“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.
This is beautiful Lynne. I got a lump in my throat when I thought, that forty years ago such scenes would have been impossible! It is wonderful how the country has returned to normality. What a wonderful journey. Thanks for sharing!
More than half of Vitnam is age 30 or younger and find the war irrelevant to that age group. Much has changed and capitalism is now a way of life there. Thanks Elaine for your thoughtful comment.
i always love seeing the boats, and the painted eyes – how fun! makes me want to paint eyes on all of the boats here at el matal so that mother ocean knows we’re watching her..
heading there now….
If only the painted eyes had that much power, your beautiful area wouldn’t be facing this issue. Glad you liked all the color. Doesn’t surprise me. 😊
Great photo’s and fascinating info!
Now we gotta add this to our bucket list.
Yes, if in Vietnam, this is a worthy trip. Am pleased you picked up a travel idea from my blog.
That first photograph is really interesting – the boat’s decoration is so striking!
They really come up with some interesting painted faces on their prows, Letizia. It makes for a colorful floating procession.
gorgeous photography & interesting narrative!
Hello, Cindy. Pleased you enjoyed them.😊
The brightly painted boats are so gorgeous. Those farmers and the soup kitchen lady must work so hard to make a living. I can almost taste that juicy pineapple. Wonderful post and pics, Lynne. 🙂
They are a hard working culture and very family oriented. I appreciate your thoughtful comment, Sylvia.
Wonderful. Feel like I have taken the trip with you.
Thanks a lot. It was an educational and colorful trip.
Floating cities. So unique, Lynne. The floating soup kitchen really caught my eye, so I have no doubts that if the guy with the motor problems needed a mechanic, there would be one floating by. We have always wanted to take a trip through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. After reading your post, now I really want to go. Maybe we will plan a trip for next March and April…that’s the worst time to be in Nicaragua. Do you have any recommendations for a tour group? We looked into Stray Tours, where buses take you around all 4 countries. It sounds rather expensive, though…$2,100 per person, not including lodging and air travel. I’m hooked on this area now. Thanks.
I’m in Key West right now away from my tour info, so I’ll get back with you on that, Debbie. Following our three days on the Mekong ( you spend each night in a different city along the way) we took the express boat to Cambodia. SE Asia is worth exploring. We loved it.
Hi Debbie. We used Ann Tours ( https://www.anntours.com/aboutus.aspx ) They are excellent. For four of us traveling together, this portion of the trip included a pick up from hotel in Saigon to where we began the Mekong excursion which included daily river and land excursions, spending 3 nights in hotels along the way. It included the fast boat into Cambodia (6 hours) and a night in Phnom Penh. Then, a flight into Siemriep. Two nights there to tour Angkor Wat and other temples. Then a flight to Luang Prabang in Laos.It also included a flight back to Hanoi for us to come home. That portion of our SE Asia trip cost 1,199 per person. Something to think about. 🙂
Thanks for that tip!
You’re most welcome. 🙂
A mention of the Mekong Delta conjures up just such a scene, Lynne, and here we have it beautifully illustrated. Life on the water! I guess I’d have had to develop a much better sense of balance if I’d been born Vietnamese. 🙂
Hi Jo. Somehow they have their “river legs” from the day they were born. It is rather amazing to watch them work from all size boats. 🙂
So interesting Lynn. The colorful boats brings back memories of our trip, although we did not get to see floating market. The variety of fruit was amazing.
Am glad this brought back pleasant memories, Carol. Oddly, the one fruit missing for us was mango. 😞
A beautiful slice of daily life on the river Lynne! Worlds away from the touristy markets around Bangkok. It is amazing how many lives depend on that stunning body of water isn’t it? This reminds me that we really need to plan a visit to Vietnam soon.
Somehow I thought you included Vietnam when you were in Cambodia and Laos, but I guess not. Halong Bay was a beautiful experience and the Mekong excursion was , as you say, a slice of life. Hard to believe so much war and tragedy went on here decades ago.
I love your photography, esp the fact that it shows daily life so well.. 🙂 I blog at http://www.ishitasood.blogspot.in
Thank you for visiting and your comment, Ishita. Daily life of a culture is so important to me. It brings my locations to life.
I agree 🙂 great job!
Sounds like it’s not too common for tourists to cruise among the floating markets. You were lucky. The buildings in the background of some of your photos are interesting as well–looks like they range from commercial establishments to substantial private homes to ramshackle shacks. Love the shot with the brightly painted boats under a threatening sky.
I could do a post just on the buildings and dwellings along the way.Amazing what they live in. Many shacks. Actually there are many companies who provide tours of the Mekong to visit the floating markets. Luckily, we hit it on an un-touristy day. The photo you mentioned is my favorite.