Join me in my wanderings around the globe via these online ramblings in far off places....

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Palawan: Pinoy Paradise!


I am fortunate enough to get paid to travel to all kinds of exotic locations around the world. I get to spend time in destinations adventurous travellers only dream about and places that conservative travellers would never dare to go. It is a rare event when I arrive at a new destination and I am immediately taken by it, a rare event indeed. But almost immediately upon departing the harbour in Coron Town on Busuanga Island by local double outrigger “banca” I realised this was truly an amazing place.

Palawan Paradise Blue Lagoon, Coron Island

Palawan is the island province in the south west of the Philippines between the South China and Sulu seas, reaching down to be just off the northern coast of the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah. I had long heard from my Filipino friends and colleagues that Palawan was the great mainly-undiscovered destination in the Philippines. With a bit of further investigation I soon narrowed down the Calamian Islands in the north of Palawan as worthy of a personal visit to check out if what I heard about this place was true.

One of the first things I learnt in the short boat ride from Coron Town on Busuanga across to Coron Island itself, was that the local indigenous people had won control of the area and their affairs in a landmark Filipino court decision. Known as a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC), this ruling gives control of over 22,000 hectares of land and sea to the indigenous Tagbanua people, the very land and sea that has sustained the people here for centuries.

paldsc_0915Leaving Coron Town on Busuanga, heading to Coron Island, showing a typical double outrigger “banca” found throughout the region

The Tagbanua people trace their early historical connections back to the first sultan of Brunei, in fact most of Palawan was under the control of the Sultanate until the later parts of 17th century.  They are believed to be some of the first inhabitants of the Philippines with various traces dating back between 20,000 and 40,000 years discovered around the area. The “tribe” is divided into two main categories, the Central Tagbanua from the main Palawan Island and the Calamian Tagbanua of Coron, Busuanga and other areas in the north of the province. Custom and language differ between the two groups but their heritage is the same.

Tagbanua Kids in Lajala VillageTagbanua kids at Lajala Village

 36245_10150089967631118_522021117_6201334_7822751_n the Jetty at Lajala Village, one of the Tagbanua villages that does allow visitors

The boat and crew I had hired for the day were part of a cooperative from nearby Lajala village. As part of the Ancestral Domain ruling the local people manage very carefully, the development of tourism in the area and many of them are employed as boatmen, guides and rangers at the various popular sites. Around two thirds of Coron Island is closed off to outsiders, with the main village of the Calamian Tagbanua is included in the no-go area. This is done to both protect the culture of the people living there and to protect the environment they use to sustain themselves. Formal history of the Tagbanua tribe began in 1521 when Magellan's ships docked in Palawan for provisions. Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's chronicler, recorded that the Tagbanua practiced the ritual of blood compact, cultivated their fields, hunted with blowpipes and thick wooden arrows, valued brass rings and chains, bells, knives, and copper wire for binding fish hooks, raised large and very tame cocks which they pitted against one another and laid bets on, and distilled rice wine.

Tagbanua Betel Nut Like many other of the Austronesian peoples in the region, the Tagbanua traditionally use betel nut as a stimulant. Note the lime pot made from a cone shell and the betel leaf (piper betel).

The limestone structure of the Calamian Islands allows for numerous caves in the otherwise vertical cliffs that make up the coastlines. The caves have been used for centuries to obtain Bird’s Nest, the special ingredient in Bird’s Nest Soup. The collection of Birds Nest is quite an intricate process, involving climbing razor sharp limestone cliffs, bare foot, entering deep and rugged cave systems and retrieving the Bird’s Nest back to your floating base below. Temporary camps are set up on the side of the cliffs below the cave which is being harvested. One of the reason so much of Coron Island is closed off to outsiders is so as to not disturb the patterns of the birds returning to the caves for nesting each day.

Birds Nest CV A Tagbanua temporary bird’s nest harvesting camp on Coron Island

Coron Cave Typical Limestone Cave on Coron Island, usually home to the swiftlets that produce the edible bird’s nests.

