Nov.3 – Cruising the Mekong – 2019

Nov.3 – Day 14 – All that I am about to tell you is true. Really! I write this as we are waiting for the van to arrive that will take us to LAX and to the plane that will take us to India.

Sadly we had to leave Hoi An. It is a World Heritage Site, I believe.

We headed to the Mekong Delta and Saigon. We took an early morning flight. The flight was uneventful, shall we say. The Mekong Delta is often referred to as the bread basket of Vietnam.

We drove from Saigon, after settling in at our hotel, to Vinh Long. It is a floating village at the end of a long road built high above the lake on rich, red soil. The drive was interesting as always.

We reached the village and were walked out on a long floating pier. The pier was lined with long narrow boats which the Vietnamese call Sampans. They were about fifteen feet wide and thirty five or forty feet long and powered by an inboard motor of some type.

We were a group now of fourteen plus our trusty guide. The boats were packed in tightly and touching the boats on either side. Here is where things get interesting.

The crew consisted of three or four young fellows. Our guide said that one was seventeen, the next two about fifteen years old, and the third was not mentioned for reasons that will become apparent soon.

We settled in and the motor was turned on and put at full throttle, in reverse. The motor worked and shot water in all directions, but we did not move. We were wedged in between the other two boats at either side of us. So the crew tried to free us. It wasn’t happening.

The combined weight of the entire crew was less than a hundred pounds. The captain, who was supposed to be seventeen was more like eleven or twelve. The first mate, I presumed to be his brother, was about nine and the third was about seven. The fourth crew member might have been six.

The six year old was left to man the throttle and the wheel as his brothers tried in vain, to free us. Our guide joined them and we were soon free and skimming over the rough water at a good clip. The wind was blowing some that day so there was a good bit of chop on the water’s surface. The twelve year old was now back in control. His six year old brother was next to him, just in case. There were many boats around us doing the same. It was a large aquatic traffic free for all.

Soon most of our group were up on the roof of the boat taking pictures of the beautiful scenery. The houses were built in many different colors and sizes, but all on stilts above the water. There were families and children around going about their daily chores and other boats passing by us in both directions.

The canals were lined with these houses and mangrove trees. The water was calm and nearly black as we slid past all of this. I think I heard some one yell from another boat, “hey, the Smith brothers have stolen their father’s sampan for another joy ride again,” but my Vietnamese is rather limited.

We passed all of these wonders and entered the open lake which looks like a sea. There was no shore visible out in the distance and the water became very choppy again.

My wife had called me “up top” for photos, so there I sat awaiting my fate. I supposed it would be death by drowning. The crew made a wide turn on the choppy waters and the boat leaned over precariously as we began the return voyage.

On the way back the boys gave us a fine shoulder massage at a good price. After the massage some of the crew went “up top” again and waved their money at passing boats and their crews to show how well they had done, financially. They all did a fine job and it was an adventure to be sure. The age of these fellows was no longer relevant.

We arrived safely back at the van. Did their father tan their hides for stealing the sampan, I think not. It was just another division of their financial enterprise or empire. I think their father was out farming his land somewhere.

This was just another reminder of what children can do if given a chance. I was raised in a family business along with my older siblings and we all benefitted from going to work at an early age. Sadly, that practice is limited now due to changes in attitudes. Is the country better for that? I wonder.