Floating alongside the Floating Markets
02.12.2010 - 04.12.2010 31 °C
We boarded a modern air conditioned bus at 7:30 and left HCMC in the direction of 'My Tho' passing green rice paddy fields, pineapple plantations and hamlets on route. The bus arrived in My Tho city where we transferred to a motor boat and our guide informed us about the area. We saw the Rach Mieu suspension bridge over the river - a development that we could tell locals were proud of. We also saw the local fishing port and were informed about the river that we were on and it's location in the Mekong Delta. We past several islands including Dragon island, Phoenix island, Turtle island before we stopped and disembarked at Unicorn island. Here we sampled local fresh tropical fruits from the orchard garden, local food and drinks specialities including natural honey tea (produced from the bee farm on site), banana wine (like tequila), and experienced live traditional Vietnamese singing which included translated recognised tunes like: 'if you're happy and you know it clap your hands' which helped encourage tourist participation!
Without warning as our tour group sat relaxing whilst sampling the local specialities, the tour guides re-appeared draped by a large live snake each. After some uneasy movements from the tour group and some seating rearrangements, several members of the tour volunteered to take advantage of the photo opportunity. Chris took part, having the snake placed around his neck and over his shoulders with his hands holding the snake towards it's head and tail. The snake was heavy and lively, with it's head constantly on the move. Thankfully we were assured that it had already been fed and that it wasn't hungry!
Next we re-boarded the river boat and cruised past picturesque rural villages as we headed to a coconut candy workshop on Ben Tre island. Here we saw how the coconuts are opened and each step of the production that follows to create the end product - chewy coconut sweets with a variety of flavours. We were then given the opportunity to sample the finished goods and in addition 'Snake wine' which is also locally produced - Nic tried it and said it just tasted like strong alcohol.
We then got into rowing boats and were taken to an island for a traditional Vietnamese lunch (rice, pork & vegetables) passing through lush green canals lined with coconut trees. After lunch we went on a group bike ride around the local village, passing homes and bushland containing fruit trees mostly along dirt tracks.
In the afternoon we travelled by bus to 'Can Tho' where we checked into the guesthouse where our tour group was staying. We went for dinner with an English couple from Bournemouth who were doing the same tour as us - Ben and Nettie (Janette) down by river at a busy alfresco restaurant, where each table had a barbecue (which looked like a terracotta plantpot containing red hot coals with a grill placed on top) and after choosing meats/fish diners self cooked it on the table barbie. The food was fantastic and the atmosphere and location was great.
The next morning we had an early start as our tour headed to the Cai Rang floating market. Our tour group boarded a boat and we sailed down the river, stopping on route to meet another smaller taxi boat where we picked up three chaps who had booked a 'home stay' and slept in a local family home for the night. We had heard mixed reports about homestay experiences, however the experienced Australian traveller who we got talking to after he had boarded our boat said that he'd had a great night at the homestay, albeit they had got through several bottoms of strong rice wine and he was either still drunk or he had managed to escape without a hangover which he admitted himself he was very surprised about. After around half an hour sailing past ramshackle riverside homes - where roofs were contructed with patchworks of different materials we arrived at the area of the river where the floating market was located. There were 'selling boats' and 'customer boats' meeting on the river and exchanging trade. It appeared to us to be more of a wholesale market, with customers buying in bulk. We boarded a pineapple boat, inside which was completely full of pineapples and enjoyed sampling their fresh product on the roof of their boat. The most interesting boat we saw was the local mobile petrol station boat, which sailed past with a petrol pump aboard the old wooden boat - and of course the captain of this boat was smoking a cigarette! After the floating market we were taken to a local settlement and we saw how rice noodles 'Vietnamese vermiceli noodles' are produced at the local factory. Factory is a big word for this small scale production, it was more a cramped outbuilding where we saw workers repeating steps in the production process for which they are responsible. Animals wandered around amidst the production room and it was clear that hygeine wasn't high up on the priorities here. There was also outside toilet - a wooden cubicle that had been built on bamboo stilts above the river - with an automatic flush (the river water itself) positioned just next to the production area...nice! We then went on a short group walk through the local vegetation, passing trees laden with fresh tropical fruits and walked over the river via a 'monkey bridge' made from one bamboo tree.
In the afternoon we took a three hour minibus journey to Rach Gia along with Ben and Nettie. In the evening the four of us set out on foot in search of somewhere to go for dinner. We did not have a map of Rach Gia and either we missed the main area for food, or Rach Gia did not have much to offer. After walking for some time we found a place down by river. As we crossed the river there was a young local bloke on the bridge who appeared to be asking us for money, however as he spoke only Vietnamese we couldn't be 100% sure what he wanted. We continued to the restaurant thinking that we had left him behind, however as we sat down we saw three waiters ushering him out so he was clearly following us in. This was the first time we had encountered a persistent beggar in SE Asia, in fact generally we have seen very few beggars - more frequent are street hawkers peddling their goods.
The next morning we had another early start, heading to the port to get the early morning ferry to Phu Quoc.