Coron Island Cruising, Palawan

For visitors to Coron, the natural beauty and attractions, all within a short distance of Coron Town seem almost endless. Beaches, reefs, hot springs, caves, Japanese wrecks from World War II, villages, the list seems almost endless. The local village co-ops have dozens of boats available for hire and professional guides are available as well. Several international standard dive shops are operating in the area as well.
Within minutes from Coron Town, taking a local boat, these are just a few of the attractions waiting;

Blue Lagoon Stunningly beautiful lake
Maquinit Springs Natural salt water hot springs
WWII Wrecks Dozens of them! World class SCUBA diving
Kayangan Lake Stunning blue lake for swimming, with a nearby cave
Barracuda Lake A lake full of Barracuda
Twin Lakes Adjoining lakes connected by a swim-through tunnel
Lajala Village See traditional boat building & Tagbanua villagers way of life
Atwayan Beach White sand beach with great reef nearby for snorkelling
Banua Beach Beautiful stretch of white sand beach
Seven Islands Awesome snorkelling and great place to watch the sunset

Anyone wanting to really experience the culture and beauty of Coron should consider getting in touch with Al Linsangan who runs Calamianes Expeditions Eco-Tours, a community based tourism venture. Al is really the authority on this region and it’s attractions and visitors dealing with Al are guaranteed to get the best Coron experience available. Traditional music and cuture presentations, cliff climbing demonstrations for collecting bird’s nests and so on are just some of the things that Al can arrange for visitors.

Banua Beach, Coron Banua Beach, Coron Island

 Banca from Lajala Village, Coronthe Banca (boat) at Banua Beach

Atwayan Beach Dog Locals and their dog, Atwayan Beach

Coron Lake  Kayangan Lake on Coron Island

Maquinit Hot Springs Maquinit Hot Springs

Maquinit Hot Springs

Coron Plumeria“Kalachuchi”, Flowering Plumeria, Atwayan Beach, Coron

Coron SunsetSeven Islands,the perfect spot to see the Sunset over Coron Bay 

The indigenous management of the Coron area seems to me to only add to the natural wonders in the bay and on the islands.  Whilst still in an over all developing area, there is enough infrastructure to adequately support the community based eco tourism that is currently evolving in Coron. I don’t know how long this place will stay relatively undiscovered……paradise is waiting for you.


How Do I Get There - Header

So you want to go to Coron?

  • There is an Airport on Busuanga, approx one hour drive from Coron Town
  • Cebu Pacific and other airlines operate a regular schedule from Manila
  • -or- You can take a local boat from Mindoro to Coron Town
  • -or- You can fly to Puerto Princessa in Palawan from Manila or elsewhere, then go overland to El Nido and take local boat from there to Coron Town
  • From Coron Town simply go to the waterfront and negotiate rates to vosot the sites of Coron Island and surrounds
  • Recommend Calamianes Xpeditions for pre-arrangements and tours
  • There are numerous hotels, guest houses and resorts
  • DO NOT STAY at Coron Gateway Hotel, it’s over priced, poorly run and all round bad news. AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE



Coron, Palawan




Thursday, 20 January 2011

Vietnam: the Saigon Street Mafia

Is “Saigon” a dirty word? It’s so much less of a mouthful than “Ho Chi Minh City” the official name for this city since 1976. It rolls off the tongue, it’s short and sweet. No disrespect to Ho Chi Minh, but the longer name is often substituted, particularly by foreigners, for the pre 1976 shorter version. I often ask local Vietnamese about using Saigon as an alternative name. One trusted local told me that it’s quite OK to use “Saigon” in informal conversation, but it is always written as “Ho Chi Minh City”. A northerner was not quite as forth coming and expressed his disgust that a certain US Airline continued to use “Saigon” in their schedules until very recently. An expat associate described how to him “Saigon” just meant the downtown area or District 1, that was merged with the surrounding province in 1976 to become the larger “Ho Chi Minh City”. I have adopted a similar approach. Formally I use “Ho Chi Minh City” as one rightfully should, in informal conversation I will often say “Saigon”, and to describe the downtown area I will also use “Saigon”.

