On this day we went to visit a village in the delta, travelling by tender through waterways that flowed from the great river. We passed fish farms raising the fresh water fish, basa. You’ve probably seen it in the supermarket.
From there the channels became narrower. The banks were lined with fields of vegetables and fruit and we passed many fishing boats, large and small, as well as rows of houses built over the water. This was real Vietnamese peasant country where the villagers grew crops, tended animals and fished as they’d done for centuries. Except now they received extra money from tour groups.
We were taken into a village where the people have lived in the same way for centuries. Except for motorbikes, schools, and satellite dishes. Fruit trees grow between the houses and chickens run around. Cattle are raised for sale to third-party merchants.
Cock fighting is illegal in Vietnam but it isn’t in Cambodia, so a few choice cockerels were being raised to sell in Cambodia. They’re worth a lot of money to poor farmers.
We were invited to climb the stairs and see the villager’s houses but some of us declined. I know they were paid for it, but still it seemed… inappropriate. This was a Saturday and the kids had the day off school. They were delighted to see us and we received many smiles and waves. We were wearing our little wireless devices around our necks and at one point a few kids stared at the ear piece. Pete took his out and let a number of kids listen to what our (quite distant) guide was saying.
You’ll never see an overweight person in this country, which wasn’t true of our group. One man who I’d guess was in his thirties was most amused by Pete’s belly. You could almost hear him wondering when the baby was due.
It wasn’t only the kids happy to have us there – the old people were, too. Everywhere we went the old women, in particular, were very happy to pose for photos. But I don’t think all of the generation in the middle were quite so pleased. They watched us as we wandered through their village, some more resigned than anything else. I do have to wonder how often these tours invade their privacy. Still, I’m sure the money helps.
Our guide said it was great for the kids to see these groups. They learned there was a wider world out there – we must look like aliens to them – and how important it was to learn English. One day they might get to be tour guides just like him.
From here we went on to a small factory where rattan goods were made. Occupational health and safety would have a pink fit. It’s a cottage industry in this village. They pick the rattan, strip the stalks and dye them, then the weavers create mats and bags. It was a noisy, smelly business but I’m sure that’s how things were in Europe during the early industrial revolution. At least here there’s plenty of food.
From there we all boarded a local rickshaw – a bucket-like contraption towed behind a bicycle. It was without a doubt the most uncomfortable vehicle I’ve ever been on. Needless to say the wiry little fellow doing the peddling had to negotiate between motor bikes and some cars but I was used to that by now. There’s no back support so you sit upright without moving for fear of shifting the rider’s balance. After about five metres my back was complaining.
We stopped off at a rather larger factory where they manufactured the highly prized black silk. It’s a laborious dyeing process that thickens the fibres and gives it a lustrous shine. This factory has large old machines to weave silk. They’re relatively simple devices using templates as patterns. They look a lot like the punched cards of the early days of computing. And they’re very, very noisy. I’m sure the operators will have hearing problems in the future.
Then we had to get back on those bloody bucket things for a final trip beside the river to where our tenders waited to take us back to the ship. This was a classier neighbourhood with underground power and street lights.
I’ve already told you about our dinner at l’Indochine. Tomorrow would be our last day of excursions.