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Cynthia Kersey has been writing about Unstoppable People for over a decade and found that living an unstoppable life always involves giving. People who give and are involved in a purpose that is greater than themselves are the happiest people and live the richest and most meaningful lives imaginable...

(Thank you Abang Zu for sharing this...)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Viva Vietnam! 25-30 November 2014 : Ho Chi Minh City-Da Lat-Mekong Delta ~ Days 5 & 6

Mekong Delta ~ In 29/11/14, Out 30/11/14, 2 Days and 1 Night

Days 5 & 6

So today we reluctantly said goodbye to Da Lat, caught a flight on VietJet back to HCMC, and then onwards on a van transfer to our Mekong Delta Trip with Mango Cruises.

Some quick Da Lat photos as we said goodbye... Hoang Loc and around Da Lat... it was so hard to leave...

As soon as we touched down at Tan Son Nhat Airport HCMC, we caught a Vinasun back to Au Lac Hotel 1. We had left our main luggage there, so we did a quick transfer of things, coz I wanted to carry just one overnight knapsack for our Mekong Delta trip. The Au Lac staff was quite organised and efficient, coz as soon as we walked in their door, they quickly got us our suitcases. Just as soon as we had settled our stuff, Duy of Mango Cruises arrived and in no time we were in their very spacious and very comfortable van, enroute to the Mekong Delta. FYI, I had actually wanted to book Mango Cruises' 2D1N river cruise, whereby we would spend the night on one of their cool boats, sampans as they call them. Unfortunately, all their overnight sampans were fully booked, so Jay of Mango Cruises suggested that we customise their 1 Day tour to spread over 2 days, half in the evening and the other half the next morning, with an overnight at their Mango Home, to fit our schedule. So we did!

The van transfer took no more than 2 hours to reach Ben Tre province from HCMC. The trip was relaxing as we travelled on their cool highway. The sights around us were pretty much like what we would see travelling north to Kedah on our PLUS highway in Malaysia, with green paddy fields spread lushly on both sides. We passed Ben Tre town centre and continued on to My Thanh Village in Giong Trom District, where we were cordially met by Giang (pronounced Yang) at the Chet Say Bridge. Giang then welcomed us onto their wonderful day cruiser sampan, which took us to their Mango Home. On the day cruiser, it was cold towels and everything nice, aaaahhh... awesome hospitality. The sampan was so cozy and comfy, that even though it was just a short ride from the jetty to Mango Home, we felt like we had relaxed for hours!

Upon arrival at Mango Home in the My Thanh Village, Giang showed us to our Bamboo Room, and informed us that once we had settled in, lunch will be served at their dining area. I had advised Jay that we are Muslims, hence no pork, no meat, just fish and seafood or vegetarian menu only. They were of course, very accommodating. However, I neglected to mention that no meat meant no chicken either; so they did serve us chicken noodle soup. I think Giang felt a bit awkward as she was not sure if she had offended us in any way. But we assured her that all was good, no worries, just send us fish, prawns and loads of vegetables next :)

We soon learnt that they had never received any Muslim guests at their Mango Home and Mango Cruises before, and we were actually the first Malaysians they had received in their programme. So naturally they would be unfamiliar with Halal matters and about how to manage things for us. But professional as they were, Giang caught on very quickly and thereafter everything was simply fabulous!

While we were enjoying our vegetarian curry and noodles, and the wonderful fruit platter, we saw Giang busy getting ready the bicycles for us. By the way, the rice we had in Vietnam is quite different from the rice we always eat in Malaysia, even the Thai rice. The rice in Vietnam, what we had in HCMC, Da Lat and now the Mekong Delta, was a bit stickier though it's not the sticky glutinous rice, heartier and more filling. So a small serving was enough to keep us full. Back to the bicycles, I had advised Jay that Marrakesh was still on training wheels so he wouldn't be able to do the bicycle thing. As it turned out, Giang had prepared a pillion bike for Marrakesh, to ride with his Ayah. So, immediately after lunch, we were joyfully on the bikes and heading towards our first activity, which was the Rice Paper making, with Mr and Mrs Sau Tuong.

