We are in a homestay in the Mekong Delta.
I’m lounging on a patio under a thatched roof watching the sun setting over the Mekong river and dragonflies fluttering around, while waiting for a cooking demonstration to start any minute.
It took us almost two hours to get here from Saigon. We were dropped off on the side of a narrow road leading to a local village. We climbed into the back of a pickup-motorbike (a motorbike-driven flatbed cart) and went to a traditional brick factory and then to the dock where we embarked onto a small cruise boat where we had a choice of lounge chairs or a table laid out with fruits and coconut drinks. We floated along the lush green shores like Cleopatra cruising down the Nile river. Well…most likely not like Cleopatra, but like her lowliest servants, but it was still wonderful!
We disembarked at a coconut “plant” where four people were cracking and peeling coconuts by hand. A mountain of cracked coconuts stood looking almost ominous, like a pile of skulls, and another pile of smaller coconuts could be mistaken for a pile of African shrunken heads. All around the coconut heads, coconut fibers were strewn around like strands of human hair.
Coconuts are used here for just about everything: from medicine to charcoal. Coconut workers are self-employed and work 12 hr. days, 364 days a year. Lazy bums they are! They dare take off a whole full day a year!
From there, we went to a rice-noodle-making “factory”. Several people were mixing, rolling, cutting, and drying noodles in a shed, like well-oiled machines.
We then were given a ride in a sampan down a man-made canal in a jungle setting back to our luxury boat that took us to this homestay.
The homestay is on the river surrounded by several villages. Some of the homes in the nearest village are quite substantial: stone or concrete, with carved wooden doors and balconies. Others, are quite primitive. We visited one such simple dwelling doubling as a rice-paper-wrappers-making shop. The house was actually spacious, with several rooms practically empty of furniture, dirt floors, a thatched roof, and a backyard where a woman was rolling out rice flower batter on a crepe-like pan, letting the rice crepes cook for several seconds, lifting the thin round rice crepes, and placing them on bamboo screens to dry. La voila, rice paper wrappers with a bamboo design are ready to go.
The next day, after breakfast of pho and Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, we floated on a boat on the Mekong to the nearby local market, similar to other markets we had seen in the north, but with the locals being more open and friendly and not at all pushy. The merchants smiled and greeted us warmly, and happily posed for photos. The deadly Mekong delta we remembered from the Vietnam War movies, with the Viet Cong shooting American soldiers from the jungle is now a peaceful and lazy tropical river, and children and grandchildren of ex-VC’s were greeting us warmly everywhere we went.
From the market, we rode bikes on nicely paved narrow roads between narrow canals, through villages, among lush vegetation, back to the homestay.
Then back on the boat, and into the van, and on to Saigon, and to the airport.