Floating Markets on the Mekong
In the morning, we returned to the Mekong River and boated up to the busy Cai Rong market in Can Tho. There, boats overflowed with pineapples, watermelons, and cabbage being sold wholesale to locals cruising up in smaller vessels. All of the boats were devoid of color, having lost their hues to the Mekong. Like leeches, the small beverage and food boats latched onto our ship to try to sell us coffee and pho. The “lucky boat” didn’t have to move anywhere. Everyone motored to the man and his lotto stands, leaving with a slip of paper and the dream of retiring from a life of sleeping in the aft of their ships among the pots and pans and clothes drying on lines.
Near Chau Doc
Other highlights of the Mekong Delta are two short trips from the lackluster town of Chau Doc, only worth stopping at if you’re headed to Cambodia. The best site is the temple atop Sam Mountain. The temple’s architects had fused the building with the mountain. Thus mirrored rooms filled with Buddhas would lead to hallways and staircases that bent around stalagmites and stalactites. Most interesting was that the hilltop temple was home (or a place for a stop-over) to female monks.
Much closer to Chau Doc was a Muslim Cham community. They live about twenty meters back from the Mekong River in stilted homes. But when the waters rise, as it does each year, the Cham homes are nearly sunk. Peak water levels are marked off accurately on the ten-foot stilts, except for in 2000 when the river had breached their patios. On the short trip back to Chau Doc, we stopped off at fish farms on house boats. Resident farmers raise their livestock in tanks below their floating homes.
Note: I booked a tour with TNK Travel, the same folks who brought me to the Cu Chi Tunnels for $5. Our tour through the Mekong Delta cost $38 each for three days. You can imagine all the dead things we found in our rooms. Though there were a few highlights of the Mekong, be ready for some lowlights, too: we watched locals produce rice paper, coconut candies, and rice wine; we listened to boring, traditional Vietnamese music (I mean look at those guys); we spent most of our time traversing the Mekong Delta by bus. I’m not sure if there is a better option to see the region, since all of the above sites are very spread out. But fret not, if you’re on your way to Cambodia, a trip through the delta breaks up the journey with the above sites. I just felt bad for those who had to return to Ho Chi Minh City. Based on their complaints, I don’t think a Mekong Delta trip should be a part of your itinerary if you’re doing a round-trip from Saigon.
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