Rice Paper - My Thanh Village

Mr and Mrs Sau Tuong lived rather nearby the Mango Home, just a short cycle away. And their home reminded me very much of my great grandmother's house in Kuala Krai, and my Kak Kiah's (Kak Kiah used to take care of me and my siblings when we were kids, such a wonderful lady) house in Kampung Jawa, places that used to be home to me back in my childhood days. I told my kids this and I was glad that I could finally let them experience a little bit of my childhood. Kuala Krai is now a bustling little town and Kak Kiah now lives with her son in a modern residential area in Klang, just a few minutes drive from my parents' home; so my kids could never really imagine how things were way back then, when I told them stories about my younger days. Until now. So anyway, the kids actually produced the best results, Esfahan's taking 1st place! Mommy's and Ayah's rice papers ended up torn as we were rolling them onto the drying mat. In the photos above, you can see the whole process done by Marrakesh; and for further reading, you may click on the link to making rice paper in Vietnam. When we were done making the rice papers, Mr and Mrs Sau Tuong were kind enough to let us sample their fried rice paper, which is normally served during the New Year. This fried rice paper is different from the plain rice paper because it is mixed with coconut milk and then fried till crispy, while the normal rice paper is made with only rice mill, plain water and salt. So the fried rice paper is more flavourful and a real treat served with their refreshing Vietnamese green tea. We also had the pleasure of chatting with Mr Sau Tuong, who used to serve in the Khmer Rouge; Giang graciously translated his experience during the war, how he and his family used to hide in the tunnel under their house, which they dug with their hands, a routine they went through for about 4 years during the war. Giang asked us if there was anything more that we wished to ask Mr Sau Tuong about his experience in the war, and we felt that we need not know anymore about the war, most of it we already got from the reads in the War Remnants Museum in HCMC; war memories may be thrilling to hear, but the experience itself, I don't think it is something we need to relive all the time. We just continued to enjoy our fried rice paper and tea. And then we said thank you to Mr and Mrs Sau Tuong, and went on our way to the next visit, to see how rice wine is made.

Rice Wine - My Thanh Village

The process that was shown to us here was a brewing method, which involved cooking the glutinous rice, fermenting it with yeast, then boiling the fermented rice and letting the steam run through a tube where it then passes through a cooling reservoir, and collecting the steam at the end of the tube into a bottle. The end result is clear rice wine, which looks just like plain water, but is 35% alcohol. To give colour to the wine, pressed ripe bananas are added to it and stored for a few days, as you see in the jar with the brown liquid and some bumpy things inside. Before the wine is sold to restaurants in the city, it is diluted with water until it reaches only 8% alcohol content. Giang said that this lady is a very important party maker during the New Year festivities! You may click on this link for a similar version of brewing Vietnamese rice wine.

Then it was back to Mango Home for some fishing! Giang had prepared fishing rods for the boys. How sweet! The boys managed to catch 2 fish each, which they unhooked and placed in a pail of water. When they were done, they sent the fish back to their home in the pond :) After that we went to the jetty to catch the beautiful sunset. Dinner was ala carte, delicious vegetarian noodles, fried and stewed fish, and we had a good rest that night, as an early start awaited us the following day.

Day 6

They normally start taking breakfast orders at 6.45am, but since we had an early 7.15am start on our itinerary, the wonderful staff managed to have everything ready for us by 6.30am (we ordered our breakfast after dinner the night before). After breakfast, we checked out from Mango Home and continued with our exciting Mekong Delta adventure! Our first stop was the Brick Making factory in the Huu Dinh Village.

Brick Factory - Huu Dinh Village

They get their mud from the river banks and the paddy fields. We were fascinated to see everything done manually by hand. The tools looked handmade too. The mud is placed in a small mixer, which then rolls it out onto a cutter in a long rectangular shape. This long piece is then cut into smaller rectangular brick shapes using wire cutters. These bricks are still damp and are then left to sun dry for about 3 days, after which they are fired in the kilns, which appeared to be bottle kilns. The kilns are fuelled by dried rice husks from their paddy harvest. These burnt husk is consequently used as fertiliser for their farms. The bricks produced here are used locally and also for export. And then Damascus asked, "Mommy, the kilns look like they are made from bricks. So how do they make the kilns if they have to first fire the bricks in the kilns?" Hmmm... Damascus, Damascus, it is always Damascus... So, I thought very quickly, coz I didn't have mobile packet data to google, hoping what I was about to tell him would make enough sense, to convince both me and him. So I told him that they started with a very small kiln, which they made using bricks they fired in a kitchen oven; and from there they continued to make more and more bricks, and thus building the big kilns we see now. Until now I seriously do not know if my answer was anywhere near the truth or not, haha! But I think it makes sense hah? Yes? No? Hehe... Anyway, I am still googling it, "how kilns are made"... So then, after the brick factory, we continued on to the coconut processing centre.

