On Christmas Eve our ship crossed the Mekong River from Cambodia to Vietnam. During the morning cruise our ship’s chef and his assistant displayed a variety of tropical fruits, and prepared them for sampling. The chef concluded his program by carving a rose design on a small watermelon while we were served coconut milk from a coconut. Shortly after this program we moved from the sun deck to the bar for an introduction to “The Fine Art of Travel Photography” by fellow guest Mark Harris. His work has appeared in many publications and his book North Korea was named Photography Book of the Year at the 2013 International Photography Awards. Mark explained the techniques he uses to capture memorable images by showing a selection of his photographs.

We passed more interesting homes along the river taking a branch, the Hâu River, to Châu Đốc. In the afternoon we boarded a sampan that took us along the Vinh Te canal, a man made canal that goes some ten miles to the ocean. We made a stop where we walked through a predominantly Cham community. We saw a mosque as the Cham follow Sunni Islam. We made a second stop to see a fish farm where they raise catfish, red snapper, and carp. The town is a busy trading center due to its border position with Cambodia. Back on board we were gifted with a Buddha carving.

Sa Dec Market

Sa Dec Market

On the morning of Christmas Day we took a sampan excursion to Sa Đéc . We walked through the bustling local market where vendors were selling many varieties of rice and vegetables, all sorts of fish, and fresh meat ranging from chickens to rats. The French writer Marguerite Duras lived in Sa Đéc during a three- to four-year period between 1928 and 1932 where her mother ran a school. Duras met Huynh Thuy Le, the son of a wealthy Chinese family, and the two became involved in a love affair that became the basis for Duras’s prize-winning novel, The Lover. We visited the majestic 19th-century Huynh Thuy Le House where we drank tea and heard about the house’s history. Our sampan excursion continued through Sa Đéc canals where we observed locals going about their daily routines: washing themselves or their clothing, fisherman, and the harvesting of water hyacinth used to make furniture popular in Europe. We passed plants for processing rice and visited a brick factory where we learned about the process of making bricks with Mekong mud by fueling the kilns with rice husks. The ashes from the husks are then used as fertilizer in the rice fields.

Sa Dec Excursion

Life on the Mekong

After our return to the River Orchid, one of the guides lectured on “Vietnam Today and a Lively Saigon.” Our lunch meal included traditional Christmas favorites such as turkey and cranberry sauce. In the afternoon we boarded another sampan for an excursion of Cai Be. We cruised through a floating market with boats selling fruits and vegetables. The canal was lined with stilted houses. We stopped at the An Kiet House where we toured this upscale home and walked around the grounds where fruit trees were growing. We also made a stop where pop rice candy, rice paper, and rice wine are made. Snakes are placed in the jars of rice wine. One large jar held 35 different snakes?! We were treated to tea and tastes of several varieties of their candies. Before dinner, the River Orchid crew sang Christmas songs and we were gifted with an external battery for our cell phones and other electronics. After another delicious dinner, this one with a Vietnamese theme, we heard a performance by local entertainers on traditional Music of Southern Vietnam.