Getting up today was weird, a sense of blah-dom set upon me as we had no target destination on our bikes. The ride was over, we have arrived at our destination, what more is there to look forward to? We all ate our complimentary breakfast without much enthusiasm but I had to make this day exciting somehow. I spoke to the hotel manager who was very helpful and he rattled off some ideas to experience Chau Doc - population 120,000. It is along the Mighty Mekong, therefore should have something interesting to offer.
But first order of business was to get our dusty and muddy bikes cleaned. We were overjoyed when the Hotel Manager said "Yes! I will show you where." Somehow, we could not enjoy our day if did not settle our bikes first. He led us to the shop some 500m away and we were blown away with what we saw. Hi-pressure jet spray, air gun and cleaners with a passion. Our bikes were attacked with much vigour, with soap suds flying everywhere. A quick rinse and the powerful air gun was unleashed, clearing all water droplets from our bikes. Then, the cleaner hand dried each part thoroughly. The end result, sparkling bikes, clean as a whistle. All this for an unbelievable 50 cents. It was the best entertainment ever, watching Foldie Transformation.
That most important thing out of the way, everyone was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. We then proceeded on to our Mekong River tour and piled into 2 boats. To get there, we had to go through some dingy and dark alley in town, which got us worried. But it worked out well and soon we were chugging along the Mekong.
This river is 4450km long and starts from the Tibetan plains in China, through Yunnan province, then to Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and then here in Vietnam. Huge ships can actually travel to Yunnan through Vietnam, which shows how huge this river is.
Our first destination was a Fish Farm. Here they harvest the delicious Mekong catfish and carps on floating farms. It was amazing to feed the fish and see the feeding frenzy in action. The fish are not cheap and go for US$10 each so each farm contains quite a fortune. No wonder the presence of guard dogs on this floating bank!
Our next stop was the Cham Village where a minority Muslim group lives. They are said to be originally from Kelantan, West Malaysia and are very culturally similar. Our boat docked at their wooden jetty and we visited their interesting village. Tourism has certainly landed upon them and as soon as we got there, it was all action stations where the stalls were manned and lights switched on. There was a lady skillfully weaving beautiful sarongs and Pete was dressed as a Sultan or King for the day. Here he is, the Sultan of Tern!
It was fascinating to see how much life the Mekong supports and here, the boat is the "bicycle" for the people who live here. We saw all types, from simple canoe style, to house boats where people live in as well as the big ones that transport all sorts of goods.
Our cruise ended at Deta Mekong riverside restaurant in Chau Doc and its obvious that English is a bit of a challenge here. Of course, we had to try the famous cat fish. I was surprised that although it was fresh water, it didn't have that fresh water taste. It came with a generous sprinkling of fried garlic and that can only be a good thing. The view we enjoyed was breathtaking and there is something special about eating in such nice scenery with great friends.
One of the big surprises of Chau Doc is the presence of a Raffles Hotel equivalent - The elegant Victoria Chau Doc. It sits on a prized prominent waterfront spot and exudes a certain timelessness with its colonial French architecture.
We went to check it out and had our coffee/tea there. For a hotel of this standard, the rates are very reasonable, seen from Western wallets. US$150 a night only. The staff are all well trained, look really smart in their traditional Ao Dais, and more than eager to serve.
They gave us a table for 11 of us overlooking the river and it was special to drink our Lattes and Capuccinos, with snacks. After staying at simple hotels, this 5 star opulence is something that we can all can used to very quickly.
After our tea, we went on our own separate ways as some wanted to shop, while some wanted to rest and I wanted to get a hair cut. I found a very good hair stylist just outside our hotel and for US$7 for a wash and cut, it was a steal as far as I was concern. But what was even more unbelievable is the price for dental services. I chanced upon a very upmarket looking clinic and stepped in to ask for their charges. Scaling and polishing - US$7 only! They even had laser whitening. Since they could fit me in with a very short wait, I went for it and came out all smiles, bright ones if I may add.
Then, it was more eating and even more eating. We had pre-dinner snacks at the road side stalls and enjoyed fresh juices. Dinner was taken at a seafood floating restaurant near Hang Chau Boat jetty and that was just part one. What was more interesting was part two where we found the best noodles ever. This was discovered by our resident noodle connoisseur Chris Wee and we all flocked there gleefully. It was quite a long wait but when it came, every slurp was worth it.
We retired early that night as we had to catch the 7am ferry back to Phnom Penh. Chau Doc certainly has lots to offer and we only saw the tip of the iceberg. Our day docking here wetted our appetites to return here for more. We had fun, even without our bikes. Yes, we shall be back!
The next morning we took the 5 hour back to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Our bicycles were neatly stacked on the roof of the boat and we sat back and enjoyed the ride in the cool morning air. It costs us US$24 per person and another US$10 for our bicycles.
We met Stephanie, a French tourist who forgot to have a passport size pic for her visa and was worried sick. Cambodia being Cambodia, a US$2 gift to the hardworking custom officials there took care of it!
It was noon when we reached Phnom Penh's Sisowath Quay and we rode a whole 5 mins to arrive back to our hotel the IndoChine 2, where we first began our trip about a week ago. What a glorious trip this has been and its sweet memories will forever be etched in our hearts.
My grateful thanks to the amazing Team for all the laughter and fun we shared together. You guys rock.
Papa Mike, Uncle Teo, Roland, May, Chris, Coleen, Barbara, Joshua, Ying Chang & Pete.
*Have a blessed and meaningful Easter! He died so that we can live...
Update 23 July 2013 - My ride buddy Chris Wee has written about this trip on Crazyguyonabike in his usual witty and brilliant style. Enjoy it here - http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=1&doc_id=11893&v=MA