Spending some time with local family, eating with them, drinking with them is every backpacker's dream. But not everyone is fortunate enough to get such an opportunity. So when Mijung told me that I can join her to stay with a local family I was more excited than ever before.
We met our hosts, Khoa, a 25 year old slender-looking man and his wife, a 23 year old, even more slender, at Can Tho bus station. When I tried to thank them for opening their home to an unknown person like me, Khoa replied by saying "Vietnamese always welcome their guests" and I was touched immediately.
We left for Bac Lieu, their home-town, in a small jam-packed bus. A 2 hour bus ride dropped us off outside the village and here we were greeted by other family members, his cousins and brother in law. Everyone there to take us to their family home on bikes.
So, four bikes left with 8 passengers and luggage, leaving behind the bus station, tar road and every aspect of urban life. We were in the country-side! The winding lanes through jungles were only wide enough to let 2 bikes pass at a time. Every now and then, a low hanging branch of a tree would slap our faces gently. There was yet another branch of Mekong to our left now, with small houses on the other side accessible by wooden bridge. It was a bumpy but most pleasant ride. The views on the sides kept changing, sometimes a vast rice fields, sometimes coconut trees, sometimes a few houses with residents sitting outside on small chairs, looking at us and smiling.
|On the bike|
Khoa's cousin was riding the bike I was on and since he knew no English, entire ride was a quiet one. We reached the home first and were greeted by his parents, grand-father, sisters and some kids. With Khoa still on his way and with no one else to translate, I was left with no choice but to nod and smile at every greeting offering to me by them.
Apart from his parents, Khoa has two sisters, four uncles, four aunts, grandparents, brothers in law, sisters in law. A big family. His house is a traditional one and very spacious. There is a big rice field behind the house and river stream running in the front and one more rice field across the river. There are banana trees, jack fruit trees, coconut trees and many other vegetation. A big open space in the front to sit and watch the stars. All in all, a perfect making for a perfect country-side experience.
Tet is Vietnamese new year and it is celebrated by offering prayers and food to ancestors on main day and meeting relatives and friends and eating with them for a week or so. For next five days, we were showered with Vietnamese hospitality, which included a lot of drinking. Not only with the family, but even when we went for a walk on the narrow path, the first people we met asked us to join them and share a meal of dried fish with rice wine. The family never stopped feeding us. Every day, we started to eat at 7 AM in the morning only to stop in the night by falling asleep. Noodles, rice, a fresh fish from river, crabs, port, duck, chicken, fresh veggies from the backyard, pineapple, water-coconuts, water melons, oranges. It was a feast that lasted for 5 days. And every time we tried to stop, Khoa would serve us more saying "Help yourselves".
On the second-last day of the festival we went from one house to another by their boat, always eating and drinking. And drinking would mean not stopping till the bottle is over and if the bottle is over, it is usually re-filled. We were stunned with their drinking appetite.
|We had our first drink with them, complete strangers|
|Boat was our main mode of transport for 5 days|
|Good old haircut|
|Khoa, his wide (left) and his sister|
|Making the duck ready for cooking|
|Traditional cakes for tet|
|Eating and drinking!|
|MJ with the family|
|Uncle Ho look-a-like|
I got a chance to burn my calories a bit when I worked on the field with Khoa's father, to plow the field. It looked easy at the beginning, but soon I was sweating way too much, each muscle complaining. But at the end of it all, his father seemed impressed with me.
|Sweating my ass off in the field|
Other than eating and drinking we did get some time to explore the village. Bac Lieu is a small, sleepy and an unknown village. No travelers come here. It is dominated by rice fields and river streams. Small houses on the edge of the river have friendly people of the neighborhood. There's always chicken or ducks running around at the sound of a dog bark. Mornings are hazy and spiders build cobwebs through the night on bushes and on rice fields. Dew drops appear on tree leaves and the early morning sunlight reflects them bright. The night sky is cloudless and full of stars. The village become life less too soon and fall of the sun is the beginning of the mosquito party. By 9 PM everyone is inside their homes, doors shut, getting ready for the sleep and then there's less sound of humans and more of crickets.