I spent a few days in Ho Chi Minh City after leaving Cambodia, then headed south to spend a couple days in the Mekong Delta.
On my day tour of Angkor Wat, I had met Lân, a Vietnamese guy, who had planned to drive his motorbike south from Ho Chi Minh City, so I tagged along. We spent about seven hours on the road – and while driving a scooter through the Vietnamese countryside definitely felt like a truly authentic experience, it was positively painful. Still, we made it, and arrived in Can Tho in the afternoon, in time for sunset and a cup of nuoc mia (sugarcane juice).
The next day, we got up bright and early at 4am to get on a boat to the floating market of Cai Rang. I loved it. Firstly, because food markets are one of my favourite things to visit when I get to a new town. I find them fascinating: there’s so much life; it’s loud, dark, raw; and the people are at their best, arguing, laughing, catching up. So seeing that taking place on boats will remain a great memory. Markets are, ultimately, a really mundane event; but to see it floating made it a bit exceptional to me. Boats would hang a few of their goods to a tall pole at the bow so people would know what they were selling, and other boats, usually smaller, would come by to buy sweet potatoes, pineapples, mangoes, onions and more. It was always large amounts, though – and you’d see lettuce after lettuce being thrown from one boat to another. The balance of the Vietnamese is impressive.
Some time around then, we got some breakfast – perhaps the most curious breakfast I’ve ever seen. A small boat rowed up to ours, charged with two large fuming pots. Yes: somehow, this little woman had several noodles soups on the go… in her boat. We got our bowls, passed over from one boat to the other, and enjoyed piping hot broth in the morning sun. I’ll remember that a long time.
Most of the floating market tours also include some additional activities. We visited a rice noodle factory, an orchard (where no fruits were growing but coconuts – not great), and had a long slow sail in the smaller canals around Can Tho. It became difficult to stay awake and alert after a while, what with the short night, so I slightly dozed off, lulled by the sounds of the river and the Vietnamese chatter of Lân and our boat driver. Not bad as mornings go…
The next day, Lân continued south towards Cà Mau while I got on a bus back north to Vinh Long. From there I took a ferry onto An Binh island, where I spent a day and night in a homestay. After three days in the hugely busy, energy-filled Saigon, An Binh was a very welcome refresher. The island is green, quiet and small; easily explored on foot or bike, with lots of fruit trees, quaint canals and really sweet people. Almost everyone I saw waved and yelled ‘hello!’, then giggled when I replied in very poor Vietnamese.
Longan fruit – probably my favourite
I’d really recommend a few days in the Mekong Delta if you find yourself in Vietnam, and would encourage a DIY trip. Even if you can’t ride a motorbike (or don’t have a friend who owns one!), there are plenty of bus connections that allow to construct your own route and see the places you want. And besides, the buses are real cheap…