Can Tho and the Mekong Delta

Can Tho, the capital of the Mekong delta, is a delightful little city on the banks of the river Can Tho, a tributary of the Mekong river. Once again we have an early start. We are dropped off at the pier from where we catch our first boat trip for the day. The boat has metallic seats, each seating two, lined up on either sides of the deck. They are not fixed to the floor and can slide along it, but surprisingly doesn’t slide as much as I thought it would or topple over. Su-ann asks us to wear the life jackets which are provided and our trip begins.

It is about eight in the morning and quite pleasant. A short breezy journey down the river takes us to the floating market, a dying trade. The number of people who are trading this way has been gradually declining and Su-ann thinks that it will slowly faze out. It is here that the local market owners come to buy produce from the farmers. A farmer may travel up to ten hours to get here in their boats stacked high with their produce. They usually travel at night, so that they can start their business in the morning. A sample of the produce is hung high on bamboo sticks so that the buyers can identify them easily. A single boat can carry up to 5000 pineapples and this will all get sold during the morning trade.

The river has a dirty brown colour and Su-ann tells us that the water is not actually dirty but the colour comes from the silt. Trawlers dredge the riverbed regularly. The sand is used for landfill and the mud is used as fertiliser. The mud makes the Mekong delta a very fertile land where everything grows in abundance. I later check out details of the Mekong river and realise that it is one of the dirtiest in the world and am not sure if anything is being done to clean it up. Rubbish can be seen piling up along the riverbanks and the houses which look like they are on land from the front, is actually balancing on stilts on to the river in the back. One wonders where all the drainage ends up, like in the floating villages. The water is dotted with water hyacinths which aggregate along the riverbanks. Although a weed, people here collect it to cook and also make household items using the stalk.

At the pier we walk past a very busy market place. From here we reach another pier and get on our next boat. A similar boat which takes us to our restaurant by the river. Along the way, Su-Ann points out fishing nets arranged in such a way that the fish gets trapped depending on the flow of the water.

We make three stops. First stop is at a family run plantation growing everything from palm trees, coconut, dragon fruit, papaya, pomelos, jackfruit etc etc. We get to sample some pomelo and jackfruit. It is not quite jackfruit season in Kerala but here we can see quite a few on the trees.

Next stop is a place making rice paper, popped rice candy and palm sugar candy. We get to taste it all freshly baked along with a cup of jasmine tea after the tour of the workshops. Bottles of alcohol with snakes and scorpions is another curiosity and many in the group, including the vegetarians, sample it. For me once was enough, which I did during my Yangtze River trip.

Lunch is at a local family home. A house which has been handed down the generations. The lounge is filled with antique furniture and objects. We sit on the veranda and have elephant eared fish wrapped in rice paper with vegetables. The waiter shows us how to wrap the little parcels of fish. This is followed by jumbo prawns dipped in chilly sauce. Then the main, a rice dish with chicken curry and fruits for desert. On the way back we are treated to dragon eye fruit, rambuttan and tender coconut juice.

We have another couple of hours drive before we reach Saigon, a bustling city full of scooters. Tuk Tuks are banned in Vietnam. Most people own a scooter and it is the quickest and easiest way to commute here. High rise buildings and skyscrapers fill up the space. The population of Vietnam is over 90 million compared to 15 in Cambodia. The difference is noticeable. Here apart from the farming areas, land is at a premium and there is not much of an empty space around for weeds or plants to grow wild like in Cambodia. We check in to our high rise hotel and later go out and find a local restaurant to have dinner.

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