Can Tho is a mid sized trading town in the delta of the mighty Mekong river and was one of our little side trips out of Ho Chi Minh City. It is only about 4 hours by bus and the journey was quite a surprise for us. We had expected to be travelling through lots of rice paddies and agricultural fields but pretty much all the way was towns and villages making the most of the access of the main road network.
The main point of interest in Can Tho was the tours along the river system taking in the local markets. Unlike many tourist places in Sth East Asia the markets here are still used by locals to do their produce selling and are not just a touristic collection of a few rubbish souvenir sellers. The river system through the delta has been used for hundreds of years to transport produce to the major centres. Now with the introduction of major highways and bridges it is becoming a lot more road driven however at a local level the river is still a big part of everyday life.
We took a 7 hour boat ride starting at dawn that was to take in 2 local markets and a few of the smaller creeks and local industries. The morning dawned well which was neat as the afternoon before the heavens had opened with a colossal thunder storm. We had stood on the rooftop of our hotel and watched the lightning striking a few streets away (terrifying moment for me) and were a bit worried about the weather for our little boat trip but all was well.
We had another couple join us on the trip, a young couple from New Zealand and they were great company along the way. Our first port of call was Cai Rang market, the largest in the Mekong delta. It was awesome. So many boats all selling a variety of produce. To demonstrate what their specialty was they would hang samples from a long bamboo pole at the back of the boat. Some had only a pineapple on their pole and the entire boat would be packed to the brim inside and out with pineapples. Others sold a variety of fruits and vegetables and their poles would be festooned with all manner of produce. Smaller boats wound their way through the bigger boats doing their buying. It was a well ordered affair and certainly enjoyable to watch.
Next we meandered a bit further down the river until we came to Phong Dien market and this one had a totally different feel. Whereas Cai Rang was large motorised boats that seemed more like wholesalers with large amounts of produce the Phong Dien market was smaller boats with a focus more on domestic purchases. We saw people selling fruit and vegetables like in the other market but here they also sold clothes, takeaway cooked food for dinner and lunch, meat, fish, you name it, they sold it. And the people doing the buying here were not bulk buying but were on smaller hand rowed craft and seemed to be doing more of the daily shopping. It was completely different to the bigger commercial market.
Leaving here we took off down one of the smaller offshoots from the river and stopped off to watch a local family make rice noodles. That was awesome. The rice slurry is smeared onto a hot plate where it is steamed then lifted off as a big disc, laid out to dry and then put through a cutter to create the noodles. The early morning light was fantastic with all the steam and people busily going about their morning routine. It was a great place to stop and appreciate the industry of local people.
We finished off the trip with a wander through a fruit garden. I don’t think it was much of a commercial project but it certainly had a vast variety of plants to demonstrate to tourists what the main varieties were.
The small arteries of the river are edged all the way with tiny homes and small plots of rice and other vegetables. I had expected large scale farming but it was much more small cropping and individual farming. The people largely used the river as a transportation corridor and every few minutes a small boat would come past carrying anything from large roofing sheets to pots and pans to fruit and meat. It was fantastic.
The Mekong is a mighty river and certainly for those living in Can Tho and surrounds it is a substantial contributor to their success and the touristic appeal.
How much can you fit on a scooter? LOTS!!!!!