Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hello Vietnam!

Chau Doc - Market scene, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We are now over the border in the busy town of Chau Doc, perched on and over the Mekong River, about two hours by boat from the Cambodian border. We are on the tour I mentioned yesterday - four days and three nights for 44 dollars, including all boat trips, bus rides, hotel rooms, day trips and so on. We groaned a bit when we saw the state of the buses and the first boat we were put in, but the whole thing is working out very well so far. The hotel is good, the guide very pleasant, no delays and one extra good thing is that in the early afternoons we check into our hotels and have the rest of the day to ourselves. Excellent. It is hot here, hot for the time of year, it seems, but it is mostly not too uncomforatble, except that my chest has come ouyt in red spots as a reaction to the humidity.

It is always exciting coming to a country for the first time and Vietnam is no exception.

We arrived by boat motoring through past paddy fields and immediately we started to notice the Vietnamese women wearing their peaked straw hats (there are a couple in this photo). We then veered off from the mighty river to a smaller canal where we came right past the houses preched on stilts over thge river, the newly planted rice, planted to within a metre of the water level, coming down the river bank. We received friendly smiels and waves from everyone, which bodes well, as I have been led to believe from some that maybe the people in Vietnam are not quite as nice as those in Cambodia. Well, this was a good start.

Calling in at Chau Doc quayside, it was the usual Asian hustle and bustle and soon we were walking down crowded streets, trishaws, motorbikes and so on just as we had left behind in Phnom Penh, but the houses looked different, the smells were different and for a complete surprise all the women were walking around in their colourful pyjamas! Very pretty pyjamas they were too, mainly floral designs.

We had some hard bargaining to do to get motorbikes to the Sam Mountain, 5 km out of town where there are a lot of very gaudy temples. It is easy to see why the Vietnamese were open to being converted to Catholicism, with their obvious love of kitsch. Fortunately, Christianity has not proven so popular in Cambodia, where there is a life embracing form of Buddhism, less over the top here. Of course, the misisonaries have had some success, as we noticed in a couple of places in Phnom Penh, where they were hanging Jesus Loves Me silks on the walls. I asked one chap why he was a Christian and he said it was a free country and he could chose whatever religion he liked, fair enough, but he also mentioned being a member of the United Methodist Church, or something similar, a church he said which was based in Malaysia. When I mentioned this to my Uncle Malcolm, he laughed and said that as they were probably having such little success in Malaysia they are now trying their hand in Cambodia!

I also received a message from Fred who mentions that it was HIS idea to go to Cambodia, not Richard's. I am not entirely sure, but Fred did encouarge me to stay in South East Asia as opposed to rushing around the world, so thanks to you Fred!



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