Saigon Street 165304_495618606117_522021117_6067264_3697631_nHo Chi Minh presides over his name sake aka Saigon

It was the Sunday before Christmas and I found myself staying in downtown Saigon. As often happens on work related trips I find a Sunday here and there where this nothing practical from the work sense to do. Sunday’s are relatively quiet in the city, but there’s still always something going on. I decided to walk down to the main market at Ben Thanh. On the way the usual hawkers tried their luck selling me T-shirts, sunglasses, drinks and Zippo Lighters made to look like they were just found in the jungle and were left over from the American War. Cyclo drivers tried their luck at persuading me to take a ride with them. But all in all, being late afternoon on a Sunday things were pretty quiet. I traversed the main market pretty quickly, all in all it was a typical quiet Sunday.

Saigon Street Cyclo http://global-citizen-01.blogspot.coma Cyclo driver lazily touts for business at the central market, Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon Street Zippos http://global-citizen-01.blogspot.comZippos lighters, complete with American War type engravings all made to look like they were just found lying in the jungle

Saigon Street ButcherMake sure you check out the butchers in the main market, mmmm meat

Leaving the market and moving away from the city centre, I passed one of the many street side bar-come-cafes. Doesn’t matter where in the world you are these kinds of places are exactly what you need to experience the local food and more importantly meet the local people. One of the problems for me in Vietnam is these sidewalk cafe setups use tiny plastic chairs, and being the BIG guy that I am these tiny chairs usually disintegrate when I sit on them. I was passing by a table of ten or so local men, all happily drinking beer when I noticed there was one empty chair at the head of the table. As a joke I pretended to sit at the table and take one of their beers from their stash on the table as if I was one of them. This caused the table to erupt into riotous laughter and rapid Vietnamese language conversation. As I continued on my way, I was beckoned back to join them, an opportunity hard to pass up. But first I had to explain the small chair issue. This of course brought more riotous laughter, but also brought a large metal-framed chair from inside the cafe! I was IN!

Saigon Street ViewBen Thanh, the central market area in Ho Chi Minh City, with the giant Bitexco Tower visible to the left

 Saigon Street Cafes http://global-citizen-01.blogspot.comTypical example of the tiny chairs on the sidewalk cafes and bars in Vietnam

Saigon Street ChairGuess which chair is mine?

The guys sitting around the table were all street hawkers, cyclo drivers, or similar. The same guys who try their luck to earn a few bucks on every tourist that walks by. The cyclo drivers amongst them spoke some English, being that they speak at fairly regular intervals with English speaking tourists. They were telling me how hard they work 6 days a week to make whatever they can for their families. But come Sunday it’s their day off, and they all get together to drink beer, not much different to working people anywhere else in the world really. I was handed a beer, called 333 or as it’s said ba-ba-ba, a glass of Ice (the beer is not always cold hence the ice) and a choice of boiled or roasted peanuts to snack on. I was introduced around the table, the cyclo drivers with the English skills taking the lead. As I shook all their hands and tried to pronounce their names, I couldn’t help but notice how hard and calloused their hands were. It wasn’t really that long ago when my hands were calloused like that, but now they’re all soft and pudgy and white. When you shake their hand there is a certain integrity in that hard calloused working man’s hand. What does my soft hand say to them? Maybe their calloused skin is just too hard to feel the difference?

Saigon Street Drinking http://global-citizen-01.blogspot.comSunday is beer day for the hawkers on the streets of Saigon

It was my turn to shout, my turn to buy the round, it would only be proper, especially considering I’ve just been sitting here hearing how much these guys have to do to make a buck whilst drinking their beer. Before committing though, I was going to check the beer price, I don’t mind paying more as a foreigner, but there’s a reason I refer to these guys as the Saigon Street Mafia. I don’t mean they are out right criminals but they are going to do whatever they can to make a few dollars, what people call “making mafia”, that’s just the way it is. So before I buy the round I want to see exactly how much “mafia” is going on. The bar owner confirmed the price on his small hand held calculator with a large smile, the price was kosher, no “mafia”, less than a dollar a beer! The boys asked me if I’d like to eat, having just finished lunch and only two hours away from a dinner meeting, I declined. The charged up street workers weren’t taking no for an answer, they were ordering food. This wasn’t the first time I had ended up in a street bar in Vietnam drinking with the locals. The last time was with a group of long distance truck drivers outside of Da Nang and some of the food that came out that day was amazing even if unidentifiable.  I wondered what kind of food was about to appear………..

