy the seaweed flavor.