June 12, 2010

back on the boat

two more days on the Mekong River before i leave it for inland Vietnam. going to the border crossing i meet a group of 5 Kenyans [they are actually of Indian descent born in Kenya and studying in England] who are delightful. we laugh and joke and tell stories all day. crossing the Cambodian/Vietnam border is uneventful and i don't take the more traveled route by bus but a bus/boat/bus combination that involves two separate dockings for each immigration checkpoint.

the landscape along the Mekong on the Cambodian side is filled with rice paddies and quite unpopulated. this changes as soon as we cross the border. at an 85 million people Vietnam is densely populated. here in the Mekong delta the river is lined with shanties and fish factories.

the first night in Vietnam we stay at a floating hotel on the river in Chau Doc. i escape into the bubble that is the Victoria and worlds apart from my floating hotel for a meal which i hope will be safe. after dinner the Kenyans come to find me to ask advice on a problem. one of the boys has been bitten by a cat. they are completely freaked out because no one at the clinic speaks English, they have no idea what the treatment should be and the doctor is demanding cash before he will treat the boy. i check my book and we talk through the risk of rabies which is pretty high in SE Asia, find him a translator and i assure him that it is common here for the clinics to ask for cash before a treatment. i tell him make sure the needles for the shots are clean.

no one sleeps well as it is so hot and for the first time i really need the mosquito net but without air conditioning it is unbearable and finally i abandon it so i can at least feel the fan. as the sun comes up i sit on the deck and watch as the river activity starts and i feel the enormity of the poverty here and how hard the people must work for basic survival.

i see the Kenyans at breakfast and get the update on the cat bite and plan to meet at 7:30 for the pickup for a tour of the area before the bus to Saigon. there was a miscommunication about the time and so when a woman shows up i'm the only one around and she goes to town yelling at me because the Kenyans have wandered off. well it turns out this bitch is our 'guide' for the day. she dishes it out to the Kenyans as well and if they had been out drinking all night and just too lazy to get up on time i would have kept my mouth shut but they are really good, kind people and i explain the dynamics of money - traveler - tour guide relationship to the bitch and she shuts up.

 it is a really bad introduction to Vietnam and there's another couple that joins our group and hears the end of the discussion. they seem really hostile and i think it must be because of the delay we caused. when i talk with them later i find they've been with the same bitch for three days and they said if she is rude one more time they will throw her in the water.

we do a morning tour of a cham village and it's awkward. i specifically have not booked anything that involved village tours because it seems quite voyeuristic and that is exactly how this feels. it is clear the people do not want to be photographed and i hate every minute of it. the next stop is a fish farm. it was so disgusting that i promise if you had seen it you would never eat fish again. i am learning a lot about our food sources on this trip.

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