Saigon Street vs Da Nang StreetTwo years earlier in Da Nang I had a similar experience with truck drivers drinking whiskey

Saigon Street vs Da Nang 2That day in Da Nang, all kinds of delicious yet unidentifiable food was produced

Saigon Street FoodFood is abundant on the streets of Saigon, if not also mostly unidentifiable to mere “Westerners”.

Cheese. A round of individually wrapped, processed European cheese. Not at all what I was expecting. The cheese was passed around the table with each person grabbing an individually wrapped segment – and then promptly dropping it in their beer! The cyclo driver closest to me, named Thanh, did his best to explain. It would seem this processed cheese was not meant for these tropical climates and was essentially the texture of a thick cream cheese in the heat. But a few seconds in the beer glass (filled with ice as noted above) and it went from runny to solid making it easier to handle and consume. The irony of this is that I declined the ice for my beer, not knowing the integrity of the water and all. So my beer was not cold enough to reset the cheese, which resulted in cream cheese all over me as I unwrapped my not-cold-enough segment of cheese, to the instant and ongoing amusement of the Street Mafia.

Saigon Street Beer and Cheese http://global-citizen-01.blogspot.comCheese and beer, Saigon style

The guys were as curious about my life as I was about theirs. It’s difficult enough to explain my job to educated westerners let alone the street hawkers of Saigon. It seemed all they could work out was that I get paid to travel around the world. Their next move was to try and suggest “mafia” scams we could team up for! The more beer that was consumed, the more propositions came forth. Their favourite offer was to use them as middle men for whatever services were required in Vietnam. They would issue an inflated invoice, I would organise my company to pay, and they would take their cut, everybody wins right? In many ways is this any different to how many business deals are done?? I can’t blame them, you can’t blame them.  They have to “make mafia” to survive. It’s the way of the streets. They look at me, so big I don’t fit in a local Vietnamese chair, with baby soft hands, and incapable of eating cheese without making a mess of myself.  Yet I get paid to travel the world. You can’t blame them, can you?

Saigon Street Beer Delivery http://global-citizen-01.blogspot.comthe Local Brewery rep dropped by to top up supplies

It was getting late. Several of the guys were excusing themselves and heading off into the streets. I thought I’d do the same and asked for my bill from the smiling bar keep who had hovered around the table constantly since I arrived, offering serviettes when I covered myself in melted cheese, fresh beer coasters when the condensation destroyed the existing one, and waiting for the signal from me when it was my shout again. There were some extra charges on the bill, nothing much but a few extras that I wasn’t expecting. It turned out to be the cheese. Only made sense that I pay for the cheese. These guys don’t earn enough to splurge out on cheese normally. Even melted processed cheese. They enquired as to which hotel I was staying. And then of course wanted to know how much it cost to stay per night. I had to answer that I honestly didn’t know as “the company pays”. But it didn’t take much for me to estimate from what they just told me it would be at least a months earnings or more for these hawkers and drivers to equal one night’s charge in my hotel.

