On Saturday, we slipped away from Phnom Penh at around 9:00 am and headed south down the Mekong towards Vietnam. We had 100 kms to travel before reaching the border. That took a few hours at our cruising speed of 12 knots.
We had a very easy day, just relaxing and watching the world go by. As rivers go, I don’t think that the Mekong itself is as interesting as other rivers I have seen. It is very wide (over 1km in most places) with steep banks at this time of year which are perhaps 15 metres high. Occasionally we found the back end of a fishing village with a few boats and small houses. Near these villages the strip along the bank was used for growing crops. The closer we got to Vietnam, the more of these we could find – either because the land was mere fertile, or perhaps there were just more people. However, the towns are always interesting and our shore excursions take us to places that are worth visiting.
In the morning, we had a cooking class. It was really like a cooking demonstration as the chef didn’t have enough English to explain what he was doing. The class was about making rice paper spring rolls. After wetting the rice paper to make it soft, you just placed all the ingredients in and rolled it up. Not hard, although the trick was to make the rolls even so that they looked round like a sausage rather than tapered like a candle. The one I made turned out OK. Most of the flavour was in the sauce but I don’t have the recipe for it. The desert chef did a very impressive display of fruit carving – turning a Pomello into a rabbit and carving a large flower out of a watermelon.
North of the Vietnam border, there is virtually no traffic on the river other than the cruise boats. The only water craft we could see were these tiny little local fishing boats with an old diesel engine that clanked away noisily. Near the border we began to see small ships carrying containers, a couple of little fuel tankers and lots of gravel boats that were carrying stuff that that had ben dredged from the river.
We anchored at the border for around 90 minutes as we went through the process of moving into a new country. The crew took down the Cambodian flag and replaced it with a Vietnamese one. They also took down the red and white flag showing that we a pilot on board (we only need one in Cambodia as the captain is Vietnamese and licensed to navigate Vietnamese waterways without a pilot). This flag was placed with a yellow one which, which one of the old mariners in our group explained was the ‘quarantine’ flag. This symbolised that our ship was free from disease and did not need to be quarantined. It seems to me to be a quaint custom, but apparently it is a part of the process of a ship entering a new country. Our passports were taken ashore for processing in a little boat and once they were returned, we continued for another 10km down the river to anchor overnight at the town of Tan Chau.
In the afternoon, the housekeeping staff gave us a demonstration of napkin and towel folding. We have a very beautiful Vietnamese lady who makes up the rooms on my deck. At the concert we had at night she did a great job of singing some Vietnames songs although she was very embarrassed. In the middle of the concert, my little pocket camera froze and won’t work any more so from now on I’ll be relying on my iPhone for when I don’t want to carry my SLR around. I’ll have to decide if I just put it in the bin or give it some sort of ceremonial drowning over the side of the boat.
Our cruising day finished with the usual evening gin and tonic in the lounge, a briefing on our activities for the next day and another Mekong sunset.