The Magical Mekong Delta

Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Vietnam  , Cần Thơ,
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It took us fourteen hours, traveling by train, bus and taxi to get to the heart and soul of the Mekong Delta, Can Tho. We'd just eaten and were walking the river promenade back to our hotel to catch up on some sleep when I heard a pair of hellos coming from behind.

I knew it was someone wanting to sell us a boat trip to the floating markets. They're the main attraction in Can Tho, the delta's largest city. As I turned, a smiling man with four or so front teeth missing, suddenly looked to his right and beetled off. I looked over to what had scared him off and saw a young girl dressed in pink. She'd been in our hotel lobby earlier in the morning when we were checking in.

Five minutes later, after a couple of planned detours, I did a check behind me. She was still there. Ellen isn't very good with the 007 stuff, so I kept Pinky to myself for the moment. I asked Ellen to simply do as I said and that I would explain later. When we reached Ho Chi Minh's monument, I asked her to stop and continue looking straight ahead. As I bent down to tie my shoe lace, I explained what was happening. The lady in pink walked past us and stopped about 10 metres away. I told Ellen that she should duck when I gave the word. As soon as our spy looked the other way we both went down behind a corner of Ho's monument. Moments later the girl came running past from the opposite corner, head flipping left, then right, as if in panic. When she eventually did a spin-around, we were both waving gotcha to her.

Back at the hotel, I called the particular tout who had laid the hard-sell on us when we'd first arrived. I was sure I'd seen the girl in the lobby back then and it had become pretty clear that she was his accomplice in this Mekong-Mafia, tour-boat scheme. When the tout came into the lobby, I told him that I didn't like being followed and that I wouldn't be going down a dark river with someone I didn't trust.

The following morning at five-thirty, we were off on a 20km journey to the Phong Dien floating market with someone we did trust. We never actually learned our boat person's name, but after a dozen or so double-takes and bewildering shoulder shrugs, Ellen and I decided that Pat would be a good name. We spent six long hours on the Mekong. The floating market simply wasn't as great as the guidebooks like to make it out to be. Turns out that over the past twenty or so years, they've built a very decent road network in the delta, so selling fruits and vegetables on the river isn't what it once was. Which in turn begs the question, why haven't the guidebook people picked up on this? Does my 2009 copy have information in it from 1989? Ellen and I have started relying far more on travel websites than guidebooks over the past year or so.

We were walking down the street in busy Can Tho the night before last when two young girls approached us, asking if they could practice their English. Ellen worked with Thy, I was assigned Phuong. Then Dung showed up – a boyfriend perhaps – and I had a class of two. Phuong has a very good vocabulary, but her pronunciation needs work, especially with words that contain the letter F. She can say root as good as an Englishman, but give her roof and she can't come close. The F throws her off so badly that she can't even get the first three letters out.

After the second, and last class, it was almost as though they wanted to throw a going away party for us. It was time to leave. We gave them each a short, quick hug. The girls stood in shock.

Thy said, “That is the first time in my life that I hugged someone.”

Phuong simply stood with her mouth agape.

“Did you like it?” Ellen asked.

Thy started laughing and shaking her head up and down as though she'd won a trillion dong. A big enthusiastic “Yes” followed.

The daytime temperatures in Can Tho hits the low to mid thirties. But all day long there's a cool breeze off the river. And despite how filthy, dirty the Mekong is, there is no accompanying stink. Long after Ellen would fall asleep each night I would sit staring out our hotel window at the river. In the mornings, before sunrise I'd do the same. By 6:00 A.M. we'd be out on the promenade drinking Vietnamese coffee, watching women cook pork chops, chicken and fish. In front of where Ho stands, kids and adults alike would play badminton. 

Last evening, after a dinner of Cobra and Sea Bass – I chose the bass - we sat near Ho's monument, looking out at the boats hauling their cargos to and fro. Wonderfully quiet children played around us. Parents walked by with their really small ones, smiled, then stopped, so their young ones could look at us. Sometimes, the most daring would even touch us.

We'd originally planned on going to the hill town of Dalat, to escape the heat. It just didn't get hot enough along the coast for us to need cooling down. So we ended up in the delta. We didn't expect much here, but were in for a magical surprise. While the floating market is dudish, Can Tho is enchanting. It just might be our highlight of Vietnam.

The prettiest of the pictures that I've included with this entry are of the floating market. Pretty scenes and pretty people always draw more photographic attention. It's impossible to capture heart and soul on a memory card.
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Mary Pace on

WOW.... your adventures never disappoint! I'm always a vicarious tagalong *smiles sweetly* on your remote off the grid adventures :)

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