Saigon Street Bar Keep http://global-citizen-01.blogpot.comthe smiling bar keep

Christmas had come and gone, and I had been from one end of Vietnam to the other and I was back where I started, walking the streets of Saigon. My flight out to Manila was late in the afternoon that day, It was now relatively early on a Monday morning. Not fussed at waiting it out in the hotel room, I hit the streets with no plans and no intentions. As I got closer to the central markets, and started to be approached by hawkers, I though about my “mafia” mates. Wouldn’t it have been great to be here yesterday, a Sunday, and drop into the street bar to surprise them. A cyclo pulled up beside me. “Hello, mister, where you go, I take you, get in”. No thanks, I decline, as I had no plans where could he take me? “Hang on a minute” I said. “Don’t I know you?”. It had only been two weeks, but I do believe, in a city of millions, I had ended beside Thanh, my English speaking, beer drinking, cyclo driving comrade. His face lit up as it dawned on us both. He yelled out in Vietnamese to the other cyclo drivers whilst pointing at me. He explains to me that he is telling them that I am the guy who bought him beers a few weeks ago. He insisted I get in, how could I refuse. I now had a destination - the street bar where we drank beer previously. At 0900 on a Monday morning no less.

Saigon Street Thanh http://global-citizen-01.blogspot.comIn a city of millions I find myself next to my drinking comrade, Thanh

Sitting “exposed”, as it feels, right out in the front of the tricycle as you weave through Saigon’s manic traffic must be experienced by all visitors to the city. (Hey you may as well ask around for Thanh !). A late model European sports car zooms past us, the high pitch scream of the turbo gives away the presence of a high performance engine. I joke with Thanh that it must be his car. His reply was to suggest that I must have at least two of them back in my garage at home. He was only partly joking. But I doubt I will EVER have two Ferraris or Porsches or just about anything else European in my driveway, but Thanh was having none of that, I could buy all the cheese I wanted, I must be rich enough for two Ferraris as well. Still 20 metres off the sidewalk, coasting smoothly through the traffic, Thanh started yelling out to the bar keep. The bar keep’s face broke into a giant grin and he raced inside to produce the large metal framed chair once again. The big guy who can drink lots of beer but can’t eat cheese is back.

Riding a Cyclo in Saigon

Saigon Street Traffic http://global-citizen-01.blogspot.comTraffic on the city’s streets often borders on insane

Saigon Street Me Cyclo  http://global-citizen-01.blogspot.comTwo years earlier, a shot showing the disproportion when I take a cyclo

I didn’t have to check the prices this time. Besides it was only the two of us now. Without uttering a word two cans of 333 appeared and of course a round of processed cheese! This time with a separate glass of ice for my cheese since my beer was still iceless. Hah! I can now prove I am quite capable of eating cheese without making a mess! A street hawker selling copied Lonely Planet guides approached us. Thanh looked at her in disgust, dismissing her with words I did not understand yet at the same time somehow understood their intention. As she left, he made strange smoking like gestures and saying “heroin”. Thanh spoke of many heroin users on the streets. Chasing the Dragon. Two thirds of the world’s heroin users smoke the drug to “chase the dragon”, describing the motion made whilst smoking the heroin, chasing the bubbling drug around the aluminium foil holding it, the same motion in the gesture that Thanh had made. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the streets of Saigon were no different to any other large global city when it comes to this sort of thing.

Saigon Street Round 2 http://global-citizen-01.blogspot.comEarly morning beer with Thanh during Round 2

So next time you’re on the streets of Saigon and the hawkers pounce on you, can you blame them? They’re just doing what they have to to get by.

Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon

Monday, 3 January 2011

Vietnam: that Mekong Feeling

The mighty Mekong, south east Asia’s great river, flows through several countries and over numerous borders including those of China, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos before emptying into the South China Sea in southern corner of Vietnam. It is the massive delta and it’s many river branches that makes up Vietnam’s portion of the Mekong; the Mekong Delta. The Vietnamese call the delta đồng bằng sông Cửu Long or basically the river delta of the Nine Dragons, referring to the nine forked branches that empty into the sea. The region is a vital transport route, including into Cambodia and beyond, and is a major fruit and vegetable producing area, forming essentially the “bread basket” of the region. More appropriately I guess you would call it the “rice basket”, particularly as over 50% of Vietnam's rice originates in the delta region. The Song Saigon or Saigon River – that Ho Chi Minh City sits on, is not part of the Mekong system, despite many tourist brochures that will infer otherwise. This river rises inside Vietnam, unlike the mighty Mekong which begins its journey from the Tibetan Plateau, and then in fact empties into the sea only 10 miles north east of the Mekong Delta, whilst still remaining geographically distinct from the delta.

