Me(kong), My (Tho), and I

My Tho, Vietnam

April 23, 2008

There are rivers and there are RIVERS! The puny Pasig in the Philippines belongs to the former, the massive Mekong to the all-caps latter.

Mekong and Me

As in any delta, the river splinters into many branches before it spills its contents to the sea. The Mekong River delta has 9 such branches, hence the area is called the Nine Dragon Delta in Vietnamese. The silt-laden waters are actually melted snow from the Tibetan Himalayas. The murk is composed of organic remnants of the countries the river cuts through: China (Tibet and Yunnan), Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and finally, Vietnam.

We arranged for a day-long trip (TNK Travel, $9 per person). Since there were only four of us, we ended up in a van with various groups of multinational tourists. Eavesdropping for a pastime was out of the question. We settled at the back expecting a sleepy ride. Just as we negotiated the highway, the van vroomed at full tilt, suspending our asses in mid-air with every small bump on the road. That was the bumpiest ride ever on an otherwise well-paved highway! As Ayee (my travelling companion) put it, it seemed our brains had been rearranged. Preparatory ritual before facing the dragon, I supposed.

After 2 hours of having our neurons winnowed like grain, we arrived at My Tho, a city that sits on the delta. There, we boarded a motorboat to navigate across the Draconian Dragon – the Mighty Mekong. It was the biggest river I had seen so far; it took all of 45 minutes to cross its width.

Mid-way through, the waves got rougher and we were in for another bout of ass-tossing, ‘do-damaging, and brain-rearranging. No wonder it was called a dragon. My heart was in my shoe the whole time. Perhaps due to neural displacement, I had visions of capsizing boats and drowning in murky waters – all in crisp cinematography. I threw the boatman an accusing look. He must’ve read my mind (which, by now, probably transliterated brainwaves into Vietnamese) because he just flashed the smuggest smile this side of Saigon. I smirked back. Perhaps the van-ride and the boat-ride were meant to complement each other. Brains were messed up, then shuffled right back.

Murky Mekong and my Guide

Thankfully, we ended the trip on the opposite shore, not the next life. Our guide, who actually spoke good English but in a voice that mostly dissipated in the breeze, led us to another boat. My head spun; I think my eyes rolled with it. Not another friggin’ Poseidon adventure, I protested.

But no worries, it was a lazy, meandering ride through thick mangroves. We met many locals with their cone hats, called non la. Perhaps they were fishermen, but most had become virtual gondoliers in these Venetian environs. My gondolier was an amiable sort who communicated with facial expressions. Again, we spoke in the same brainwaves. My face went, “This is cool!” His smile said, “Cooler than throwing nets around and hoping for a meal.” I tipped my cone hat to that.

Like a Conehead (wearing a non la, Vietnamese cone hat)

It turned out we were not on the opposite shore after all. We were in the middle of the Mekong – on an island called Tortoise Island. Ironically, no such amphibian was in sight. I could only hope they were not hunted to extinction.

We walked through what looked like a wilderness of swamp shrubs that opened into a clearing with a huge – what the hey – restaurant. It’s an in-ya-face anachronism, but we were famished so I was more relieved than aghast. They actually had menus. Who could be passing by and deciding to dine in this island in the middle of a draconian delta? Of course, my being there asking such questions was the answer. Duh!

A group of local musicians serenaded us as we gobbled up diced watermelons. Our guide explained what they were singing, which went just like any kundiman (traditional Filipino love song): poor boy loves rich girl, yada-yada. Hearing it in Vietnamese just made it more surreal than cheesy.

After the refreshments, we walked to a road to get on what our guide called “the super carriage” – a steel horse-drawn carriage, it turned out. While waiting for one, I rolled up my shorts to feign hitchhiking. A local woman saw me, snickered and said something in the vernacular, which probably went, “That knobby knee wouldn’t even stop an ox-cart!” I shouted back in my mind: “Hey lady, my brainwaves got that!”

My Thigh in My Tho
Mekong Candyman

Next stop was a coco-candy factory. This small island apparently housed enough people to maintain a cottage industry and a tourist entertainment program. The guide was busy explaining with his dissipating voice. Unmindful, I quickly sampled the aforementioned candy and asked no one in particular, “So how did he say this thing is made?” With comic timing and deadpan tone, an American tourist beside me retorted, “They mix it with mud.” My eyes almost popped out and exclaimed, “Now you tell me that?!” (with the same incredulous intonation of Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her when she said “Now a warning?” after she had gulped down the elixir of immortality!).

Good thing they also served heavenly honey tea. What better way to wash down mud. I’m not a tea fan, but this one got me. Neither too strong nor too diluted. Channeling Goldilocks, I thought it was just right. But any good thing has an attendant challenge. Dodging hovering bees was it. It wasn’t a swarm, but still rather disconcerting. I didn’t want to be stung and go sightseeing with a head the size of a pumpkin. How the hell would my head fit in my non la?

Tea or Me(kong)?

Finally it was time to leave. All was sunshiny until I realized…we had to cross the darn river again. Exhaustion was a good antidote. I learned that you can actually be too tired to get scared. By the time we got on the van, we all promptly dozed off while being flipped about like pizza dough in Sbarro.

I had conquered one of the Nine (draconian) Dragons – through brain rearrangement and sheer exhaustion!

