Sa Dec to Tram Chim
Woke up early to get out on the road before 11 today. Most of the clothes had dried from last night’s rain and we were soon packed and rolling down the road trying to get our bearings as to where in the town we actually were! Finding ourselves, we headed to the street along the river front which supposedly had some old french colonial buildings. These we may have missed, lost behind market stall awnings and shop fronts, or they are gone, squashed out by the generic and ubiquitous modern two storey brightly painted box houses. We did however come across the old house where Huynh Thuy Le, the son of a wealthy Chinese family, lived when he had a love affair with Marguerite Duras who based her 1984 Prix Goncourt-winning novel, The Lover on these events. The house is now a museum and a reminder of what the town must once have looked like prior to concrete modernisaion…
Also along this street was the daily market selling everything from fruit to meat to cloth all colourfully arranged and presided over. Breakfast was cake and fruit smoothie by the river before we set off for the ride out to Tram Chim past the hundreds of nurseries for which Sa Dec is famed.
Our route took us along the southern bank of the Mekong before we crossed it by ferry and headed to Thanh Binh and the turn off for Tram Chim. The ferry steamed us smoothly across while we marveled at the height of the new bridge being built just downstream. Development is rampant in the whole area, yes, there are quiet backwaters but there are also cities of over a million people within the delta. These we avoided like the plague.
As we eased our way, bathed in sheets of sweat, closer to Tram Chim the houses began to change now made of corrugated iron some with cute tiled roofs. These were much more spread out offering views across the vast flat rice plains. We also began to see our first wildlife not dead, half dead or in cages. Egrets and swallows flying over.
Tam Nong is the town just near Tram Chim national park, famed for its population of Sarus cranes, so we pulled in at the first hotel on the outskirts and got ourselves an aircon room with flatscreen tv for 10 dollars. Sweet. We dropped the bags while Lucy contemplated putting on her trousers and long sleeve top to which i suggested we take them with as it was 1pm and roasting outside! Bikes unloaded we headed into town to go nature watching. (For details on the park and the work it is doing see our “Tram Chim National Park” page).
After some asking around, well actually flapping our arms about in fabulous imitations of Sarus cranes, we arrived at Tram Chim National Park headquarters. Having been ushered in and poured a cup of tea we were then abandonded to the hot afternoon silence and stopped clock atmosphere that only government buildings exude. We twigged this might not be the place for tourists to get boats into the park. Back out up the road 500m and there was the visitors centre. We booked a three hour boat trip clambered in with two cold boxes, a guide and driver and set off.
It soon became very clear bird watching in a Ramsar wetland site is not high on the touring agenda as we rocketed down the waterways. Probably like many places the idea is to leg it to see the cranes (when in season – we were not in season so therefore leg it to the spot you could see cranes when in season) go shopping at the local house and get back fast. Why else would you come?
The why else is the beauty of the place. Wending down mill pond waterways, reflecting back blue skies and billowing white clouds, past patches of lotuses with their huge pink and white flowers catching the saphire sparkle of king fishers flitting away over the brilliant green reed beds that stretch off either side. Mixed into this are the Melaleuca flooded forests or woodland. It’s a true island in a sea of humanity. Even with our Lewis Hamilton driver we managed to see a good range of birds. We stopped half way at a gazebo which we climbed and surveyed the world. Lucy got out the telephoto lens and we spotted and snapped birds while plotting how to get back slowly….
We were quite successful. We got the guide on our side and then flapped arms again, a bit like the signal for crane but faster just using the primary feathers as it were, whenever we saw a bird. This took some art as you had to spot the waiting bird well in advance so by the time reluctant Lew had acknowledged our frantic flaps we d be alongside -ish! Lucy twirled the lens and hit that camera button like a pro as we cruised past egrets, kingfishers, pond herons, cormorants, jacanas (seen later in cages at the nearby restaurant), a bird of prey, owls, moorhen…. yes yes we need to get a bird book! Even without a book we were able to soon tell the difference between egrets and pond herons unlike our guide.
We were dropped off at 5 and headed back for dinner in town after a quick drink by the waterways. We got back to the hotel and checked out the two possible routes into Cambodia. Option one would be faster going directly to Phnom Tamao and our next stop the siamese crocodile breeding project but it was on the highway. Or option 2 along the Mekong via the back roads up to Phnom Penh then down. We decided to sleep on it. All in all a great day.
Tram Chim to the Cambodia Border
On awaking we both agreed the route along the Mekong would not only be true to our remit but also much nicer – a hatred of highways instilled in us from the piece we did to Sa Dec.
Another early start and fueled by coffee, some money changing and an amazing steamed rice, sweet beans, sugar and coconut mix all wrapped in a crispy ricy cross between a fajita and pancake -delicious- we were off. Big skies, flat rice fields stretching into the distance and loads of life going on to watch as we peddled down the road. Old women on scooters cheering us on, or cackling with laughter, water buffaloes plodding down the road towards us – i want one! And flowers and plants bursting out of everyone’s road fronts. We even passed the local honey collector shimmying down a tree clutching a perfect cirular honey comb on a stick. No protective clothing and netted hats for him just a gently smoking cigarette.
Today was the day of strangers kindness a lovely end to our last day in Vietnam. At 1130ish we stopped to buy ice drinks at a store where a group of ladies were having their morning card game. Before we knew it we’d been sat down to drink the heavenly icy drinks, pumped for details of our route, ages, relationships, jobs and night sleeping plans. We were then invited to stay for lunch. We accepted and i explained lucy was a vegetarian that she eats fish but no pork. This again all in sign language (putting my TEFL to good use). Hand actions for fish and oinking noise for pig. Well they understood immediately but sadly assumed i was the vegetarian so all of them started yelling at me with looks of sheer horror on their faces while Lucy sat and laughed like crazy!
Lunch was fried tilapia, a mini fish salad, rice, pomegranates and unknown fruit all delicious. The pork sat uncooked in a bag on the floor for when the strange woman left! To requests to stay the night we pleaded the need to get to Phnom Penh and prepared to leave. Just as we were about to set off Aunty, in an acting vein similar to our own, suggested Lucy remain and marry her nephew (my turn to giggle) he was a good catch too – training to be a doctor, had all his teeth and of a similar age! Ricky, just to warn you, if a water buffalo had been offered in exchange i might have had to abandon Lucy… Farewells and apologies for not staying to get married all round we parted.
Entering the border region we got to the final town in Vietnam stopping to have a drink under a tree and put another battery in Godfrey – pointless effort as they die immediately. Next thing we know two old biddies on a bike pull up next to us and start making motions that look like a cross between a voiding of bowels or having a baby. So we smiled and nodded along. Slowly it dawned on us we were being told to come have a pee at their store opposite and no was not an answer. We crossed the road and i was immediately dragged to the back of the building, the toilet door was opened and I was prodded in. I didn t even need to go! Back out again i found lucy happily swigging ice cold tea entertaining granny two with the map.
Jack fruit, tea and water later we were escorted to the border post by grand daughter wearing jeans, track suit jacket and purple wool hat. Just looking at her made us want to die of heat exhaustion! She sweetly passed us into the care of the border guards and, with a final wave, peddled off into Cambodia while we headed to passport control to start our much slower crossing of the border. And that my friends is a tale for the next blog.
X Tash and Lucy