that Mekong Feeling [Dec 2010]That Mekong Feeling

The Mekong Delta means many things to different people. Like so much of this region I find it hard not to associate things with scenes from iconic, usually American War related Hollywood movies. I can’t think of the Mekong Delta without hearing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and seeing river gun boats and flying Huey helicopters a-la Apocalypse Now. But if you think you are going to be deep in the rainforest whilst exploring the delta today you’d be wrong, as like much of the rest of Vietnam, it is heavily populated and heavily industrialised.

(Note; in Vietnam the term American War refers to what most of us in the so called "west" would call the Vietnam War. This is to distinguish that war from several other wars of a similar period involving Vietnam, such as the French War for independence or the Cambodian War to oust Pol Pot, all of which plus more are often lumped together by us mere "westerners" as the "Vietnam War")

qdsc_0717Semi-traditional brick works on the delta

qdsc_0648Life on the delta

The produce that comes out of the delta is first class, abundant and tasty. Pineapples, citrus, melons, leafy greens, dragon fruit, you name it. If it grows in the tropics it’s probably being grown and sold out of the delta. The region supplies much of southern Vietnam with its fresh produce. Along the various branches of the river you can visit farms and market gardens and see the produce and of course the river itself is the major traffic route for this fruit, with large floating wholesale markets selling onto to smaller retail floating markets.

qdsc_0500Sunrise at a small retail floating market in the delta

qdsc_0556A local retailer purchases pineapples for on-sale at the main wholesale floating market outside of the city of Cần Thơ at Cái Răng

qdsc_0614an awesome looking pineapple growing on the fertile soils of the delta

qdsc_0620a Dragon Fruit cactus in flower. Originally from South and Central America the   Hylocereus species of cactus, producing a delicious edible fruit, has become synonymous with Vietnam and large numbers are grown in the delta

Having lived and worked primarily in the tropics all of my life, most tropical fruits I come across I have seen before. Most can be purchased in my local market itself, Rusty’s. Things like the Dragon Fruit that I mention in the above photo are recognisable to many around the world now, being widely available in major supermarkets in developed nations. Other fruits, whilst recognisable to me, are less well known to the masses. Fruits from the Syzygium family go by many common names; lillypilly, malay apple, water apple, lau lau, rose apple and many more. The bell shaped crisp fruits have an apple like texture and abundant watery sweet juice. I am not sure of the exact species growing on the Mekong but they taste good!

qdsc_0543a vendor approaches with Syzygium fruits at the Cái Răng floating market

A fruit at the floating markets that threw me initially was being called Milk Fruit by the locals in English. I guessed it was Sapotaceae family by the shape and texture, when I got a chance to google it, the first hits told me it was a star apple, Chrysophyllum cainito, but this particular fruit definitely was not what I recognised as a star apple. Star Apples have always been purple to me with a distinct star pattern when dissected. A little bit more research showed me that this variety, known as Lò Rèn, was usually green or red but not purple. I also learnt that the Chinese, long time masters of fruit growing manipulation, had created a rainbow coloured variety. The flesh is sweet and creamy somewhat like a custard apple, it does taste different to the regular star apples I am use to, but it’s equally as good if not better. Interesting like the Dragon Fruit, the Star Apple/Milk Fruit originates in Central and South America and was introduced to the delta.

imageVietnamese Milk Fruit growing in the delta

DSC_0889Vietnamese Milk Fruit showing the sweet milky flesh. At first this fruit threw me, google and wiki told me it was a Star Apple, but it was the wrong colour. Then I learnt in Vietnam they had green ones. But where was the tell-tale star pattern you see when you cut the fruit in half? Then I realised I had cut the fruit the wrong way to see the star pattern!

