This is the third entry of a three day bike tour of the Mekong Delta with SinhBalo Adventure Travel.
This morning we got an early start to visit the floating market outside of Can Tho. We boarded a long boat just wide enough to fit a single row of folding chairs and sped along the Mekong to the market. It was a crowded mass of vessels of various sizes and shapes, selling mostly fruits and vegetables. While most of the vessels are a shabby brown color the women are often dressed in bright patterned blues, pinks and purples. Here families live and work on board -laundry hanging out to dry, hammocks to rest in and small alters decorating the bow.
This is a wholesale market. Sellers advertise their product, watermelon, potato, pineapple etc., by tying a sample to the top of a long bamboo pole and raising it like a flag above their boat. The buyers cruise through the boats in smaller skiffs, buying what they need to take back to their village for resale. Other small boats cruise around selling soup noodles, soft drinks and even lottery tickets to the merchants.
We stop and board a boat, loaded with pineapple, for a mid-morning snack. The merchant, crouched down on the deck, uses a cleaver to skillfully carve the pineapple into four popsicle shaped treats. First she removes the outside skin, then she slices diagonal groves in the fruit to remove the remainder of the spines, and finally she cuts it lengthwise into individual servings.
While other boatloads of tourists cruise the market snapping pictures, the Vietnamese go on with their daily life not paying much attention. Here the children don’t yell hello and no one waves. I wonder if this visit isn’t a little too intrusive.
After the market, we cruise along the smaller canals off the Mekong, the same waterways we have been biking along. Now we have time to relax and take in the scenery and life along the river. On the bike too much attention is needed not to run into passing motorbikes or keep from falling off the bike along the uneven paths.
There is a mix of poor and wealthy. In some sections the houses are large pastel painted structures with columned porches. In other areas the house is not much more than a shack, built with whatever type of material was available and where the river becomes an extension of their home. A place to wash, rest and play.
We take one last ride along the canals of the Delta before heading back to HCMC, stopping at the Mekong rest stop for lunch. A large open air structure with a main dining area and smaller adjoining huts designed for various sized tourist groups. Again we are served a set menu, including, fried imperial rolls, a stuffed pancake that is more like an omelet than bread, whole fried fish served with greens, pineapple and rice paper for making rolls, grilled pork served on skewers, fried rice, a flavorful pork noodle soup, and the most interesting, sticky rice presented as a mostly hollow ball which is then popped and cut into serving size pieces table side.
Back in HCMC we say our goodbyes and return to our life as independent travelers.
For dinner we decided to break away from Vietnamese and try one of Saigon’s many international choices. We stumbled upon an Indian restaurant, Alibaba at 43 Mac Thi Buoi, just off of Dong Khoi. The small dining room is painted bright green, has white table cloths and Bollywood videos playing softly on both sides. The food is spicy and good. We ordered vegetable samosa, fish tandoor, chicken vindaloo and vegetable biryani. The samosa and fish were cooked to order and fresh hot, the rice had been sitting a while, but was still spicy and tasty. A nice change from Vietnamese.