Mekong Delta, Vietnam
We Were Honored to be Invited to Share a
Traditional Vietnamese New Year's Eve Dinner

Our Tour Guide Anh invited us to have New Year's Eve Dinner with he and his in-laws. His family lived within walking distance of our hotel. We felt so honored to be welcomed into his family's home (as Vietnamese are very superstitious - they only invite people over that they believe will help usher in good luck for their New Year). We sat around a large black lacquered coffee table (all men and...Suzan) while the Vietnamese women continued to serve us in grand style. We had small white China dishes filled with various sauces (i.e. soy and chili pepper; black pepper and vinegar) and courses which continued to flow in from the kitchen. We experienced dishes such as a beef dish with french fries and tomatoes (Jim ate not me) though I did nibble on the fries which one dips into the black pepper and vinegar dip - yum). Then we had a noodle dish with vegetables and seafood (squid and shrimp) - along with chili sauce and limes. Then came fried eggs to dip our fresh French rolls into (with chili sauce). Just when we thought it was over - a large silver pot with a heating unit came out. Bubbling inside was a soup broth with vegetables, fish and noodles. "Don't be shy. Make yourself at home. Have more," said Anh. How can the Vietnamese possibly be so thin is all I could wonder about! The only person who spoke English was our tour guide (aside from us of course). So we sat around smiling and drinking many a toast with our Saigon beers. YO (the traditional Vietnamese toast) resounded around the room - clinks could be heard for miles. Early in the evening the patriarch of the family (the Grandfather) asked Anh in Vietnamese (to then translate for us) "How many children do we have?" We didn't even pause for this question. Jim blurted, "Zero." (while holding up a zero with his two fingers). Shortly thereafter, men began leaving....the Grandfather suddenly had 'something to do at home.' One of the brother in laws needed to 'pray at the temple.' And so it went. We hadn't realized that for the Vietnamese not having children means about the same as saying we had leprosy. It definitely cleared the room. Also each time someone left the tradition is for everyone to down their beers. Somehow Jim's reply to the question led us also to get fairly wasted! Immediately after the last course, the Father-in-Law said something in Vietnamese to Anh. Then he turned to us and said, "My Father-in-Law says Goodbye and he wishes you all the good things for your life in the New Year. You can walk back to your hotel now." We now knew the correct response to the question - "We have six children." We had fun making up stories about all our young ones back home in future conversations. We were also glad that we went back to our hotel - hours later we had the treat of our Mekong River Delta visit. Right at midnight we awakened to the sound of a sonic boom - which turned out to be a magnificent display of fireworks directly above our hotel balcony - the room shook, the reflection glimmered on the riverfront and the sparkling lights whisked us away to some other galaxy - all because we don't have children. (Otherwise we may still have been down the street force feeding and toasting YO with more Saigon Beers)!

A Young River Runner
Suzan Aboard Our Boat as We Ply the Waters
of the Mighty Mekong River
A Hindu Temple in a River Village Populated
by the Cham People

On New Year’s Day our tour guide along with a local guide took us in a boat along the Mekong River to see the floating markets – we anticipated seeing hundreds of boats with each one selling food/crafts etc from their respective boats. A unique shopping experience. We traveled about 40 minutes to arrive at the site to find not one single boat on the water! New Year’s Day is the only day of the year that these boats take a holiday. The tour guides were both very apologetic as they turned our boat around. The wife of one of the guides brought out a large plastic box filled with silk pajamas. Suzan made a purchase after all from one of the floating markets!

A Bustling Morning in the Market Place in Can To.
We Made the Mistake of Venturing into This Abyss.

From our lovely hotel – one of the Victorian chain hotels – Hotel Chau Doc – we walked around a park area along the riverside to a market stall of people out on the street selling their wares from either a table or a blanket. What a rainbow of colors – with flowers; clothes; bakery goods; jewelry; vegetables; fruit and many others all flowing next to one another with people all wedged together. We also saw fish lying out and meat (not on ice); and  women pounding down butcher knives to sort out the meat. Everyone around us freely pushed and shoved – it is the way one gets around here. “Excuse me” does not exist in this language. Also it is very difficult to hear above the loud bargaining voices. If one has claustrophobia it is not a good idea to visit the marketplace – yet what an authentic experience!

Suzan Walking the Plank Between Fish Ponds on
This Floating Fish Farm on the Mekong

Many families that live along the Mekong are fish farmers. They have approximately 100,000 fish caged underneath their homes. They make their living by selling them to restaurants for about $1.00 a kilo.

Young Village Girls Offering Their Baked Goods
for Sale to the Tourists Arriving on the Boats

We visited the Cham Community, originally from Malaysia/Indonesia. They are Muslim and settled in various parts of Vietnam. We were soon surrounded by children selling sweet treats and greeting us with ,”Money” rather than “hello.” This is a matriarchal society in which the men fish and help the women to run their small businesses and manage the households. Men in this society wear the long skirts too (literally). We visited their local temple which is one large empty room with a pile of rugs which are used for prayer.

Fishermen Walking the Stream With Their Net
Hoping to Bring Home a Meal
Boats on the Mekong are House, Business, Mode
of Transportation and the Center of Life
Laundry, Bathing, Drinking. It is All Done in the
Mekong, as is Going to the Bathroom.

From the veranda of our hotel during breakfast we watched two Vietnamese boat families (they live on their boats on the Mekong River). Their two boats were tied together next to a Hyacinth patch – we witnessed the grandfather come out and get knee deep in the river water while hiking up his long pants as he waddled through the water plants to the shore. Then two young boys came out running and jumping from boat to boat. Then a young girl took her bath in front of us with her soap, washcloth and river water. She then brushed her teeth. The boats were well-worn with rugged wood planks – we were surprised that they could still float and provide shelter for these families.

Only 10 years ago these areas in the Mekong River Delta countryside did not have electricity – they used oil lamps. Progress!

The Mighty Mekong River
A Weathered Fisherman Who Makes His Days
Now Selling Photo Ops to Tourists
Life in the Mekong Delta Appears to Have Dealt
This Woman a Harsh Blow

Suzan had her first ever “Honda” experience. We took Honda’s down long, windy country roads past rice fields and simple homes until we reached a bird sanctuary. We climbed some windy, steep stairs and from here we were at the level of the tops of the trees viewing flocks of Egrets in flight and covering the trees. Quite a sight! While here several small children approached us – one with crooked and missing teeth gave us a big wide grin. They made us rings and boats from blades of grass to give us for presents (in exchange for a small amount of ‘Dong’ - Vietnamese currency).

Not Pictured:

We toured the XEOQUYT Military Base (secret Viet Cong Base) – this was supported by the South Vietnamese who lost relatives when Americans mistakenly bombed and killed them. In anger they decided to support the Viet Cong and supplied them with food, medicine and shelter. In 1960 Americans couldn’t bring in tanks so they resorted to bombing. They really didn’t know who were from the South or the North – as the Viet Cong posed as farmers during the day and fought at night. What a travesty!