We had a bit of a rough start on this leg of the trip. After we had made our plans and hotel booking in Can Tho, we found out it was a holiday long weekend in Vietnam. It was reunification day and labour day. With that being said, we arrived at the bus station in Ho Chi Minh city to utter chaotic madness. First of all, getting a bus ticket is not very straightforward – we wanted to go with a reputable bus company (some of them are very sketchy) so we stopped in at the Futa bus office in district 1 near our hotel. It was super busy in the bus office because of the holiday but we managed to ask someone about tickets to Can tho. We were told we couldn’t book them at that particular office and had to go to the office in district 5. Instead, we asked our hotel to call the bus station to make a reservation for us, which they gladly did. They gave us a piece of scrap paper with our name, bus time, seat numbers etc – no official voucher or anything. The next day we went by taxi to the bus ticket office in district 5 where we handed in our scrap piece of paper, paid, and were issued a ‘real’ ticket. Then we boarded a shuttle bus that took us to the actual bus station. You just have to trust the process and not worry because it all seems to work just fine unless it’s a holiday!
We arrived at the bus station to a chaotic mass of people, I think everyone from the city was there catching a bus to somewhere. There was no where to sit, no where to stand out of the sun, we could not even get inside the station because there were so many people, it was utter madness. I was lucky because a nice man offered me to stand in a small, but very crowded, section of shade (it was apparent that I was literally melting and I think he felt sorry for me). It turned out that he had been waiting for over 4 hours for his bus and all the buses were around 4 hours late because of a huge traffic jam. So we started wondering if we should just bail at this point and forget about going all together, but something made us stick it out and like everyone else we boarded our bus 4 hours late.
We were on a sleeper bus which was really quite nice, it was a relaxing 4 hour journey to Can Tho – we were so relieved to actually be on a bus and out of the chaotic bus station. We had wifi on the bus and they supplied drinking water, they also made a stop half way for about 20 minutes. It was around 10PM when we finally arrived and the city was so pretty at night, it was all lit up and it looked like a mini Las Vegas with all the neon lights.
The next morning we were ready to go at 5AM, it’s such a crazy time to head out for the day but that’s when the floating markets are at their best. Our guide, Dat (aka Tom), picked us up at our hotel and we boarded a small sampan which took us to the wholesale floating market. It was so interesting to see a market like this. The boats are large and loaded right up with whatever fruit or vegetable they are selling.
Each boat had a tall flag pole that displayed the item they were selling. The locals selling from these boats live on them until all their product has been sold. You can only buy large quantities at this market with the exception of the small boats that sell breakfast food and coffee or tea. We had Banh Mi from one little boat and we each had a noodle soup from another boat. Then we both enjoyed a traditional Vietnamese coffee from the ‘coffee boat’.
The sunrise was absolutely gorgeous!
We noticed a lot of the boats had eyes painted on the front, our guide told us that the eyes protect the boat from ghosts or evil spirits.
We also saw a lot boats that had this type of fishing net which we had never seen before.
We continued along the river until we reached the retail floating market – these sellers likely bought their product from the wholesale market and they sell small quantities to the nearby villagers. Dat (Tom) bought us fruit to snack on and also some ginger infused banana chips that were incredible and totally addictive, which he later sent home with me.
After visiting the markets we ventured down the small canals that are abundant in the Mekong Delta countryside. We got out for a short walk to see how the locals live. Some of the pedestrian bridges that cross the canals are referred to as ‘monkey bridge’, it’s basically a couple of poles of bamboo with one bamboo pole as a railing…it’s very rickety and unstable, you need really good balance to cross on these!
While our sampan driver waited for us, she made these lovely gifts for us out of palm leaves.
Our last stop of the morning was at an authentic noodle factory. This family has been making noodles for generations. In one day they will make 600 kilo’s of noodles to sell to wholesalers and restaurants. It was an interesting process to see, the noodles are made with tapioca and rice flour, then the mixture is spread thin like a big pancake and steamed. After that, they are put on bamboo mats to dry in the sun for about 3 hours. Then they are cut and packaged for sale. It’s strictly a family run business and the kids will not be attending further education because they will take over the business from their parents.
We had a 2 hour break back at the room and then headed out on our afternoon motorbike tour. We were happy to see that one of our guides was ‘Dat’ again, we sure enjoyed his company in the morning. Our second guide (my motorbike driver) was Thien but he said to call him Jerry – he had been given the name Jerry from an English teacher. That’s when Dat piped in and said we could call him Tom – funny guys. These two guys had us laughing all afternoon and we had a lot of fun with them! Our first visit was to a small temple that had a mangrove tree over 150 years old. This tree was amazing and massive, we couldn’t believe how spread out it was.
After driving on the very narrow country roads that follow the canal, we took a small ferry and arrived at a Meditation Center which is the largest Buddhist meditation center in the Mekong Delta. Even though it is a new structure, it was beautiful to see and quite busy since it was a holiday.
We stopped for a drink across from the meditation center at the coolest cafe ever! It was a ‘hammock cafe’ and it was so relaxing to just sip on a coconut while swinging in a hammock and visiting with Tom (Dat) and Jerry (Thien). While we were here, it started to pour so we stayed in our hammocks a little longer and waited for the rain to let up. The rest of our tour was fantastic and they took us through small villages along the canals and we saw so many little roads lined with trees and flowers, little bridges that cross the canals, and local families and kids waving hello as we drove by.
Tom and Jerry offered to join us for dinner and take us to a place that specialized in Vietnamese pancakes. The restaurant was packed with locals and the food was very good. After dinner they took us to our hotel and we said our goodbye’s.
Touring with Dat and Thien was awesome, they were so open with information, both of them really knew their history and we learned a lot from them. We talked about everything from daily life, to politics, to religion, to how the north and south are still somewhat divided even after all these years of being reunified. It was a long day but so very interesting and we really got the experience that we were hoping for in our visit to the Mekong Delta.
The next morning we boarded our bus back to Ho Chi Minh city for our last few days in Vietnam. We were happy and very relieved that this bus was on time!
Where we stayed: Spring Hotel
Tour Company: Eco Tours Can Tho
Written by: Tammy Hermann…Live~Love~Travel