72 Hours in Saigon: Mr. Cong / Happy New Year


Day 2 had us up early in time for a 7am private tour, which the parental units booked through the hotel. Our guide was the ever-talkative and informative Mister Cong, a skinny, slightly balding man clad in a long-sleeved white polo, black slacks and leather shoes. He used to be a physics teacher, but traded that in for the life of tour guiding, due to the dismal pay.

We piled into the large white van labeled Hoi An Tours, and set off for a day of rivers and rice paddies. The two-hour ride to the town of Cai Be took us past miles and miles of fresh, green, extremely familiar scenery--farmers bending over rice paddies. It was reminiscent of the 12 hour road trip to Isabela we'd taken a few days before, the only difference being (1) the Vietnamese farmers had their signature conical hats and (2) they buried their dead in the middle of the field. I kid you not. A common sight rushing by the window was a grave marker, or a cluster of grave markers sticking right out of the green field. Said Mr. Cong: "They want to keep the family members close to them, so they remember, and they always happy."

At Cai Be, we boarded a boat to take us to the floating market, or what was left of it. I'd read that the market is at its most active at 6:30-8:30 in the morning, and it was around 9:30 when we got there, so all that was left was a handful of the larger boats selling pumpkins, watermelons, etc.

We stopped over at the village of Vinh Long to see how the riverside folk made their local products--honey, bee pollen, rice candies, wine, rice paper, and conical hats. We bought a bit of everything except the wine and the rice paper at the behest of Mr. Cong. The tea + honey was excellent, though. There's just something about Jasmine tea that draws you, I guess. Strewn about the place were various paintings, piles of tourist kitsch and little children. Pat and I found this aquarium a little way outside the house where they were making the products. It had one huge fish in it, the same sort they served for lunch later on, if I'm not mistaken.

Mr. Cong was relentless with the spewing information bit. We paddled down to another riverside house, this time with clay tiles on the roof and ornate wooden furniture. They brought out the traditional Vietnamese singers and musicians to play us three or four songs while we sipped more Jasmine tea and partook of fresh fruits. Memorable was this old man with a greying goatee, plucking at his one-stringed instrument. They had planting songs and couples-in-the-ricefield songs (sound familiar?) and all in all, I guess it was a good winding-down activity to end the tour with.

45 minutes downriver and we found ourselves on the other side of the Mekong. Mom needed to use the bathroom but opted to wait till we got to the hotel when Mr. Cong pointed out the nearest one. 2 hours of watching rice fields evolve into buildingscapes, lapsing in and out of sleep, munching on Vietnamese breadsticks brought us back to HCMC (Mr. Cong had since then plugged into his headphones) and safely back to the hotel.

A few hours later, the New Year festivities along Nguyen Hue began.

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