The Mekong flows an estimated 4,880 km (3,032 mi) from the Tibetan Plateau through Yunnan (China) province, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and finally Vietnam. It is the lifeblood of thousands of Asian folks who live at the mercy and benevolence of this great river. It’s name in Thai–Mae Khong–means “mother of all rivers.” Interesting note about the Mekong is that it flows backward at certain times of the year. This is because the low tide level of the river in Cambodia is lower than the high tide level out at sea. Therefore the flow of the Mekong inverts with the tides throughout its stretch in Vietnam and up to Phnom Penh. I’ve travelled the river at low tide and high tide. It’s a much more comfortable ride at high tide. I can attest to this. lol
I’ve travelled the Mekong River in both directions. The first time I floated down river to Chau Doc, Vietnam on my way to Saigon. I’ve actually done this twice. Once alone and once with a friend in the video above. I, also, took the boat up from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap two times. These are beautiful, scenic and quite peaceful journeys. Well, once you get to the point where the boat engines drone themselves out. haha Each journey lasts anywhere from 6 to 8 hours. Depending on your boats engine, river level, customs if you are taking the Phnom Penh to Vietnam route and any inconvenience such as a breakdown that might occur.
On my second trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, our boat stalled out in the middle of the Tonle Sap lake for about 30 minutes. We sat in the middle of this huge lake and spun in place as the boat operators worked on their engine. Finally, they got it started and we proceeded for another hours journey.
The first time I journeyed from Phnom Penh to Saigon was during the rainy season. About noon, a downpour and winds came on so strong and so swiftly that I feared our boat might not last the day. But as swiftly as it came on, it left and the sun came out and produced a series of rainbows so large and beautiful as I’ve never seen elsewhere.
Neither video nor pictures can do the Mekong justice. It is a magnificent river. A mighty river. Beauty and life abundant. Each journey is magical and unique in it’s own right.
A restaurant in Phnom Penh overlooking the confluence of the three rivers — Mekong, Bassac, Sap. Life on the river. Many of the people along the river live in these boats. Others in stilt houses along the shore.
That first journey into Vietnam had me a little nervous. I was flying solo and blind. Just let out on a whim. I had visions of communist guards standing vigilant over the border keeping capitalists out and the poor Vietnamese in. The customs officials were dour little men vigilant over their papers. As far as keeping people in or out, they were concerned only that you had the proper stamp on the proper form and make sure you pay the border tax of 1,500 Viet Dong. About 13 Cents. The Vietnamese that I met seemed quite content in their conservative capitalist-socialist society and I enjoyed my stay so much that I returned a week later. Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon as the locals still defiantly refer to it is a vibrant city. It’s growing by leaps and bounds. There is a “new city” with million dollar homes. There is a fairly large ex-pat community near the Rex Hotel and Ho Chi Minh Park. The club scene is fairly raucous. You can have a great time in Saigon.
Before you get to the glorious, rockin’ funhouse that is Saigon, you have to take a 6 hour mini-bus ride. I didn’t know this was the case. Seems they glossed over this part of the torture trail. We land at Chau Doc. I get off the boat with absolutely no idea what to do next. All I have is a backpack and a Khmer shoulder bag. I just take off in the general direction of the city figuring that eventually I will see something that I recognize. I need to change money (USD to Vietnamese Dong). Eventually, I make out what is a bank. It’s got an ATM machine in front of it that only works with Vietnamese cards. That doesn’t do me a whole lot of good. I walk inside and thankfully one of the managers speaks English. I get my money exchanged and ask for directions to a decent hotel. When I walk outside, I find that one of the Sampan drivers had followed me. He tells me that he’ll take me to a good Hotel. I tell him ok. But first, I want a beer.
Next stop after the hotel is a massage. I tell the sampan dude to take me to get a massage. We drive down the road. He takes me into a store front with about ten girls sitting around. None of them taller than 5’0. One of them takes me to a semi-enclosed cubicle like space and motions for me to take off my clothes. Once I’ve got my clothes off and a towel on and am laying on the table. She jumps up on the table and on top of me and proceeds to give me the best massage I have ever had….with her feet. This little girl who looked like an angel and couldn’t have weighed more than 80 pounds walked up and down my body and had me in heaven for a good hour. All at the cost of 5 dollars US.
The next morning, I get up. Get dressed and wait for my bus to pick me up and take me to Saigon. I should have seen it coming when they gave me a motion sickness bag. I swear driving on those roads was more turbulent than flying through a hurricane at tree top level in a Huey swiflty running out of fuel. The elderly lady seated next to me spent most of the trip empty her stomach into her baggy. Finally, I handed her mine. She smiled sweetly and proceeded to fill it as well. By the time we were finished with that leg of the trip, the poor woman had to be dehydrated. We stop for lunch about two hours from the city. After lunch, we proceed on our journey.
Two hours later, we’re in the city at the central bus station. Everyone and their Momma has the perfect place for me to stay. Cheap cheap, too. Luckily, I’ve already arranged for nice digs. I jump on a moto-taxi and 20 minutes later, I”m at Thi Sach Street in front of the Mogambo Hotel. Lani greets me and it’s like coming home. Lani is like a Vietnamese mother. Telling me how to stay out of trouble. Teasing me about the girls in the bar.
One place that every tourist in Saigon hits is Apocalypse Now. The infamous club named after the the movie. Every time I go there, I get a few drinks and then call Terry, Jonathan and Rick. It’s such a surreal experience. After you get your fill in Apocalypse Now, head out to the backpaker district and hang out til the sun comes up at the Go 2 Bar. It’s got a bar downstairs and a dance floor on the second floor. Third floor is the bathrooms and a balcony where you can watch all the drunks down on the street. There is also a Heart of Darkness Bar in Saigon. But it’s a teen hangout. Mostly ex-pat kids. The real Heart of Darkness [club] is in Phnom Penh. Complete with gunfights, gangsters and rich Khmer socialites out for a night on the town. Be advised. Don’t mix it up with the Khmer kids in Phnom Penh. You might get the upper hand at first, but, they’ll come back with guns blazing. I mixed it up with one fella in Siem Reap. The girl I was with made me leave the club. Telling me over and over. “He bring dangerous.”
Of course, there are always the children. And if you aren’t overly sensitive, you can always put on your Vietnamese shirt and cruise down the Mekong Delta looking every bit the tourist. I’ve been to Saigon 3 times. Each time was as fun as the last. Each an adventure rife with memories.