Meditating among the Mangroves
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25 thoughts on “Me(kong), My (Tho), and I

Add yours

  1. This is so cool AJ! I feel like I’ve traveled with you. I’m not a fan of boat rides too. I have fears that if misfortunes arise, I will never be able to help myself because I don’t trust that I can swim. Haha!

    I learn a nice phrase from reading your post today: “flipped about like pizza dough in Sbarro”…:) Cheers AJ!

    1. Never thought anyone would learn anything at all from this post. But two people (you and the first commenter) said so already. Who am I to argue? Hehe. Thanks for the undying support, Jorie! Much appreciated.

  2. I am glad you re-posted this…this part cracked me up as well as the photo to go with the following….”While waiting for one, I rolled up my shorts to feign hitchhiking (photo below). A local woman saw me, snickered and said something in the vernacular, which probably went, ”That knobby knee wouldn’t even stop an ox-cart!” I wanted to shout back: “Hey lady, my brainwaves got that!”

    You are a riot. I hope I can run into you somewhere on the globe..ever think of doing a tip to the North East part of the States? Hope so! Hope your brain waves get how much I appreciate you in my life! : )
    Lots of Love, Deanne

    1. Be careful with what you wish for, Deanne. 🙂 Yup, fingers crossed I could go stateside soon…very soon (US Embassy consul willing, haha!).

  3. I envy those who have the patience and skill to write… When I travel, I leave logic and reason, and so words become useless, especially sentences… I have a huge ego that needs to be kept in a comma. This is very inspiring. But since I can’t do better than this, I’ll just stick to song writing. This made me a bit sad, I spend 4 weeks in Laos, and I chanted Shanti/Astangi in the banks of the Mekong, almost everyday, while I am striking Hatha Yoga poses…

    1. Well, I envy those who are limber enough to strike Hatha Yoga poses! 🙂 I’ve always admired your backpacking chutzpah, Edward. I couldn’t spend weeks roughing it out like you!

      Oh, but I take Madonna’s lead like you, but not when she sings “words are useless, especially sentences….” I’m too wordy to take that as my mantra! Haha

  4. i love the meditation pose. ha ha plus those hats are awesome souvenirs but i was still headed for Cambodia that time. I stayed in Phnom Penh for weeks and i don’t want to carry it with me wherever i go! Sayang!

    1. That’s my trademark pose. Haha! Good thing you have the luxury of time to spend weeks in a place. I would want to, but I can’t be away from my day job that long!

      Pero sayang nga di rin ako bumili ng non la. Perfect for costume parties sana, especially UN Day. 😀

  5. AJ!!!! We took the same travel agent. TNK Travels. I did this too and will post soon. On the entire trip, I was bugging our guide about why the color was brownish and this post by far answered it all. I never even have thought that these are coming from the melted ice in the Himalayas and gosh, never even knew it is an accumulation of those which the greater Mekong passes through the countries before Vietnam.

    This post is a great one and lovely photos too. I never had a photo taken like the one you were wearing the cone hat. I was darn scared of moving in the boat as it may capsize at ang dami pa daw crocodile dun hehehe.

    I also went to the coconut candy factory and oh my, it tastes great. After dito, san kayo pumunta? hehehe

    1. @Gemma: Life is too short to not be doing what you love. 🙂 Left a comment in your foodie post too.

      @Doc Wends: Baka naman TNK lang ang tour operator dun! 😀 I’m always happy to know that my post answers a question any reader might have. Di naman pala totally useless ang blog ko, haha! I only had 3 days in Saigon so this was the only out-of-town tour I took.

  6. I went for a Mekong River tour also last year. Grabe naman traffic from saigon, we’re supposed to be there early for the floating market konti nalang naubutan namin.. ;( pero ok pa din we had fun! I haven’t posted it yet though in my blog.. tamad pa e.. hehe 😉

    1. @Violy: Yeah, traffic was chaotic in Saigon, but we were lucky because we left at past 8am already, but traffic wasn’t that heavy yet. Looking forward to reading your Mekong post!

      @Noel: Go lang ng go! 🙂

    1. Oh, there’s always something to do or see anywhere. 🙂 Also love the cone hat, but they just lent it to us. I should’ve bought one. Tsk tsk.

  7. Now I know where Dan Brown got his Draconian Devil wehehehe but ‘suspending our asses mid-air’ is where I turned mental cracking up. That non la -wearing on a ‘lazy meandering ride’ would give me the moon beaming on my dreams. Blimey can’t stop quoting you and Poe. I mean I like your writing style. Good break from all the bad writing shoved in my nostrils recently. So they have the horse-drawn carriages there. Ah…curricles, phaetons and chariots, history here we go! Sorry you had to cross the darn river again (were there piranhas?) but so glad you lived to tell the tale. I wager the absence of trolls and that you didn’t have to pass through any dungeon was good for your rearranged brains 😀 I haven’t written any travel or tour post recently. Too much going on in my nook, or probably I’m just like Violy – tinatamad pa.

    1. You crack me up too, Hazel! Never read Dan Brown so I dunno about any Draconian Devil. 😀 Oh, but this experience is more Poseidon than Phaeton. No piranhas but I think there were crocs waiting for foreign cuisine, i.e. a tourist, to drop in. And I feel you totally – also having a blogger’s block. Haven’t posted anything new since December (confession: this is an old post…forgive me for I know not what to write next).

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