Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Phu Quoc Island and the Mekong Delta

It turns out that Phu Quoc Island, an undeveloped tropical paradise in southern Vietnam, played an important role in Vietnamese history: the S. Vietnamese set up a large POW camp there during the civil war, and later, Cambodia's invasion of the island helped trigger the Vietnamese-Cambodian war and the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge. But, we didn't think about that very much during our five days there. Instead we ate fresh fruit and the catch of the day, swam in crystal-clear warm sea water, and napped on the beach. After five months of trying to make decisions about what to do and where to go without really knowing what to expect, we stayed as immobile and made as few choices as possible.

For 50 cents, you can buy one of these pineapples...

From Phu Quoc we proceeded to the Mekong Delta-the mainland of southern Vietnam-which is an extremely poor region (like the Burmese and American governments, the Socialist Republic seems to hold a grudge against people who live in deltas), but an extremely abundant producer of tropical fruits. For 75 cents you can purchase a couple of pounds of choice mangoes, and 50 cents will get you a watermelon or papaya, but we mainly stuck with the mangoes.

Yesterday, we boarded a fast boat (in contrast to the slow boats of Laos) that delivered us efficiently and pleasantly to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. We were sad to leave Vietnam. We spent a full month there, more time than we spent anywhere else but India, and it was one of our favorite stops, featuring the national pride, grittiness, and aliveness of India, without the same intensity of social problems like overpopulation, animosity towards women, and general dirtiness. We also appreciated the opportunity to learn more about America's involvement in the region and the impacts of the "American War" from a Vietnamese perspective. We were surprised to find, for example, that many Vietnamese are just as angry at their own government for the long civil war they fought as they are at the Americans for getting all tangled up in it. Except for a few very minor incidents (and the museum propaganda), we were treated very warmly, and even had a lovely dinner in Danang at the home of a woman who served in the Viet Cong, and her family.

Click here to see pictures from Hoi An and Da Nang

Click here to see pictures from The Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc Island

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