The Amalotus remained at anchor in the middle of the river overnight. After breakfast we all piled into the tenders to visit the town of Sa Dec which is situated on the river bank.
Dara, our guide, took us to Cao Dai Temple just over the road from the jetty where we alighted from the tender. Founded in the 1920s, Caodaiism blends Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism, and Islam into one monotheistic religion. Its saints include Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, and the Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen. You’ll see some of them above the altar in the picture below. Its followers comprise the third largest religious group in Vietnam. Read more about this fascinating religion here. I think it’s a fantastic idea. It’s often said the great religions have more in common than their differences.
Our next stop was all about Vietnam’s Romeo and Juliet story – only nobody dies. As a fifteen-year-old celebrated French novelist Marguerite Duras had an affair with twenty-seven-year-old Huyen Thuy Le, son of a wealthy Chinese family. The pair wanted to marry but both families frowned upon the relationship and Le was forced to marry a suitable Chinese girl. Duras eventually wrote an award-winning novel, published in 1984, about their affair. The movie version was popular in Vietnam despite the removal of some more erotic scenes.
We visited Huyen Thuy Le’s house, an example of a wealthy Chinese home, where we were served a cup of ginger tea.
From the house we went into the markets. Markets are the equivalent of supermarkets in Western countries. People come every day to buy fresh food for their families. But this market was for the people of the delta. I’ve mentioned before that the Vietnamese cheerfully admit that if it moves, they’ll eat it. One of the staples, carefully displayed on ice, was rats, skinned and gutted. Our guide said he loved them. Kentucky fried rat. Yummy.
As usual, fish was kept alive if possible. But so were chickens. My Western sensibilities were jolted when I saw them on the ground, their legs tied so they couldn’t run away.
It’s a whole different world.
We returned to the ship for lunch. There was another outing in the afternoon, to a village where sweets were made (we call them lollies) but I think it says something about the pace of activities that only about six people actually went. You’re right, we were not in the six. We’d started longing for home a few days ago. In fact, Pete didn’t go on the trip I’ve just described.
That night it was our farewell dinner. Some of us would be going to Saigon and from there, home. Others would be spending a few days in Saigon, doing the parts of the tour we had done first. Overnight the Amalotus sailed on to an industrial port where we disembarked for a two-hour drive to Saigon where we waited in the hotel lounge before leaving for the airport in the evening. Although we were in business class, neither of us lay down during the flight because of coughing. After the long flight and the three-and-a-half hour drive to Hervey Bay, It was nice to pull in to our drive at home, even if the atmosphere was smoky and it hadn’t rained.
That said, it was a terrific trip, a mix of so many different layers of the two countries. We saw Imperial Vietnam at the Citadel and the poorest of villagers, the grandeur of the abandoned temples at Siem Reap and the trading city of Hoi An. We learned how to make spring rolls and saw how the food was grown. We watched fishermen ply their trade and rode in basket boats. We diced with the traffic in Saigon, Phnom Penh and Hanoi. We saw the horrors of the killing fields. For me the enduring memory will be two magical nights and days on the waters of Ha Long Bay. We were offered many different options for outings, something suitable for the most active to the most sedentary and being able to eat at different restaurants in Hanoi and Siem Reap was fantastic. And we met some great people.
My only advice to anyone going is try not to get sick!
And remember, if you want to revisit any of the posts for this trip, take a look at the summary page. They’re all listed.