Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Mekong River

Before I get to the crux of this blog post let me show you a little something I've been wanted to show you for a while:
The (in)famous bia hoi
And now for the crux.

I spent most of today on the Mekong River. I had to get up at a ridiculous hour this morning to get on a boat that would be taking me (us, as it turned out. A Canadian couple was also on the boat) on a trip along the Mekong River. The idea was that we'd catch the sunrise while on the river then head down to Cai Rang floating market followed by another floating market and then a meander back to Can Tho through the mangrove-lined canals.

I just killed the crus of my blog post, I've managed a synopsis of the day's events in a single paragraph, which happens to include the world's most ungainly sentence. But I digress.

The sunrise.
We set off really early, cruising down the river in the early morning light, waiting for what was supposed to be an amazing sunrise. Needless to say the sun rose, but certainly not amazingly. Something about it rising over construction cranes and steel pipes nullified the effect a bit. The sun definitely was a striking orange hue, but the setting let it down a bit. Honestly I blame bad timing on the sun's part, really. It was like timing a stage entrance to collide with one of the moving props. Sloppy, really.

Vietnamese madness on water. Cai Rang floating market.
With the sun letting the team down a bit, Cai Rang floating market needed to make up the lost ground. And it did just that. Cai Rang came out of nowhere with a stunning entrance to the sound of outboard motors and lapping waves (I'm extending my stage metaphor by the way). Hundreds of boats had moored near the bank of the river and their owners were peddling their wares to the surrounding boats. The market itself was incredible, but I must confess a little disappointment in the variety of wares available. Most boats were selling pineapples, watermelons and other fresh produce. With the exception of a few boats selling crabs or fish there was very little on offer besides fruit. Our guide bought a couple of pineapples and we navigated through the market for a while before heading off.

We ducked down a little canal shortly after leaving Cai Rang. It was in this fated place that I had an epiphany of epic proportions. We moored at a little Vietnamese coffee shop/sitdown place with coffee and tea... I don't know what you would call it. Restaurant certainly doesn't fit the bill. Anyway, we moored at this little place and got out of the boat. Our guide then took us to see how the Vietnamese people make the fabled Pho. We were able to see all the steps in the process and were quite amazed by how much work goes into making those delicious noodles. After gawking like idiots at the process we went back to the coffee shop. I'll call it a coffe shop from now on, it makes life a little easier for me.
An epiphany in a glass.
 So we sat down and a menu was produced. I'd heard that Vietnamese coffee is good, so I ordered a hot coffee. Ice coffee was also available, which is why I called is a hot coffee. A tiny, steaming glass of coffee arrived five minutes later bringing with it a rich aroma. That first sip was the start of the epiphany I mentioned. Vietnamese coffee is the greatest thing ever to grace the planet. It blew me away. It was rich and flavoursome, potent but not at all bitter. It was almost creamy in its texture. Quite plainly, it is the greatest thing that happened to me today. I left the coffee shop wanting to go back for more immediately. And at 10 000 dong (R3.50) a glass, I should have. But we had more of the tour to do.

The nest floating market we reached was smaller than Cai Rang, but a little more diverse. Apart from freshp fruit and veg, there were cloths and clothes available. We only spent long enough at this market to buy some carrots as there were very few boats there in comparison to Cai Rang. After our brief stop we headed off the Mekong river into a nearby canal. What lay ahead was a slow, peaceful meander down canals lined with mangroves. We puttered along, snaking back and forth with the river for a couple of hours until we reached another coffee shop/lunchy place. After the gentle cruise down the canals, sitting and having an ice coffee in the shade was pure bliss.

After nearly 8 hours of Mekong River cruising we arrived back at Can Tho. It was 1 o'clock and it was sweltering so I headed back to my guesthouse to cool off near a fan. I then dawdled my way around the riverside district and made my way to this internet cafe to blog about my day. I'm off now to have some chow.

I'm running out of dong jokes already

P.S. Look what I spotted floating in the river. 
Pollution is pretty bad, but this is just ridiculous!
He shouldn't be smiling.

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