As I mentioned in my previous post that I’m not a fan of HCMC, but I needed the 4 days there where I shed off my traveller’s identity, where there’s no sight to check off a list or must do activity. I was able to recharge my battery before moving on – Mekong delta. You can visit the Mekong delta with a 1-day/2-day tour from HCMC, but I choose to do it on my own. So the day I depart, I find myself the only foreigner on a bus from HCMC to Can Tho.
Can Tho is a bustling dusty riverside town. It’s a living working town that doesn’t rely on tourism, and that’s refreshing. What I like about it is its people. They are so different from the rest of the country; they are friendly and genuinely helpful. Nobody is hustling me to buy this or that, even the tuk-tuk drivers aren’t pushy.
Mekong delta is famous for its fertile soils and rivers. Can Tho like other towns in the delta has a thriving floating market that I am excited to see. There are people by the river/pier looking for business, they are mostly offering tour packages. I find it better and cheaper to find a boatman myself. Unlike bargaining in other places in Vietnam, people don’t take offence if you bargain too much, they will smile and tell you that they can’t do that price and ask you to go a bit higher, until you both come to an agreed price.
The next morning, I wake up early and meet the boatman at 7am. It takes about half an hour to get to the market. The morning air is crisp and as the boat speed along the brown-coloured river, life along the river slowly wakes up: a father rowing his uniformed children to school, a well-make-up lady hails a water taxi to take her across the river to her job, a grandmother with her granddaughter rowing a boat full of vegetables back from the market. As we approach, I can see lots of bigger boats, bobbing on the water while smaller ones zooming in and out of the maze. It isn’t as frantic and colourful as the Bangkok floating market, rather it’s more business-like. The boatman navigates our boat left and right, in between boats, so expertly that I pay no attention to some of the narrowly avoided collisions and engross myself in looking at what are sold in each boat.
There are all sorts of things, from fruits and vegetables to bottled drinks and even furniture. In order to know what each boat is selling, they hang their products on a tall bamboo stick that shoots into the sky, so buyers can find what they want. And if you want to buy something, just park your boat next to theirs and they will pass you the goods, or you can also board their boat to select the goods yourself. It gives a whole new perspective to buying things in marketplace.
My eyes catch a few smaller boats that weave among the market activities. These boats are rowed by straw-hat ladies selling food. They move among the bigger and faster boats selling simple home-cooked dishes.
The sun peeks out from behind the coconut trees, the day is starting to heat up and I can see that the activity has slowed down. Most of these markets along the Mekong delta starts at dawn and wind down around 8 or 9 in the morning. Some stay until midday but by then it’ll be too hot to be under the sun for any extended period. As I leave, I see other boats leaving too, they are local women returning home with enough food for the next 2 to 3 days, before they have to return to the market again.