Day: June 23rd, 2006

Mekong Delta — Part II

Friday, June 23rd, 2006 | All Things, Travel

The family hosting my homestay had raised seven children, all except the youngest two, ages 7 and 11 — though I would have guessed no more than 5 and 9, all grown; the couple had signed up with the program a couple of years ago to make use of the vacant bedrooms (and, I’m assuming, to supplement their farming income.) During my brief stay, I’d noticed many large families in Vietnam, particularly on the delta where every extra set of hands could be put to work. One guide later explained, also, that in a country with no social security system, extra children would ensure care in old age.

Although the accommodations were not luxurious by any stretch, the family was very welcoming and I could sense that their home was somewhat above average as compared to their neighbors. For one, they had electricity (only 60% of Mekong Delta homes do) and a television set broadcasting the World Cup.

Unfortunately, I soon discovered that my Hong Kong purchased insect repellant proved no match at all for the tenacious delta critters. As I sat down to a dinner of freshly grilled fish, spring rolls, fresh vegetables and rice, the mosquitoes enjoyed a hearty feast of me. Misery! I was forced to retire somewhat anti-socially soon after dinner to take refuge in bed under the mosquito net.

On related note, I should mention that the house was crawling with tiny geckos, which in themselves are not particularly objectionable, but when encountered unexpectedly — say… in the bathroom, eek! — can be quite disconcerting. My housemates, all of whom had been backpacking through Southeast Asia for the past several months, were completely unfazed by their presence and explained to me that as geckos eat mosquitoes, they were actually a welcome site. I suppose one could say the same about the small frog that hopped across the hall past my bedroom later that night.


Wakeup call at 5:30AM to visit the family’s rice fields, where workers had been toiling already for an hour and a half under cover of mist.

Rice paddy

Then off to visit the famous floating markets of Can Tho. I’d seen one of these near Bangkok a couple of years ago, but this was an altogether different experience: much larger, and not a tourist offering in sight. By 7:30AM, Cai Rang Market was buzzing with locals, picking their way through all the fresh fruits and vegetables on offer.

Mekong Delta

Floating Market

“Concession stand” — for tourists.

Floating Market

Having been up, in many cases, since before dawn, some stopped to take a break around 8:30AM as business slowed.

Delta life (3)

Delta life (4)

Water Buffalo

More local boats. The eyes painted on the prows are for ocean-faring vessels to see the boats’ way safely to sea.

Mekong Boats

Just as we arrived at the outer edges of Phong Dien floating market, about 12 miles southwest of the city center, the rain began… first as slight drizzle and within minutes, a downpour. The boat operator barely got the tarp up in time for us to avoid a soaking. Vendors scrambled for cover.

Rainy delta

Within 20 minutes, the skies cleared and it was back to business as usual.

After the rain

After the rain

After lunch and a quick tour around the Can Tho city center — rather nondescript — we started on the drive back to HCMC. But first, another town, another market. More of the same, though one display did catch my eye. Warning: not for the squeamish.

Custard apples — the Southeast Asian version of the cherimoya, though by some accounts, not quite as tasty. As I only know of one person who has sampled that fabled Andean fruit, I may have to try to smuggle one of these back to her for a taste comparison.

Custard apples

Stopping again in My Tho to visit the bonsai gardens:


Mekong delta workers. At the incense factory, a half dozen employees sit in a stifling hot room and grind scented paste, which they then feed into the machines that stamp the incense onto the delicate sticks one by one, thousands of times a day. I would have thought that this entire process could have been mechanized entirely somehow, but apparently labor is inexpensive in Vietnam.

Incense factory

Incense sticks drying in the sun.


Making coconut candy from scratch — which I got to sample, yum.

Coconut candy maker

Steaming rice papers, to be cut up into noodles, or made into summer rolls:

Rice paper

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