Coconut Processing - Huu Dinh Village

For our programme, we saw how raw coconuts are processed for onward production of coconut based products. We did not see the coconut candy making process, although we did get a taste of the candies during a later visit. So, at this factory, we saw the husks being removed, the shells being cracked and the water collected in a blue plastic tub, the flesh removed from the shells, the skin removed from the flesh, and the clean flesh collected for onward distribution. All the parts of the coconut, aside from the flesh, i.e. husk and shell, will be used for other products such as furniture and fuel. The coconut water they collected are used as animal feed. You can read more about the usage of the coconut in Vietnam at this link. Our next activity is the fun ride around the provice on the Vietnamese Xe Loi! Weeeeeeeeeee! :)

Xe Loi Ride - from Lo Ba Dap to Huu Phuoc Bridge

The xe loi ride was awesome, we loved it! Our handsome driver was Mr. Long and he rocked! We passed a few villages, saw a wedding reception underway and everyone waved and said HELLO! Each village would have its small little marketplace, where they buy and sell produce, meat and the daily provisions. Along the way we saw graves in their residential compounds. According to Giang, they bury their dead on their individual properties, so that they can easily visit their ancestors and say a prayer for them, they do not have a community burial ground. According to Giang also, for the locals there, they work hard to make money and build houses for their families, and they are happy to remain in the delta instead of wondering out to the big city or venture to other countries. Everything looked a lot like our kampungs in Malaysia, especially the paddy fields, the irrigation canals and the vegetable plots, but I don't think I'll ever get to ride a xe loi like that in Kuala Krai or Rostam's kampung in Kuak or Jelai!

When we reached the end of our xe loi ride at Cau Huu Phuoc (bridge), we hopped back on to our day cruiser to head towards another fun part, which was cycling through the villages to the noodle factory! We had refreshing cold towels, refreshing coconut water, juicy fresh fruits and a quick visit to our cozy out house, just like our very own little floating spa... Aaaaahhhh... I could do this all over again :)

Cycling to the Noodle Factory - Phong Nam Village

For Marrakesh's ride today, Giang had nicely place a comfortable cushion for him :) So, off to the noodle factory we went, which was located in Phong Nam Village. The process is pretty much like making rice paper, only that instead of steaming each piece individually, the rice flour is boiled with water and salt, and then rolled out onto the flatting machine where thin sheets of rice paper are churned out, and then placed onto the drying mats to dry in the sun. During rainy season, the sheets are dried in an oven, and the coal used to fuel the oven is made from mangrove wood. Before the sheets are completely dry, they are run through a super fine shredding machine, which gives it the fine noodle form. These noodle strings are packed into plastic bags while they are still slightly damp. To store the noodles longer, they would need to be completely dry, which may take another few days under the sun or in the oven.

From the noodle factory, we walked over to Ms. Huong’s quaint tea house where we enjoyed Vietnam honey kumquat tea. Refreshingly wonderful! We also sampled some sweet coconut candies, and their fish salt, which was an excellent dip for the fresh pineapple.

After our tea experience, it was time for us to enjoy the tranquility of the Ba Sau mangrove canal on a cute little row boat. We figured that, after our Cho Ben Thanh experience with the kids, this was a better choice for us, instead of the floating market :)

Fortunately for Damascus, no crocodiles jumped out to catch him! :)

The row boat, sadly, was the last on our list of exciting activities with the fabulous Mango Cruises. At the end of the canal, we climbed back onto our day cruiser and said bye-bye to our 2 rowers. From that point, we enjoyed a calm and relaxing ride along the Ben Tre River, which some call the Hum Luong River, a very small branch off the Mekong River. Another round of cold towels, cold drinks, fresh fruits and interesting sights, one of which was a Malaysian owned coconut milk factory (the red building in one of the photos below). The boys even took turns to be captain.

We reached Hung Vuong Pier, said goodbye to the wonderful Giang, whose vast knowledge on Vietnam really impressed us. We then hopped on to our van to regroup with our cool driver, Mr. Phong, and headed back to HCMC. Our Mekong Delta trip was simply awesome, and we just simply LOVED it! Only in the Mekong Delta, and with Mango Cruises, would I let my kids cycle freely on the roads, haha! :)

Thank you Jay and Duy for clarifying the information regarding our Mekong Delta trip, I truly appreciate it!

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