March 5, 2012

Floating Markets and Bike Touring in the Mekong Delta

Francis Parker School - North to South - Day Ten

Hello world. We are writing to you from the depths of the Mekong River Delta, a treacherous river jungle of  snakes and wild catfish. Luckily, one beast we don’t have to worry about is the mighty mosquito, since they haven’t been “bugging” us lately. We got another early start this morning with a 7 o’clock breakfast and a 7:30 departure. Instead of an ordinary bus, we braved these waters on a boat. Our first stop was a floating market. It was unlike anything we had seen before. We went from boat to boat, picking various produce, including lush pineapple, thirst quenching watermelon, and savory sweet potatoes. We thought it was interesting how the people of the Mekong have adapted to their difficult surroundings by relocating their marketplace to an area that is convenient for all.

We then moved on to a different cultural aspect of theMekong: CANDY MAKING! At a small workshop, locals worked laboriously to produce various sweets and treats such as, popped rice (which is very similar to rice crispy treats), coconut candy, and rice paper. Some of our students got the opportunity to make the rice paper themselves, which was no easy task. The candy was delicious and most of us could not resist the temptation to buy it at the end of the tour. Afterwards, we meandered to a temple of the Cao Dai faith, a syncretic religion composed of elements of multiple ideologies. The temple itself was breathtaking and watching the local women in prayer was a unique experience.

Next we decided to put our bartering skills to the test. Assigned with two items to retrieve and a small amount of Dong, each team competed to get the best price for their goods. The catch was we were only allowed to speak in the limited Vietnamese Mr. Trang and Ms. Tu taught us before we left. Fortunately we are all amazing traders, because every single team managed to stay well under their budget. It was a refreshing feeling to do as the locals do and immerse ourselves in the native culture.

Once the ingredients for dinner were purchased and the meal was ready to be prepared, we took a long boat ride through the shallow waters of various canals. At lunch, each table received an entire fish: eyes, scales and all. Because we were so ravenous, we dove right in and were surprised by the wonderful flavors of the sea creature.

Following lunch was a nerve-racking bike ride. We traveled on rickety bikes on poorly paved roads and sidewalks. Those of us who never mastered the fundamental skill of biking rode on the backs of motorbikes. It was a little scary for everyone at first, but as we neared our final destination, the stress was relieved.

After the bike ride we had downtime to relax and cool off before dinner. We helped cook traditional Vietnamese egg pancakes, which were scrumptious. Then, after the delicious meal, Mr. Trang set up a couple of Vietnamese games. Our group was split into two teams who competed the whole night. We faced off in tug of war, potato sack relay races, and balloon stomping. It was a great night of bonding and somewhat friendly competition. 

Maddie, Matt and Patrick

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