Monday, April 1, 2013

Loitering at the base of the Mekong Delta in Ha Tien

For much of history, what is now Vietnam's Mekong Delta actually belonged to Cambodia under the ancient Khmer empires. Laced with rivers and streams, boats are the the primary mode of transport in the area - though local buses-come-delivery-vans also trundle their way along narrow streets with rice paddies, coconut groves and water buffalo lining their sides. The area is beautifully verdant - especially in contrast to the dry season in Cambodia. I don't think I understood the true meaning of lush until I crossed the border! As many of the area's residents are ethnically Cambodian, there was little change in culture apart from the sudden appearance of the ubiquitous traditional Vietnamese conical hats.

The Beach at Mui Nai
While the most common way to visit Vietnam's Mekong Delta is on a day trip to the lovely towns of My Tho and Ben Tre from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), I decided to hop on a local mini bus from Kep in Cambodia to the tiny Prek Chak-Xa Xia border crossing in the far south and hitch the 10km to Ha Tien.

A view of the buffalo filled rice paddies from Thach Dong.
What became immediately evident upon renting a bike and setting off to explore the area, was how few foreigners actually stay in Ha Tien beyond the few hours necessary to catch their next bus or ferry -and how glad I was that I actually had. I'm not sure what the best part of that 15km cycle was: buying roasted bananas encased in rice and palm leaves from local ladies on the side of a rural country road, getting into an epic splash fight with two adorable local 8 year old girls when I stopped off at the beach on the Mui Nai peninsula to cool down in the (rather warm) waters of the Gulf of Thailand, or exploring the Buddhist Temple built inside the bat-filled Thach Dong Cave. In any case, the day also ended wonderfully with explorations of Ha Tien's treat-filled night market and local kids playing bumper carts on the water-front promenade.

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