Sunday, 8 January 2012

Can Tho and Life on the Mighty Mekong

We spent another night in HCMC and then figured out how to get to Can Tho, a smaller city that is supposedly at the heart of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.  We had a pretty unpleasant three hour bus trip but were never the less not much worse for wear when we eventually arrived at our hotel.  Can Tho has a lovely river front and we enjoyed walking around and taking in the local flavor as there were relatively few other tourists. 

The Vietnamese sure do like Ho Chi Minh.  Everywhere we go there are statues like the one below in Can Tho.....

The main purpose of our trip to Can Tho was to see the floating markets and life on the Mighty Mekong river.  We arranged for a guide (someone who approached us on the riverfront) to take us out early the next morning and we hoped for the best. 

We left our hotel at the designated 5:30 AM meeting time (the markets are their best early in the morning) and sure enough our guide, Mr. Dai, was there waiting to lead us to the river.  When we saw the tiny wooden boat bobbing gently up and down in the dark and we all eagerly jumped on board I once again contemplated how far we had come in terms of our comfort level for embarking on the unknown.  Here we were showing relatively no hesitation in setting out for a 7 hour journey down one of the largest rivers in the world on a tiny rickety old wooden vessel that had most certainly seen better days.  We had no idea who the “captain” really was or where he would take us.  We did, however, have faith that whatever lie ahead we would enjoy it.  Travel sure has taken us a long way since September.

Our day on the river provided us with yet another unforgettable experience.  Our guide first took us to a nearby dock where surprisingly tasty coffee was waiting and then we set out on the Mekong as the sun was just starting to rise. Within about an hour we came to our first floating market.  Boats of every size were crowded together with produce of all shapes and size being relayed between them.  Wholesale boats had large bamboo poles with a sample of whatever they were selling hanging on the top of the pole so as to make it easy for buyers to identify the merchandise on hand. 

In addition to the wholesalers there were also many mobile coffee shops, restaurants and food vendors floating by.  Being in a little boat meant that we could wriggle our way right through the maze that made up the market.  The people all seemed really friendly and we had a lot of laughs along the way.  The whole atmosphere was incredibly warm and quite unlike other Vietnamese markets we had experienced.  The second market that we came to was even friendlier then the first.

Drinks anyone?

Not everyone was working hard.  There were lots of folks, as you can see below, who were just hanging out on the back of their boats.

We had a lot of fun with the family of the beautiful girl below.  They thought she and Eric would make a good pair.  Eric, however, didn't think he wanted to change life in Victoria for the Mekong.

As we made our way past the markets and deeper into the Mekong’s channels the river got more and more narrow and we felt like we were really getting an up close glimpse of a life along the river banks.  Dishes and clothes were being washed, people were fishing and bathing in the muddy waters, kids were playing and hammocks were swaying back and forth heavy with tired bodies. Life in the Mekong is far removed from the urban jungle of HCMC.

We saw the fellow below wading across the river and when he emerged we saw what he was carrying, quite a few bananas were going somewhere.

We eventually came to a small village where we stopped to see rice noodles being made.  The process was very interesting but as dogs scurried in and out and flies buzzed overhead I could not help but wonder if the noodles that hit North American shelves come from these kinds of shops.  Back home in Canada we tend to think that everything we put into our mouths is all very sanitized.  How wrong we must often be.

Wrapping things up...
The final product ready to go...

And hanging over much of the place - cob webs,  lots of them......

The landscape along the riverbanks that is the backdrop to life in this area was in itself worth the trip to see.  The fertility of the land was evident everywhere.   In between the beauty of the lush green rice fields were bananana trees, pinapples, jack fruit, coconut, various sorts of apples and many other forms of fruits and vegetables.  The bounty of the land may not make the people who work it rich in terms of material wealth but the land that they harvest was definitely rich in beauty and in goodness when we saw it.

As we drifted further and further into the channels Mr. Dei carved up our second pinapple of the day.  The fruit was so fresh and sweet that it truly tasted like candy.  His expert carving skills were also impressive. 

About a hour past the noodle shop we stopped again at a farmers field for a walk through an orchid and a village that winds along the water.  As we passed village huts we received warm giggles from the children who seemed genuinely excited to see us.  Here we were able to get an even better look at the fruit laden trees.  

 Our guide had taken the boat up the river to an agreed upon meeting spot.  When I saw one of the “bridges” that we had to cross I had genuine concerns about whether or not we would actually meet the guide.   The bridge consisted of a very narrow set of rods hanging quite a ways above the riverbed, no safety ropes or bars here folks!  In the end, of course we all made it safely across and eventually enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared at a remote homestay further down the river.

The boys had resisted getting up so early and being dragged into what they thought might be an un river worthy watercraft but as we made our way back to Can Tho I could tell that they had been pleasantly surprised at what a fascinating day we had had.  It is difficult to say why, perhaps we are just getting more used to the way things are in Asia but whatever the reason, this travel experience seems to just keep getting better and better.

The lady below was obviously transporting plastics to some market. We continue to marvel at the ability that the people have to maneuver their boats.

The boat below had a very interesting fishing set up, notice the net between the poles.

Mr. Dai had ensured that we had another positive experience with Vietnamese people in their lovely country.  We will be sad to leave!

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