Can Tho, Vietnam
I woke up today at 04:30 and got ready for my tour of the floating markets and countryside. Downstairs, in the hotel lobby, I had coffee and fried eggs stuffed inside a loaf of bread. Then, at 05:40, I left with two Spaniards and our tour guide to the river; once there, we entered inside the boat and our driver (who was a woman), took us down the Can Tho River in the direction of Soc Trang to our first stop of the journey: Cai Rang floating market – the biggest floating market in the Mekong Delta. Upon arrival at this market in the river, I saw many boats with men and women (mostly women) preparing food and bargaining prices amongst each other; most of the boats in this market had a long pole at the bow of the ship, pointed straight toward the sky, with a sample of all the goods they were selling hanging from it (onions, cabbages, watermelons, pineapples, etc.). After rowing around the market and taking many pictures of the morning action, our driver then turned the motor back on and we moved further down the river to our next stop.
After about an hour of traveling on the river, the boat pressed against the shore and we exited our boat. We then walked a short distance to visit a traditional rice noodle factory. We watched the men and women working, as they mixed the batter of rice flour in large plastic containers, spread the batter on stretched cloth above a fire and covering it for a short time to congeal it, laid the congealed and circular piece on a mesh carrier, took the mesh carrier outside to dry it in the sun, and then finally cut the dried circular piece in to long strands of rice noodle, using a hand operated machine. The workers had their process down pretty well and continued working as we walked around snapping photos while our tour guide explained the process. After walking around the small factory for sometime, we then headed back to the boat, stopping at a cafe next to the shore for some red bull drinks first. We then boarded the boat and our driver took us further down the river.
Our next stop was Phong Dien floating market; this floating market was smaller, but aesthetically nicer; there were no large boats and most of the merchants were using smaller row boats to sell their merchandise. While sitting on our boat in the blazing sun at this floating market, our driver purchased some food for us to enjoy; first we had sweet polemo, then mangoes, and then water caltrops (which tasted like a mix between a potato and chestnut). Due to the sun’s ferocity, the Spaniards and I each bought a traditional Vietnamese hat (the conical, “paddy hat”; known in Vietnam as a “nón lá”) to protect us. After spending some time at this floating market, we then traveled to and entered a canal for our next stop.
Our boat moved through the canal, past thatched boat docks, homes, and women washing clothes, dishes, and food in the river water (some homes have their outhouses situated over the water, so I certainly can’t condone such a use). We then reached a point where the canal was overgrown with plants, so all passengers exited the craft while our driver continued on to make sure the boat would not get stuck. We walked across a monkey bridge set up over the canal and then continued along side of the canal through a path lined with many banana trees. We also met up with two Germans on the same tour program as us and walked with them to a concrete bridge which we used to cross back over to the other side – at a portion of the river that was clear of dense plant life and thus navigable. While waiting for our boats to get through the canal, an old man invited us in to his home to cool off from the heat; inside he gave us cold water stored in reused lemon-tea bottles from out of his refrigerator (the water was most likely rain water collected in giant jars that many locals have on their property in this rural part of Vietnam). Just after the old man turned a fan on to cool us further, we heard our boat coming down the river; we gave our thanks and then returned to our boats (the Germans had to walk further down to find their boat). Once back on the canal it was only a short trip to our next stop: a farm containing a watermelon field and rice paddy with banana trees along the canal, papaya trees separating the plots, and leafy green vegetables growing along the path; there were also two farmers working in the watermelon field. We walked along the canal observing the farm and, as we came to an end at the rice paddy, we then reentered our boat.
The boat traveled for sometime, taking us further down the canal to our last stop: a home-stay located on a fruit orchard. We docked at the home-stay and then walked around the grid pattern of small narrow canals containing lotus plants and water lilies; surrounding these canals were the orchard trees, most of which were jackfruit or longan trees. We then sat down and had a small lunch served by the home-stay (I just had beer, steamed rice, and steamed green vegetables with garlic). After that rest stop, we paid the bill, and boarded the boat to take us back to the hotel. The journey was long (about an hour) and still very hot (it was noon). During the ride, the guide shared some pictures on his cell phone with me (he had just graduated the university and throughout the journey he showed me pictures of his graduation, an American that had taught English at the school, a Vietnamese wedding ceremony, and a flood that had covered a piece of the city back in 2011 (the water can rise quite high during the rainy season in the Mekong Delta area). Also, our driver made us each bracelets and toy grasshoppers out of palm leaves (all while steering the boat and keeping the propeller in the water) before serving us some more exotic fruits; first we were given longan fruit and then we were given some other fruit that she had peeled for us (so I don’t know what the outside looked like, but the flesh was orange and had a texture similar to a mango, making me think that it was probably a variation of the mango species we regularly see in the grocery store) and that had a hard core with spikes sticking out from it (we had to chew carefully, though the spikes were not sharp). We then finally made it back to the dock right next to the hotel; we thanked our driver and our tour guide, bought some cold drinks at a local store, and then cooled off inside. I went up to my room, showered, relaxed, and typed out journals for the better part of the day.
I eventually went out in to the night to find a place to eat dinner and settled upon the same restaurant I had eaten at the previous night. I had a beer and a pizza with feta cheese, slices of salami, and mushrooms. After that scrumptious feast, I returned to my hotel room and typed out some more journal entries before falling asleep.