The Floating Market
Trip Start Oct 23, 2011
22Trip End Nov 12, 2011
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Where I stayed
What I did
Can Tho Floating Market
Exiting the hotel the street was clear of water enabling us to walk the few blocks to the boat dock. It was about a 20 minute ride up river to the market where farmers travel 2-3 hours down river bringing their goods to sell. Buyers from villages stock up for their small stores, restaurants or for themselves. As witnessed from the air the Mekong Delta is mainly water, it was like flying over the vast green corn fields ot the midwest. The difference here is that instead of vast acres of fields you have vast acres of brown water surrounded by thin strips of land filled with houses, at least this time of year. Strips of land look to be only about as wide as a house with a one-lane road running in front of the houses and it is just brown, brown water but I can imagine how beautiful it would be when the rice is growing and everything turns to spring green.
Traveling up the river we see that the river is the life blood of these people. Homes and small business line the riverbanks on both sides. Tin explains that they depend on the floods to bring the fish down from Cambodia and the high water doesn't seem to phase the people, it is just a way of life. We see all forms of commerce and daily life, lumber yards, boat repair, sand and gravel, bricks being loaded on boats, women washing clothes, bathing, brushing their teeth, fishing, it all happens on the river.
What appears as a blockage up ahead is the Cai Rang floating market. Countless boats in no particular order moving among themselves with people buying and selling their goods. The sellers have long poles attached to the boats with their product displayed, perhaps a pineapple or papaya hang from the pole easily seen by the buyers.
We drift in between the boats eyeing the merchandise and watching the trade before pulling up to a pineapple boat where a young expertly carves a pineapple for us to sample . . . sweet and delicious!
I am so glad we took this little side trip, it is really quite a remarkable sight and adds to my understanding of just how important the rivers are to the people of the delta.
After the excitement of the market we load up and head back to Ho Chi Minh City to meet our Habitat group. The drive back is just as long but Tin tells us more about life in Vietnam.
On the subject of motorbikes and licenses, yes, you do need a license at age 18 if you drive a bike with a 100 cc engine. Interestingly most of the engines are 99 cc's so no license required. We find there are many laws on the books like this, always a way around them.
We talk about the Communist Party of the 80+ million people only 20 million belong to the party and apparently the rest just "don't care". He tells us that the government is still developing a model, borrowing ideas from other countries, trying things out and if they don't work they try something else. So yes it is communist but there is also a lot of movement toward capitalist business ventures, foreign trade and development.
We stop in My Tho for a visit to the Happy Buddha but not before getting lost so we get to see some of the back streets and residential areas of My Tho. Eventually we find the My Tho Temple and the Buddha. He is enormous and we wonder how we ever missed him. One delightful moment when we were inside the temple was the smell of incense and the sound of chanting that resonated through the rooms of the temple, lovely.
We stopped again at the highway rest stop we had visited on the way down, this time for lunch. Tin recommended the sticky rice, which of course we ordered. He encouraged us to walk back and watch how it was prepared and we did. In the cooking process the rice blows up into a large ball that is brought to the table where it is punctured and cut in pieces with a pair of scissors to be eaten like bread, I guess. It was very good as was the rest of the food we ordered. Washington State could take a lesson or two about rest stops, this was really quite wonderful.
We arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City mid afternoon and Tin drove us through the Chinatown area and gave us a little city tour before dropping us at the hotel. It didn't really help me feel oriented but was interesting nonetheless. The traffic is every bit as chaotic and frightening as we had been told.
Ho Chi Minh City or as the locals still call it, Saigon, is a bustling, noisy, smoggy, chaotic haven of motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, narrow alleys, lively market stalls with merchandise spilling into the street and cries of "madam, you want to buy", curbside food vendors, modern high rise buildings next to dilapidated low rise structures, beautiful old buildings with a European flair; it is a study in contrasts and not a place that I would want to spend much time.
We checked into our hotel and arranged a time for dinner with Jane, another team member who had arrived early. Still feeling a bit bewildered by the pandemonium and not anxious to hit the streets we took a cab to dinner, a nice little restaurant that the tour books had recommended, Lemongrass; it delivered a delightful meal, as promised.
Time to pay the taxi driver and we fumbled around in the dark with the money – far too many zeros in the Vietnamese Dong – I think we gave the cab driver a month’s wages. I can see that money will be an issue with $1 equaling 20,000 Dong but on the brighter side, one stop at the ATM and we were millionaires.
Tomorrow we meet the rest of our group.