Nov 21-23, 2014
Exploring Sa Dec, Vietnam
GPS waypoint: 10°17'18.8"N 105°46'14.2"E
Location: Sa Dec District, Dong Thap Province, Vietnam
Getting the Invite
While spending time in Saigon after a week in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, Tuyen's Vipassana meditator friend invited us to join them for a road trip to the West, all the way to Phu Quoc Island, the West-most location in Vietnam. This would be my first venture into the West.
Vietnam is geographically and culturally divided into the North (Hanoi, etc.), Central Highlands (Da Nang, etc.), South (Saigon, etc.) and the West (Chau Doc, etc.), each of which is known for its unique culture and tradition. The reputation of the West precedes it. The West is known for:
- beautiful women - yes, when someone is beautiful in Vietnam (Saigon, Hanoi or any cosmopolitan city), it is assumed the woman comes from the West. The women are also known to pamper their men...it's expected of them by tradition. And the men of the West expect that kind of treatment also.
- abundance - because the West encompasses the Mekong Delta, the river system plies through its cities and villages like branches of a tree, bringing with it fish and other harvests from the river. Life is not hard. The soil is also fertile so fresh produce abound.
- live for today - because of the abundance on-the-fly, it is not necessary to save up. The river is always there to sustain at any time on any occasion. So people from the West are not known to save, but instead, live for the day (I know this is being stereo typical, so please, take this simply as a barometer)
- not too hard working - again, because abundance is just there for the taking, there is no need to work hard. Unlike the North (Hanoi, Sapa, etc.) where land is mountainous and not arable, life is tough and people have to work extra hard to make a living.
- relaxed and carefree - because of the abundance with plenty for everyone, life is comfortable and people are more relaxed in their demeanor. Compare this to other areas where everyone has to fight tooth-and-nail for anything they can get their hands on.
The Lover - movie
Sa Dec is famous for the 1992 romantic movie, The Lover, starring Jane March (Color of Night, Clash of the Titans) and Tony Ka Fai Leung. It's an autobiographical story that happened in French IndoChina in 1929 about the author, Marguerite Duras, then a French teenage girl and the illicit romance she had with a son of a wealthy Chinese businessman. The setting was in Sa Dec, Chau Doc and Saigon.
With the river to irrigate the land, Sa Dec is known for its flowers and plants. Many households keep a garden and the sale of flowers and household plants is a thriving industry. Its flower market is known all over Vietnam. Even during the colonial era, Sa Dec was already known as "Garden of Cochin-China". People from Saigon make the trip to Sa Dec's flower market in preparation for the Tet New Year.
5am Wake Up Call
Sound in my sleep at my host's home, I was abruptly awakened by a loud announcement from a public address system installed just outside the house, along the neighborhood street. The PA system was located at set intervals so no one could escape it. I was told that it was a daily ritual done by the government that takes about an hour, twice a day, the other one happens at 5pm. The message could be anything from agricultural products to Ho Chi Minh's heroism. It was impossible to go back to sleep.
Sa Dec by Motorbike
Adept at a motorbike, Tuyen rented a bike with me as the passenger. We roamed around Sa Dec, stopping at cafes and restaurants for breaks. Sa Dec is not your touristy place. It is a working town adorned by what's left of the colonial era (fading French colonial houses), flower markets, sale of household plants, charming old bridges and Chinese pagodas.
Heading for Chau Doc
After an overnight stay in Sa Dec, it was time to take the bus again to meet more people in Chau Doc for our road trip to Phu Quoc Island.
- Huynh Thuy Le Old House - the former residence of Huynh Thuy Le, the Chinese lover of Marguerite Duras in the true-to-life movie, The Lover
- Perfume Pagoda - the shrine of Huynh Thuy Le, the Chinese lover
- Tu Ton Rose Garden - over 500 different kinds of roses in a myriad of different shades and colours
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- Vietnamese smokers used to smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. But this habit seems to be changing now.
- Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
- internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
- Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
- only Vietnamese Dong is accepted as legal tender (change your dollars into Dong)
- best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
- remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
- ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
- best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
- leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
- when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
- carry only enough cash for your needs that day
- don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
- don't take pictures of military installations
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
(Feb 15, 2015) havent checked this out yet in your blog site..hmmm
Nov 21-23, 2014
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