File:Chrysophyllum cainito0.jpga picture of the more common purple Star Apple, cut the “right” way to see the star pattern, courtesy of wikipedia

The next one to throw me off was the so called “Water Coconut”. Any half decent botanist knows there is only one member of the coconut family, even with variations such as the Dwarf Malay and the Filipino Macapuno, there is still only really one coconut. Yet here I was being told about the Mekong’s “special” Water Coconut. I asked to be taken to see one, and was surprised to find the local common name “Water Coconut” was in fact the Nipa Palm, or more specifically the fruit of the Nipa Palm. The Nipa grows all over the Asia-Pacific, commonly used for thatching, and for making liquor from the fruits, and of course eating the sweet translucent fruits themselves. The Nipa Palm is the only palm tree considered to be a mangrove species.

qdsc_0632Nipa fruits hang down low to the water, known in the delta as “Water Coconuts”

Also abundant in the delta is my beloved Calamansi. Worth noting I have given up trying to distinguish between Cumquats and Calamansi and the seemingless never ending varieties of cultivars inbetween. Considering nurseries in Australia sell Calamansi cultivars as “Australian Cumquats” and I have seen Filipino market gardeners in Australia growing the things, arguing over what is a Calamansi and what is a Cumquat, if it’s a small citrus, with a tang, I now call it a Calamansi, period. I suspect botanically the Mekong versions are closer to the Cumquat then a Calamansi, but hey, they’re all Calamansi to me now! Interestingly I found that in Vietnam, and no doubt other nearby Asian nations, for the Lunar New Year Calamansi/Cumquat trees are used as a symbol of luck and prosperity.

DSC_0628Calamansi on the delta

The largest city on the delta is Cần Thơ, a city of over 1 million people, most who rely on the Mekong for their livelihood. Cần Thơ is about to open an international airport, vital for taking their produce to the international market, and bringing in tourists to the region. Sitting right on the river, it’s a typical yet quaintly attractive Vietnamese city. I must say though, after travelling all my adult life, I experienced my first ever theft in Cần Thơ. I am still not sure what happened, whether I was pick pocketed, whether it happened in the hotel or what, all I know is sometime between dinner and heading out early to the floating markets my Olympus u-Tough underwater camera mysteriously disappeared. And as any traveller worth their salt knows – that's why you ALWAYS have travel insurance. My first claim in over 20 years of travelling the globe. That’s also why you always download your data off the memory card at regular intervals, I lost only a few pics and video clips of dinner that night – a dinner that featured Mekong specialties of finger fish, frogs and field mice. The field mouse was the sweetest most delicious white meat I have ever eaten, but sorry no pics of the mouse feast now………

DSC_0470Can Tho water front by night

imageThere’s more action on the river than in the city itself. Large wholesale vendors advertise their produce by hoisting it on a long pole; here you can see a cabbage on the top of the pole. They don’t bother with written signs as many of the simple village buyers can not necessarily read any way.

imageJust like many of us, the Vietnamese need their coffee in the morning. From before sunrise coffee vendors patrol the delta supplying the hot sweet liquid to river people in need of their fix

imageEvery Vietnamese city needs a giant statue of Uncle Ho, and Can Tho is no different, with their Uncle Ho looking out over the mighty Mekong Delta

qdsc_0582Since the branches of the Mekong Delta replace roads in the region, the lottery ticket sellers that wander the streets of most of Vietnam also have to revert to the river for transport to their potential customer base

image“Long Tail” outboards are really the only option (outside of human power) for the narrow and shallow Mekong Delta

DSC_0721Since all the action is on the river, that’s where the petrol stations need to be aswell

So now when I think of the Mekong Delta I no longer need to revert to Hollywood’s vision of the American war. No more Colonel Kurtz, no more tacky catch phrase like “I love the smell of Napalm in the morning”. Now it’s milk fruit and water coconuts and the rice basket of Vietnam…….and the thought of some one running around out there with a perfectly good 4 month old Olympus u-Tough underwater camera complete with pics of the tastiest field mouse I have ever eaten……

Can Tho and the Delta

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