“The river knows the way to the sea: without a pilot it runs and falls, blessing all lands with its charity.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Vietnam is an incredibly diverse country and while I enjoyed its large cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), our trip wouldn’t be complete without including a three day excursion up the Mekong River in sampans. What a unique, colorful, educational and even a tasty experience.
With its source in Tibet, the Mekong flows approximately 2,800 miles and runs through six Southeast Asian countries – China, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and into the South China Sea.
The fertile Mekong Delta Region forms the major food-producing regions of both Vietnam and Cambodia. Millions of people depend on rice, fruit and vegetables that come from this basin. A bad year like the drought of 2010 affected rice production tremendously as well as the fruit and produce harvests.
Our tour not only allowed us plenty of opportunities for observing daily life among the river dwellers, but also included the busiest floating markets in Cai Be and Cai Rang. We missed the sunrise buying and selling among the vendors, but weren’t disappointed in what we saw.
Large, colorful boats coming toward us are the first thing we notice with their distinctive prows painted with eyes to ward off the river monsters This isn’t a place for souvenirs nor will the tourists be hawked. This is serious commerce.
Local farmers often begin their day as early as 4:00 AM. Loading their small boats with fruits and vegetables mainly, they must leave their canals and waterways that feed into the Mekong and make their way to the larger boats (wholesale dealers) who buy from them.
Often, this produce ends up in Hanoi and Saigon. I understand that because trade is shifting more and more to the wholesale markets in the country, these floating markets are shrinking in size.
Wholesale dealers indicate what produce and fruit they are buying by hanging samples to long poles. In that way the small boats can spot them easily.
Just look at the rambutan, a tasty fruit we came to love.
Or dragon fruit, unusual because of its pink and green color and shape.
Plenty of pineapple and we got to sample some. Paper towel juicy.
Watermelon to choose from.
Lots of vegetables that I really don’t recognize.
This man is having engine problems and is trying to sell the remainder of his jackfruit or breadfruit. I would imagine he knows how to fix his own boat or he might have to pay a floating mechanic to come to his rescue.
And, of course, there are the floating soup kitchens delivering noodles and pho to the farmers and dealers. That in itself is a tiring business. This woman is paddling her way among the boats.
Most of the hotels we stayed in provided a basket of fruit in the room. It was perfectly ripe and ready to eat. Ron and I looked forward to sampling new fruits.
One last look at a picturesque canal before we visit an organic farm and have lunch.