Saturday, March 17, 2018

Phu Quoc Island

I don't know who chose the name Superdong for a fleet of fast ferries that go from the Mekong Delta to Phu Quoc, but it doesn't look like they'll reconsider. Anyway, Phu Quoc is a mostly forested Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia. They have a small town, Duong Dong, remarkable only for being about 50% night market. From there Long Beach runs down the western coast.

The beach itself is a little narrow, and almost completely covered with resort, restaurants, and bars from end to end. Like on Thai islands, the only way to reach a public beach is through a bar. It's all quite low-key and pleasant, but the first concrete hotel towers are springing up at the edges. Usually, in southeast Asia this is a sign that runaway development is about to start and the only guests likely to put up with that are the Russians. But now I hear French more than any other language here.

The fresh jumbo shrimps in lemongrass garlic sauce are truly delicious!


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Deep delta

Venturing deeper into the delta. Villages are small and dedicated to a business. One buys coconut bark and spins it into ropes, another buys rice and boils it to make rice paper. Often these are very narrow niches that are intricately linked by fleets of scooters and fragile-looking boats. Today some guys set a folding table on the roadside, put a dead pig on it, cut it into pieces and sold them. There is no doubt in my mind that the face was sold too.

Roads are often no wider than a meter, and waterways are everywhere. Coconuts are a big trade here and no part of them is wasted. I am told these people do quite well, and always have big smiles and friendly words, but of course there is no safety net in this country at all. I am feeling alien.



Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rat jerky

There is a guy here by the roadside with a huge mesh cage with giant rats that he caught in the rice fields. You can buy them live, or sliced open and dried. Rat jerky. I am hoping for barbecued rat because rat jerky is essentially roadkill, except that the moment of truth for the rat comes on the edge of a table, not on the road. I am also not certain how familiar a guy who catches rats in the field is with meat inspections. Looks no worse than beef jerky though.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Mekong Delta

The Mekong is the world's 12th largest River. Its source is in Tibet; it flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia just before spreading into a huge delta south of Saigon. That's where I am headed. The delta is extremely fertile, and everybody here is always busy working in intricate chains growing, transporting, processing and selling rice, fruit, and vegetables. Taking time off from work is an idea for us Western wimps that has the locals completely puzzled. If your job is splitting coconuts, that's what you'll do for every single day for the next 30 years.

This being a delta, travel involves lots of bridges and ferries. There are villages and markets everywhere, and cottage industries that process fruit. They are all connected by ridiculously overloaded scooters zooming between them. There is no reason why a scooter can't be wider than a road lane, and sometimes it's hard to identify the driver in the middle of all that cargo.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Saigon

The last time I had time to see much in Saigon was 2008, just after the US subprime crisis, and it had hit the city hard. Many half-finished high-rise then. All that is now forgotten, they build like crazy and big sections of downtown are closed for construction. We'll see if this improves the city, but it certainly shows that the city is expanding again.

Fortunately scooters far outnumber cars, or the traffic would be impossible. That's because of the 100% import tariff - if you want a car that's like buying two and giving one to the government. The exchange rate is also not in favor of the Vietnamese going shopping abroad.

But it's great to be back in Asia! Tomorrow I'll leave Saigon for the Mekong delta.


Saigon

The last time I had time to see much in Saigon was 2008, just after the US subprime crisis, and it had hit the city hard. Many half-finished high-rise then. All that is now forgotten, they build like crazy and big sections of downtown are closed for construction. We'll see if this improves the city, but it certainly shows that the city is expanding again.

Fortunately scooters far outnumber cars, or the traffic would be impossible. That's because of the 100% import tariff - if you want a car that's like buying two and giving one to the government. The exchange rate is also not in favor of the Vietnamese going shopping abroad.

But it's great to be back in Asia! Tomorrow I'll leave Saigon for the Mekong delta.