Sunday, November 17, Part Deux: More on the Mekong

This cruise on the Jahan has some similarities to our trip to Africa: each day you’re up early (1) for an excursion, then come back to the ship for lunch, and continue with an afternoon excursion before returning in time to clean up and go for dinner. And you need to clean up; after a full day wearing sunscreen, the heat and the humidity, a shower is definitely on order.

Industrial fishing, November 2019

The afternoon outing took us out in the launch again up a channel that was fully dominated by the fishing industry. Not just the fishing boats, but fish farms in the river, and processing plants along the banks.

Fisherman, November 2019

The fishers range in size a single guy in a small boat pulling in his nets with a dozen or so fish to large farms with were raising tens of thousands of fish.

Men eating, women doing dishes, November 2019

But the highlight of the afternoon was a stop at Thanh Island.

Smoking, November 2019

The village there is about as “authentic” as you can find while on a tour – the only westerners were our group, and there were no gift stops, souvenirs for sale, street beggars or any of the usual trappings tourists see.

Preparing for the feast, November 2019

Instead, we saw people doing what they might do if we weren’t around.

Elders, November 2019

Towards the end of the walk we sat in a multi-purpose building where an elderly man and woman sat and talked with the group. It was staged, of course, but their comments were real and they answered questions from the group.


Sunday, November 17: A very full day on the Mekong

After two relatively quiet days, Sunday was chock-full of activity. Like any cruise worth it’s fare, the Jahan has lots of activities available. Tai Chi at 6:30am, breakfast starting at 7:30am, and the first of the two included tours at 8:30am.

Breakfast was a lovely buffet in the comfortable dining room, complete with an omelet bar. Like dinner last night, they offered both Western and Vietnamese style food. We met a lovely couple from Switzerland yesterday as we were waiting to board the bus, and we’ve now had two meals with Elizabeth and Andy. Most of the tables in the dining room are for more than two people, so it’s great to find people you like to be with.

The ship holds up to 52 people in 26 rooms, and there are 43 on this sailing. They divided us into two groups and assigned each of us to a guide (in our case Tri) and a local launch for the day’s activities. We were issued radios so we could hear the guide without him having to shout over the launch’s engine roar.

Going upriver, November 2019

As we motored away from the Jahan across the width of the Mekong to a smaller branch leading to town of Cai Be, I couldn’t help flashing on Martin Sheen motoring up the river in the patrol boat in Apocolypse Now, looking for Marlon Brando. The thrum-thrum of the motor just triggered me …

Fishing, selling, carrying cargo, November 2019

Life on the Mekong River, and the tributaries and channels that make up the Mekong Delta, revolves around everything the river has to offer. We passed fishing boats and farms of all sizes and types. We stopped at a floating market, where the dealers act as intermediaries between the nearby farmers and merchants who sell the produce in town.

Three places to live and work, November 2019

Many of the boats are also homes for their owners and families, at least part time. We frequently saw boats with hanging laundry and outdoor kitchens, and a man, woman and child moving up the river.

Cai Be itself wasn’t that exciting. We landed at a small area where there was a factory that made coconut candy, rice paper and other items and watched some demos. Typical group tour stuff: Tri led us from place to place and explained what they were doing, while we all crowded around. Or, in my case, took a couple of pictures, then wandered away to look at other stuff.

Back at the Jahan, lunch was another excellent buffet. I’m beginning to get comfortable with this ship (1), overcoming the bad feelings from the Ginger.

To be continued …


(1) Good thing. We’re aboard for three nights.

Saturday, November 16: Back on the Mekong

This morning we packed for a two stage transfer to our next accommodations, which was also a transfer: the Jahan, a cruise ship that sails up the Mekong River from a point 40 miles south of Saigon to Siem Reap, and back. That voyage takes seven days, but we’ll only be aboard for the first three, disembarking at Phnom Penh.

You’ll recall that we were on the Ginger overnight last week, and it didn’t go so well. Ginger is operated by Heritage Lines, which also operates the Jahan. So you can imagine that we were a bit nervous as we set out.

Jahan, November 2019

The first part of the journey was a transfer from our hotel, the Park Hyatt, to the meeting place at the Renaissance Hotel. That piece was handled by Tours of Indochina, our outfitter. As usual, they sent a guide and a driver. The transfer was less than a half mile and it took more time to load and unload the car than to drive over. Really, we could have managed a taxi ourselves. But that’s how TOI rolls.

The second part was two buses transporting about 30 of us the forty miles. Our bus was escorted by Tri, who will be our guide during our stay on the Jahan. The good news is that this was well organized – they knew who we were, gave us clear directions on where to wait, etc. The bad news is that this was beginning to feel like what we hate about group tours: everyone lined up and moving as a group.

Cabin 207, November 2019

In any event, by 2:00 we were in our cabin and by 3:00 the ship departed. Then came an info session and safety information, with a complementary welcome drink of champagne (1).

The safety briefing was given by a crew member, who also introduced the ship’s officers: the captain, the chef, the food service manger, the cabin service manager. It was straightforward. The information piece, which described how our itinerary would work and the first day details was given by Tri. We realized that he was both very competent and entertaining. He would interrupt himself to tell a personal story, a joke, or give some insight into how Vietnam has been recovering from the war. The jokes were usually pretty corny:

“A man walks into a bookstore and asks for The Man Is Master Of The House. The shopkeeper, a young lady, replies “Fiction and comedy are upstairs, sir.””

This was all a good uptick from the Ginger. As was dinner, which was a delicious compendium of Vietnamese and Western dishes. I think we’re going to like this one.


(1) Or at least some sparkling white wine; we never saw the bottle, but that’s what they called it.