The big reason that tours of the Mekong Delta exist are the Cần Thơ floating markets. As I understand it, in the days before bridges across the delta’s tributaries (and distributaries), people with produce from upstream and people from villages on either side of the river downstream would meet in the middle to trade.
Of course with prosperity has come bridges, which is gradually lessening the need for the floating markets. Judging by the gridlock of 20-seat tourist boats making the circuit (of which we were one), I got the sense that one day this will be a floating market in spirit only, not necessity. That said, I was happy to have the chance.
From our homestay we were shuttled by boat to meet back up with our tour group. It was before 8, the sun was still low. I enjoyed the variety of houses on stilts by the side of the river. It felt voyeuristic peeking into people’s lives early in the morning.
We transfered to another boat in the middle of the river and headed to the floating market. The one we visited (Cái Răng, I believe) wasn’t intended for the average person to do their daily shopping. It was for wholesale buyers from land-based markets to procure goods and to move goods to markets on either side of the river. The larger boats were doing the selling, and they advertised what they sold by hanging the item from a tall pole. Watermelons, jicama, and pumpkins seemed to be in season. And pineapples! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many pineapples in my life.
Also amusing to me were the ad hoc refreshment boats, which came up alongside the tourist boats to sell sodas, bananas, and hot coffee. It was like a floating market within a floating market.
Afterwards, we resumed the style of touring I found less fulfilling. There was a stop at a rice paper/noodle factory. A pointless stop at a “monkey bridge”. A crappy hotel restaurant lunch. An excruciating ride to an alligator farm (excruciating for its length, the driver’s incessant “I’m here, coming through” honking, and the pointlessness of the stop). A long ride to Châu Đốc to see a hillside pagoda—by which point we were so exhausted that it was hard to appreciate. Nice view though.
Finally we were deposited at our hotel in Châu Đốc. The next morning we’d be getting on a boat to Phnom Penh (we smartly decided to upgrade to the 3-4 hour fast boat, as opposed to the however-long-it-takes slow boat) and we’d be on our own again. That night I stayed up until 1am cathartically writing my where next post on the toilet. My guts were fine—the bathroom had the only working power outlet in the room.