The Mekong Delta cruise is something that we might not have considered for our itinerary, at least partly due to uneasiness about exposing ourselves to mosquito-borne illness – this is always a concern in Southeast Asia. But it was part of the tour we had arranged and, after doing a little research, John gave it the green light. By the time we reached this part of the tour, though, we were pretty tired from the intense pace we had been keeping and we briefly considered skipping it and arranging to just stay a couple more days in Saigon instead. After all, we reasoned, the Mekong Delta is probably not much different from the swamps of Louisiana that John and I both know well. It turned out that this was partly true and partly not true.
We got up early on the morning of the cruise and rode a bus for about four hours on the consistently awful Vietnamese roads to get to the harbor where we would leave for our cruise. From there, we got on a boat, the largest of the three boats we would ride that day. We visited an island where the agricultural output includes various tropical fruits, including mango and jack fruit, coconut products, and honey and beeswax products. Lots of tasting was involved, as you might imagine, and lots of selling. From there, we boarded a smaller boat and rode it to another place with a restaurant and a crocodile farm. Before lunch, we boarded a smaller boat yet – this was a small canoe that accommodates four passengers and and is powered by a little Vietnamese lady who paddles it.
After the ride on the little canoe, we had lunch and some free time to relax in a hammock or check out the crocodiles. Then, as expected, we got back on the medium-sized boat and ran the whole thing in reverse. Is the Mekong like the swamps of Louisiana? The still, muddy water and ever-present greenery are similar, but the people and the culture are, of course, much different.
The Floating Market
We got back on the bus and rode another hour to the town of Can Tho, where we spent the night. The tour guide suggested that we explore the city and and find a street food meal at the local Night Market, but we were too tired to do anything beyond going to a little restaurant nearby to order a little Pad Thai before collapsing into bed.
We had an early start the next morning to visit to a famous floating market in Can Tho. Floating markets are popular in Southeast Asia and are found in many places in the region, yet this was the first one we visited. I had thought that we would be seeing boardwalks connecting floating structures, but the floating market is actually boats that sell goods from their boat to buyers who are, of course, also in boats. The markets sell mostly produce and signal their wares by stringing a product or products to the top of a bamboo pole on the boat. This floating market operates primarily from around 3 a.m. until 7 a.m. daily, after which time many of the people involved have to get on with other parts of their lives, such as getting kids off to school. The Can Tho floating market is, at 300 years old, the oldest one that still operates in Vietnam and it draws around 100 boats a day. There is even a lady in a small boat who goes around selling coffee drinks – sort of a floating Starbucks.
In the end we were, of course, really happy that the cruise was part of the rich experience we are enjoying in Southeast Asia!