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The original world nomad "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius.

Off the beaten track

VIETNAM | Thursday, 17 April 2008 | Views [2542] | Comments [1]

Why do travellers (tourists?) go on those mini-bus tours everywhere? The only people you'll meet are other travellers or tourists. I know it makes it all so easy but surely far less of an experience?

It never ceases to amaze me how far off the beaten track you don't have to go to avoid tourists (or travellers). Vietnam and the Delta is bursting with tourists, but these mini-bus tours all go to the same places. The lady at our reception desk was genuinely surprised when we said we were going to use public buses to get to Ben Tre, but from the moment we stepped off the streets of Saigon, all the tourists seem to have vanished and there was a welcome lack of English.

Ben Tre. Nothing here really. A small dusty town just across the river and down a bit from bustling Mytho. Certainly no tourists or travellers and we have the place to ourselves. They obviously get one or two, but probably don't often get families! It's a real backwater and dead-end.

Nobody speaks much English, there is pretty much only one place to stay and almost nowhere to eat. Unusually, the local market here has superb fresh produce, better even than your average Mekong market, but no cheap food stalls, or none we could find. But armed with a tube of Vegemite, we boughgt some baggettes, some croissants and two huge Pomello's and have pretty much snacked across our stay here.

Our preferred modus operandi is to just wander and get lost among the everyday and see what happens. It's always unpredictable as we aren't really looking for anything and sometimes this works, sometimes not. (But when it works it is truly memorable!)

Today wasn't a bad catch of memories.

This morning we wandered across the makeshift bridge and wandered up past some local houses and farms and canals across bridges etc. The town is poor and much more as we remember the Vietnam from before: people are lean and tough. We passed one of the infamous coconut factories where families were industriously organised as only the Vietnamese can be: one tearing the outer pithe off, another methodically chopping the core in half with a rusty machete, one guy separating the shell from the fruit with a vicious looking metal thing, and the last one packing it to go somewhere.

The guy separating the nut from the shell was working at a furious pace doing one every 5 seconds or so. Apart from the fact that it would take me 10 minutes not 5 seconds to do the same thing, I reckon I'm pretty fit and I wouldn't last 2 minutes doing what he was doing.

Kai made the interesting observation that "They'll be there forever even when I go back to school." Correct. Not bad for a 3 year old.

It was enough to make me wonder about the average life expectancy is here, so here are four statistics for what they are worth:
» Average life expectancy now (up from just 62 in 1990)
» Just 3% of the population living on less than $1 a day (down from 18% in 1991)
» Infant mortality 0 to aged 5: 23 per 1000 as opposed to Australia at 6 per 1000
» And they have a population explosion going on 84 million of them (up from 66 million in 1990)

(Source: http://globalis.gvu.unu.edu/indicator_detail.cfm?Country=VN)

We continued wandering along tiny paths not sure where they were leading or going, passing and being passed by all sorts of people, usually agog at this weird family pushing two strollers to god only knows where. Past thickets of palms they use for roofing here, past jungle plants with giant leaves that the boys thought was hilarious fun, being passed by old ladies on bicycles on their way back from market.

We had just decided to turn around when we spied a café with some cold drinks and ice. The woman had a shy little girl of about two, as curious about our two boys as they were about her and her world. She showed her tiny bag of toys and demonstrated her favourite ride: a giant palm leaf that her Mum dragged around the dusty yard. All quite entertaining and somehow you don't really mind being stripped for the drinks afterwards.

This afternoon we stumbled upon a gaggle of 15 year old schoolgirls just out from school and they thought practicing their English on two young Aussie boys was a hoot.

Riu even got a kiss!

Tags: ben tre, mekong delta, off the beaten track, saigon, travel with children

 

Comments

1

Hey there, I've just been reading all your posts with the tag 'travelling with children' and you have inspired me so much! I haven't travelled much out of the country (a short stint in Germany and northern Italy visiting my sister) but am determined to see more of this planet, with my child(ren) in tow. I have a 17 month old, who loves going on little weekends away to local beaches in Victoria with me (just came back from one today), and I think she'll love even more the adventures we have in store for us across the globe.

I have loved reading of your adventures, and how you have taken the difficult task of parenting and married it to the wonderful and strange experiences traveling brings you. It sounds exhausting and magical.

  Nalin Arileo May 14, 2009 11:52 PM

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