The boat trip from Cambodia to Vietnam takes over three hours. A high speed boat where we are treated to free drinks, snacks and WiFi. The first stop is at the Cambodian departure point on the riverfront where the formalities take longer than the next one. Policemen here handle our passports and some of us have our fingerprints and photos taken. At the Vietnamese entrance point, we get out of the boat but do not see any officials. We wait in the waiting area till the guide returns with our stamped passports.
The Mekong river branches into its nine tributaries as we reach the Mekong delta. Fish farms line the river banks and as we get closer to our destination we can see houses lining the riverbank. The dark skies engulf us by the time we get closer to our destination and it is difficult to see the houses clearly. Our last stop is at the pier next to our hotel.
We stay the night at Châu Doc and checkout the next morning. A short drive from the hotel and we are at the Ba Xua Chu temple or the temple of the ‘Lady of the realm’. A goddess who is considered as the protector deity and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region. The figure is considered to be a feminised version of Shiva or Vishnu and originating from the pre Angkorian period. The locals have their own legends and stories as to the origin.
At the junction where we get off from the coach there are shops lining the street selling offerings to the ‘Lady’. Fruits packed up high and wrapped to look like presents for a special occasion can be seen stacked along the counters. The same shop sells all kinds of items including dried fish and fish paste, a delicacy in this region.
We walk further along the road to the entrance. Near the entrance there is a Sal tree with pink flowers and next to it a Banyan tree. Su-aan tells us that the two trees can be seen at Buddhist temples in close proximity although this is not a Buddhist one. We go into the temple. People are busy worshipping and laying out offerings on the desk in front of the worship area. Some bring whole roasted pork in its entirety and we can see a few of them laid out on the tables. Once the prayers are over the food is eaten or distributed. Nothing is wasted. Next to the temple is a display hall where the valuable offerings are displayed. Dresses, jewels and other objects are exhibited here.
The belief here is that once a person dies there is a period before which they can reach the next realm. During this time the souls need money and for this, fake money is burnt in the burning pyre. Su-ann buys some for her dad and burns it.
After this we visit the nearby Buddhist temple. Buddhism here is different to the one practiced in Thailand and Cambodia. Here they follow the Mahayana tradition which is popular in China.
Next stop is a crocodile farm. Crocodiles in the wild are almost extinct in Vietnam and neighbouring countries. Caught for their meat and because of the prolonged civil wars their habitat have been destroyed. One of the workers take us around the farm. The crocodiles are segregated according to their age in groups. The female ones are kept mainly for breeding and the male ones which have a slightly yellow tinge for their leather. Baby crocodiles with disabilities are also kept separately from the rest and looked after as they are more vulnerable and can be attacked by the able bodied ones. He explains everything about their temperament, their resting, eating and mating habits, how many and how often eggs are laid and how the eggs are looked after in the incubators.
Following this we have lunch in their restaurant. It is a set meal prepared for our group, One of the dishes is barbecued crocodile meat. I did not try it and in fact went off all meat items and opted to have just the vegetarian noodles instead.
We reach Can Tho, our destination for tonight after four in the evening. It is a lovely picturesque hotel on the banks of the Can Tho river, a tributary of the Mekong. A walk along the river front takes us to the local clothes market. I like the look of some tops and the owner takes me inside the tiny shop to try them on. The fan provides slight relief as I swap the tops for my own. People passing by can see me if they look closely enough, but I’m too hot and sweaty to worry about that. I like three of them and the bartering begins. Finally she agrees on a price going shush with her fingers to her lips as if to say, don’t say it out loud, someone might hear. Some more shopping and it is time to walk back.
I have enough time to have a nice long swim in the hotel’s lovely large pool. By the time I get into the pool, night has fallen. It is the furthest pool from the main area of the hotel and the lighting is not that bright, which makes it a very pleasant swim. The water is warm and the moon is out. Thirty minutes later I am ready for a shower and my dinner.