Trip Start Feb 04, 2005
39Trip End Ongoing
Up to now my travels had been with relatives and friends who speak the local language. I had a great time traveling with them but I felt it was time to continue the journey on my own. Although I look Asian, I do not speak the local language nor do I know the areas where I will be visiting. I just carried a small guidebook from the Let's Go series for reference. Thus, with some butterflies in my stomach I set off to explore the southern part of Vietnam on my own. My goal was to vistit Can Tho, Phu Quoc, Ha Tien, and Chau Doc.
My first stop was Can Tho, which is the largest city south of Ho Chi Minh City
When it comes to hiring a boat you have two options. One method is to book it with a tour company or hotel. Another method is to hire a boat directly from the pier. The second method is much cheaper as I discovered later. I hired a boat through my hotel, which cost 310,000 VND ($20). But I discovered later from another traveler who hired the boat directly from the pier, he paid only 190,000 VND ($12). Ouch! It pays to know the market :-) However, by hiring a boat directly, you run the risk of being cheated or worst, robbed by the driver. At least with a tour company or hotel, they won't try anything since you could report them. I guess it all comes out even in the end.
The tour took eight hours to complete. Our first stop was Cal Rang which specializes in fruits and vegetables. There, boats of all shapes and sizes float in a small area displaying their wares. Our second stop was Phong Deim which also sells fruits and vegetables but also includes meat. Afterward, we returned to Can Tho via a small canal that passed through many villages.
When we entered the first floating market, I got this uncomfortable feeling that we didn't belong there. We were like those people who suddenly showed up in the middle of a business meeting uninvited. Since we weren't buying anything we were actually obstructing their commerce. I saw at least five other boats occupied by foreigners who were just observing and taking pictures.
In other countries we could be cursed or yelled at, but not here. The locals just ignored us and kept on conducting their business. I couldn't help but look apologetic throughout the experience.
One hundred and one uses on the river
As we cruised down the Hau River I saw many interesting things people did on the river. Some homes released their waste directly onto the river, especially those homes that were built directly over the river. I discovered this when I flushed a toilet in a restaurant and heard water splashing below. I guess that's why the river looked so brown :-P. But that didn't deter the locals. They washed their clothes, dishes, dogs, etc. on the river. I even saw several locals taking a bath (fully clothed, of course :-P). At one point I saw a little boy defecating right on the river edge and down stream a lady was washing her dishes. Ack!!!