Can Tho-Can Tho - This guys says the horse Can Tho

Trip Start Feb 12, 2011
Trip End Nov 19, 2011

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Where I stayed
A Hotel

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, April 15, 2011

Checking out of the hotel was a breeze, and although we could have had much cheaper accommodations, we were happy to have stayed in a (relatively) well organized, clean hotel. We didn't have time for a proper breakfast, but we were happy to pick up a couple of pastries and coffee from the street.  Erica was sensible and ordered an iced coffee but I had a hankering for hot.  Their to-go cups were incredibly thin plastic, but miraculously held up to my steaming hot coffee. Instead of a sleeve, they simply put the coffee in a tiny plastic bag and give you a straw.  Breakfast in hand, we got on our tour bus, a full-sized coach tricked out with red leather Budweiser seats and grabbed the back seats.  While eating, we saw the donut guy again, which nearly inspired me to run off the bus to catch him, but I agreed with Erica that I probably didn’t need a hunk of deep fried fat.

Our conversation sparked an interest with the Canadian couple in front of us, Edwina and Lindsay, who were traveling from Vancouver, British Columbia; more Canucks!  They were a pleasant couple in their prime, and we got on very well during our long bus ride to the Mekong River.  They had recently been to India, and have travelled extensively so we had plenty to talk about.  Unfortunately, they were only on the Mekong tour for one day, as opposed to our three, but they were headed to Angkor Wat and invited us to join them in Siem Reap for a tour.  Traveling on a much tighter budget than they, we hastily agreed to their generous offer, but more so because it is such a pleasure to meet travelers to share our experiences with.

We recognize our situation is uncommon; we are not quite poor 20-something backpackers, but not traveling with the comforts realized by middle age.  We have little in common with the typical backpacker, other than the act of travel itself, as we have both had established careers and the burden of responsibilities our fellow vagabonds have yet to understand.  Thinking back to our backpacking adventures after college, we are both finding a much richer understanding of our experiences as we are able to put things into context.

Not to digress too much, but after a three hour journey we arrived at the Mekong where we were split into separate groups to visit the Unicorn, Dragon, Phoenix and Turtle islands.  We were disappointed to say goodbye to Edwina and Lindsay so soon, but three hours would prove to be enough time to establish a friendship.  Our guide’s English could have been better, but with no expectations, we weren’t really worried we would miss something.  The Mekong itself was an enormous river, full of activity, and it was clear that it was the center of commerce for millions.  Our first island was the Unicorn Island where we walked through the quaint village and were given a demonstration of honey and tea, and of course the opportunity to buy something.  We were then led to a small canal where we got to ride in traditional canoes? And wear funny hats.  It was a charming experience and we were amazed at how well organized everything was.

Note: Although we were told we were going to visit each of the four Islands, later research proved this dubious, but I’m going to pretend we did, even though we likely just moved around the Ben Tre province. 

Our second stop was the Phoenix Island which was accessed by a wide canal which led to a small coconut candy operation, once again providing the opportunity to buy something.  Erica commented on how clever to have tourists watch fresh candy being made just before a late lunch; the candy was delicious and everyone bought some!  At the Dragon Island we had a marginal lunch with an older Israeli couple who were like a fish out of water, with plenty to say.  Our final stop was at the Turtle Island where we had a sampling of fresh fruit and local music.  The instrumentation was good, but the singing was not for me.

The whole day was a bit contrived, but you could get a sense of the culture underneath the show.  Lindsay and Edwina were in the group next to ours, and were clearly happy to be on the single day tour as it was long, hot and sticky.  With the tour over, we waved goodbye and we were taken back to our bus for the long journey to Can Tho.  We made a rest stop where a vendor was selling draft beer for a quarter.  Sadly, I couldn’t take advantage as she had a foam problem and we didn’t have time to wait, so we piled back on the bus.  Along the way, we saw the result of our first scooter accident, but everyone seemed to be OK.  Along the highway and between the rice fields, were several industrial zones, large boulevards lined with huge factories, mysterious buildings cheaply manufacturing god knows what.  As sunset approached, we crossed over the My Thuan Bridge, newly completed, that must be a tremendous boon for the local economy replacing an inefficient ferry system. 

We arrived in Can Tho just before dark and were on our own for dinner.  It was a pleasant evening, a much quieter town than Ho Chi Minh City, and I was excited that our hotel was tucked down an alley of hardware shacks.  However, the main streets were full of street vendors and several merchants were still open for business.  The buildings ranged from two to six stories tall, and it appeared that most business were run by families that lived in the back, where they would take turns minding the store.  Unlike the sanitized retail experience of home, the shopkeepers were always in various states of lounging, if not fully asleep in a cot in the front of their store. 

Being a weekend, we assumed the town was busier than normal as we walked down a side street discovering a woman offering some mixture of black and white rice on a thin, sweet waffle.  We gave one a try for $0.50 and it was delicious.  Still hungry, I purchased another one from a family ten feet away for $0.25 and we joked about the arbitrary differences in price, as the last one was of superior quality.

We meandered along the waterfront and enjoyed some type of coconut cake and fresh fruit, eventually getting our fill of dinner on a few dollars worth of street food while exploring the "downtown waterfront area".  We finished the evening over a few beers on the sidewalk watching the market and what appeared to be relatively successful Vietnamese locals walking by.  Unlike HCMC, almost none of the vendors approached us and the vast majority of the offerings were geared toward locals and the handful of tourists we saw were with our group.

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