Although I’ve now made it safely back home to California, I wanted to keep documenting some of the highlights of my trip. Although the main point of my visit to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta was to learn about fish research, I did have plenty of time to play tourist. The ultimate touristy excursion—a trip to see the floating market.
At first, my cousin and I weren’t so sure about the 5:30 am departure from the hotel — at least, I wasn’t. But I still hadn’t fully adjusted to the local time during the first week of my trip, and luckily the jet lag worked in my favor. Apparently all the action at the market happens early, so no sleeping in.
The sun wasn’t quite up by the time we headed out on the water. Condensation clouded my camera lens after sitting in our over-air-conditioned hotel room all night. We had a boat to ourselves, and our driver was a skilled multi-tasker. She made us a variety of gifts throughout the day by folding and wrapping the leaves of a water coconut—while driving. Sometimes it did seem like our boat was veering off on a questionable course…I guess it’s better than texting?
A lot of the activity had already quieted down by the time we reached the market around 7 am, but the piles of produce made a pretty sight in the early morning sun. A few boats sidled up alongside others, fruits and vegetables exchanged hands. For me, the most interesting part was learning about the advertising.
Each boat had a long pole attached to it, and our boat driver pointed out the produce hanging from each one —announcing what was for sale on the boat below. That way you can make your way toward the correct floating stall from a distance. We happened to take this tour on Halloween, and I was surprised by the large number of pumpkins dangling from the poles. I didn’t even know they grew pumpkins in Vietnam.
Part of the tour included a visit to a rice paper and noodle-making factory. We watched while the workers mixed rice flour, heated it into thin round sheets, and set those sheets out to dry or fed them through a noodle cutter. Maybe 10 people made up the whole operation. I’ve eaten so many noodles without ever wondering where they came from.
We then headed to a second, smaller market, where the biggest attraction wasn’t even staged for our benefit. A Vietnamese cell phone company called Mobifone had parked a huge powerboat at the edge of the market. The young employees in bright polo shirts and baseball caps made their way among the vendors in a smaller boat. They handed out to prizes like motorbike helmets, tried to get everyone ramped up to the blaring music, and (I’m assuming) extolled the virtues of their company’s products and services. The vendors wearing their conical hats and patterned fabric shirts and pants mostly looked on. Just when you think you’ve found a tranquil backwater, here comes “the future” banging on your door…
By 10 am the sun was high and it was already hot. Our driver steered us to restaurant for lunch, where Quan and I had fun chatting with a German couple also from our hotel. After eating, we walked around the back garden, crossing over a number of bamboo “monkey bridges,” each one looking narrower than the last. We also took a walk among some of the houses and rice fields. Seeing the raised graves like stone houses, the burning incense offerings and papaya trees reminded me of the one kid’s book I had about Vietnam, called Ba-Nam.
After lunch, our driver had thankfully put up a canopy on the boat for shade. We took a meandering ride back through the canals, past houses at the waters edge with laundry out to dry, trees with straw-like roots sticking out of the water, and little palm frond huts on stilts – covered “parking spaces” for boats. We got caught in a shower not far from the dock, sudden and intense, the way the rain just bursts from the clouds in Southeast Asia. I would say thank goodness for putting up the canopy, but it somehow let loose a great splash of water all over my head. But in the Vietnam heat, it’s hard to stay wet for long.