ABOARD AMADARA-Our last full day of excursions begins with a boat ride to Sa Dec, where a walk along the bustling riverfront market place left no doubt that this is a hub of commerce. Many a village marketer buys produce here. No takers in ghe group, however, when a Vietnamese delicacy, rats, were pointed out.
This is a busy city of 103,000. Always a big city by Mekong Delta standards, during the American War, as the Vietnam war is known over here, it was the site of an American Swift Boat base.
It was an improvement to take refuge from the sun under a conical hat of cane, the kind seen everywhere in Vietnam’s countryside. It is much lighter and cooler than the one I brought from the States. The triangular versions are for women, those with a rounded top are for men. Wearing one in a city like Hanoi or Saigon, however, would be like wearing dusty overalls in Atlanta, sure sign of a hick from the farm.
Next stop is the elegantly proportioned and elaborately embellished Huynh Thuy Le house. He was the wealthy Chinese lover of the teenaged Frenchwoman Marguerite Duras and it is referred to as the lovers’ house even though their trysts took place in his bachelor’s apartment. Her 1984 Prix Goncourt-winning novel, The Lover, was based on that experience as was the French film of the same name.
In the afternoon, we boat to the floating market of Can Be one of the most important center for distribution of tropical fruits.
Rafts and boats tie up on both sides of the river and in the middle, as boat-going shoppers cruise for what they want. You can tell what each floating store has for sale by seeing what dangles from the top of their cay beo pole, melons, durian, sweet potatoes, bananas.
Sweet potatoes are about all we see because we were asleep during the market’s prime time of 5 to 7 a.m.
Ashore we take a look at the town’s French Gothic 19th century Catholic Cathedral and walk along shaded pathways to a local family’s “factory” for making candy of caramel, popped rice, coconut and other flavors; rice paper used for spring rolls and the snake- and scorpion-liquor thought to enhance virility. Not to miss a profitable endeavor, there is a cock fighting ring out back.
It is nostalgia night back on AmaDara because tomorrow our new visiting family divides and leaves for Saigon, home or other destinations.
We have a surprise, so typical of Ama Waterways, in the Saigon lounge. Four amazingly talented musicians have assembled their traditional Vietnamese instruments to perform for us. It is remarkable the rich and varied sounds they can elicit from a one-stringed device that looks like a rounded sawhorse and another that is a bamboo construction shaped like half a hammock. We applaud as loudly as we can.
Or so we think. Champagne and cocktails flow for the captain’s farewell cocktail party and one-by-one department members are introduced from sailors to servers to cleaners. Ama Waterways’ founder Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner (also Rudi’s wife) thank all for participating in AmaDara’s debut cruise. Our palms are red from returning appreciation.
Conversation at dinner is animated, cards and addresses are swapped and everyone lingers despite packing chores.
By the way, how will you fit that large wooden Buddha head in your suitcase?!