We were scheduled to visit Chan May (Hue/Danang) the following day, but due to bad weather the port was closed and we were rerouted directly to our next stop, the port of Phu My to dock for an additional day. With plans to travel two hours inland for an overnight to Ho Chi Minh City the following day and no idea how to navigate the immediate vicinity we opted to book a day trip to nearby Ba Ria for a tour of the rice patties and rural life in Vietnam.
“Isolated shipping port” was certainly an accurate description of Phu My as there is absolutely nothing here but a commercial building and a bunch of shipping containers. Going inland is a must if you want to do anything other than hang out on a cruise ship or learn to operate a fork lift.
This was our first excursion
with Celebrity and it was surprisingly organized however somewhat reminiscent of a grade school field trip. After being herded in to the auditorium we were sent down to the stage, asked our name and marked with a number sticker. Next we were lead down to the gangway and told to look for the man holding a paddle that matched our sticker. For those who had difficulty following instructions additional staff was on hand to match people to their busses.
We made a total of six stops on our tour, 3 temples, a market, a distillery and a rice paper factory. First stop, Duong Vao Than Tha, a Cao Dai temple located about 20 minutes from the port. Cao Dai is a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism with nods to each represented by the yellow, red and blue colors throughout. This was the first of many temples which required us to remove our shoes before entering and I hesitantly followed suit trying not to think about how many feet had walked this path and making a mental note to bring and extra pair of socks from now on.
We were surprised to see elements of other religions represented in the design of the Cao Dai Temple including pillars denoting the Catholic Church and long sides with peaked doorways symbolic of a Mosque. Above the altar were carved figures of many of the world’s most prominent religious leaders.
Dinh Than Phuoc Le Pagoda was was built to honor the heroes of the Vietnamese people, most notably an ancestral leader who three times drove out the Mongolians. The Pagoda feels a bit like being at a carnival with lots of blinking lights and fortune telling items scattered about. Situated at the front of the Pagoda are two large cranes standing on turtles representing Yin and Yang.
Trang Nghiem Tinhd Do is a Buddhists temple which was built in the early 1990s and tended by the monks who reside here. In fact all three temples we visited were fairly new. During our visit we learned that old temples are not very common in these parts as most were damage or destroyed during the Vietnam War. At this last temple one of the monks was kind enough to pose for a quick picture with Paul.
Back on the bus and through the rice fields we went to a traditional Vietnamese home for a view of a family owned rice wine distillery. The process is somewhat primitive but it does seem to be an efficient use of resources. Rice is distilled into alcohol in large pots which are positioned on top of fires fed with wood and rice hulls. When the wine is finished, the pulp becomes food for the livestock and the ashes from the fire are used to fertilize the fields. I did have a little taste and got a fun video of Paul taking a bigger taste. The term rice wine is a bit of a misnomer; it is actually about 40% alcohol. About 15 feet from the distillery was the family livestock which consisted of about 20 chickens and several pigs of various sizes. I developed a soft spot for one pig in particular who raised his snout and looked at me forlornly.
Visiting the local market that afternoon certainly didn’t help to clear my conscious. Holding my breath gripping Paul’s arm I shuffled down the narrow aisle lined with de-feathered chickens plied high in baskets and stacks of pig carnage sorted by body part. In the center of each table sat a small Vietnamese woman, full lotus, knees bent, feet pressed firmly together, yielding a cleaver just inches from her toes. With each hack of the enormous knife came sounds of bones cracking and bloody tissue sloshing about. Thus begins the vegetarian portion of my trip.
Needless to say I was glad to leave the market and continue to the animal free rice paper “factory” a few miles away. This was also a family run business out of the home. Rice paper, made the traditional way, takes a fair amount of effort. The raw rice is ground into flour, mixed with water and pushed through a metal sieve. The resulting batter is spread into large thin circles on a pot covered with fabric. It is then steamed for a short time, carefully removed and placed onto bamboo screens to dry. After several days in the sun they are peeled off and placed into stacks of 100. Not surprisingly you can buy a stack of homemade rice paper for exactly one US dollar.