Beauty in the Beads

Everything about Vietnam was perfect from the very beginning. We entered the country by boat, at sunset - anyone who knows me knows this is pretty much my heaven. Growing up on the water, the 5-hour boat ride down the Mekong was a welcome departure from the hot city of Phnom Penh. I was so far away, yet cruising down the river felt like home.

I also discovered my new favorite way to enter a country - how cool to have to walk up a dock to get your passport stamped both to exit Cambodia and then a half mile later to enter Vietnam. I'll take that over a busy airport any day!

We arrived in Chau Doc at dusk, taking in the homes and people living along the river. We were quickly taken to our hotel up the mountain in the hopes of also catching the sunset over the rice fields which was a wild success. The hotel in Chau Doc was hands down our favorite. Individual terraced rooms overlooking the rice fields and the city below with the best view around. I loved my room - and so did my little gecko friend that would end up staying with me during my time there.

Our project in Chau Doc was to deliver a few more water filters and to supply materials and instructions to the women of the floating village to make and sell bracelets to earn extra income. A bit of background - when the projects first came in from Simla and Hands on Journeys she asked that I take the lead in learning the unique bracelet knots to teach the ladies. I'm not the most crafty person but how hard can knots be, right? HARD, well for me at least. I practiced and practiced and just could not seem to get it! So I made everyone else practice and luckily Shara and Natalie were able to get a few and Mick and Mike each made their own version of the knots with varying techniques. When I finally got my knot to stay during our training session I was overjoyed - you would have thought I won the lottery! Lucky for me, the ladies of the floating village have much more skill at knot tying than I do and they started whipping out bracelets right and left.

Sitting on the front porch of Nam's floating home, surrounded by friends that had become my traveling family and the ladies of the local village was much more than the craft time I had envisioned. These women had extra time and a yearning to provide for their family.

All it took was a few beads, a piece of string and a helping hand to empower this community.

Simla had told us that during the last trip, the materials provided $1,940 in profit from sales at the market. For comparison, most make $1-$2 a day in this village. The true pride came from creating and selling the product themselves which was much more powerful than anything we could give.

Chau Doc was where we had our first authentic Pho experience, and it didn't disappoint. We climbed mountains to watch the sun rising from the Pagoda and mountaintops, we toured the town and explored caves and local landmarks. We had a welcome break from the heat and enjoyed the infinity pool and also learned that little geckos can make a lot of noise. We learned new card games, and the losers did a few more pushups.

From there we ventured north and had a stop along the Mekong Delta, which was much more touristy than most our stops, but it was fun to see the gimmicks! Coconut Island which made delicious candies, a horse and buggy ride, authentic lunch and a boat ride down the river where poor Holden got stuck with the girls, and we sang everything from Spice Girls to Hakuna Matata. 

Chau Doc was the perfect introduction to Vietnam. From sunrise, to sunset we took in every bit of the beauty as we continued our journey.