11/01 – 12/01
After the rather interesting experience drinking rice wine with the locals I suffered slightly in the morning. As part of the trip arranged with Phat was a boat trip to the floating markets near Can Tho, so getting ready for 6am with a bad hangover wasn’t easy.
In the end I somehow managed to get to the boat on time, and I think woman on the boat (as she was the only person on the boat she was from now on the captain) knew immediately what happened, as I was greeted with a big grin.
The good news what that I had a private boat, so I was had plenty of space to make myself comfortable, while the captain was dealing with the engine and the rowing blades behind me. The itinerary was to visit the main floating market on the Mekong near Can Tho, then heading to a smaller market around 1 1/2 hour away from Can Tho, heading then to Can Tho via some smaller canals so I could see more of the area. Before we left, I got some wee presents from her though, a little headgear, a necklace and some little animals – all made from bamboo. It was actually a nice little gesture, and I actually wore the necklace and the headgear – which earned me some stares on the markets from locals and other tourists, followed by laughter. Well, it gave them a reason to laugh about a stupid tourist. But I think the captain appreciated that I didn’t just put it away straight away.
The 20 minute boat ride to the first market gave me some time to rest my head. The first floating market is hard to miss – as it is located in the middle of the Mekong. As we arrived rather early (it was only 6:30) it was still buys with locals buying fruits, vegetables and anything else they needed. It was rather impressive seeing small boats buying from medium sized boats and rather big ones, all filled with pineapples, melons etc. In addition you were able to buy coffee, Pho and other snacks from vendors on boats. Seeing all the good looking food it was disappointing not being able to buy anything, as I knew my stomach wouldn’t have agreed with food and a boat ride with an hangover. For anyone else I would highly recommend not having any breakfast when leaving for the market. After floating around the market, seeing all the vendors doing their business we were off to head to the second market. My guide advised that it will take around an hour, and suddenly handed two life vests in a bag, I was supposed to use them as a pillow. Grateful I took them and instead of watching the scenery of forests and some houses I was able to sleep for a while. And it was a very good thing.
After an hour we arrived in a village, and located in one of the smaller arms of the river was a much smaller floating market. Even though there were no big boats around like at market #1 I actually enjoyed it more. It was not easy to navigate between all the small boats with vendors, locals buying things and several other private boats, and we bumped against several boats, none of the locals being bothered at all (I guess this why you have some tires on the front to protect the boats – and maybe they are used to female drivers….). It was fascinating to watch how all kind of food was sold, some vendors enjoying a little break to have food, and once again I was gutted That I wasn’t able to try of the tasty looking food offered on some boats. I actually didn’t see any of the larger boats for organised trips, so I am not sure these tours go there. So it might be a better idea to get a private boat.
After the market we headed back to Can Tho, just not via the Mekong, but turning into one of the little canals. This was just great to see some of the rural area of the Mekong Delta you can hardly see when on the road. The trees and plants on both side made everything looks a bit greenish, and an additional bonus was the shade provided. It was so quiet (especially when my guide switched off the engine to row – or to clean the propeller from plastic bags, which unfortunately happened quite often – both on the little canals as well as on the Mekong). At one point we stopped and she asked me if I want to walk along the path. I made it very clear I would rather sit and enjoy the scenery from the calm water – I felt the less I move the better I feel. I therefore declined the offer for stop at a little restaurant (where I assume most private boats stop). Instead I was happy to see the wooden bridges that goes over the canals, the villages and the locals while being comfortable on the boat.
After over an hours we were then back on the Mekong, and while I initially watched the houses built next to the water (some of them having garages for their boats on the water, or having floating gardens!!!), I soon managed to get some more sleep. This time I woke up and suddenly felt much better, and actually refreshed. What a little nap can do. This actually enabled me to enjoy the last part of the boat ride a bit more, while we passed more and more houses along the river, a clear sign that we were close to Can Tho, and also to watch the traffic on the Mekong.
A bit earlier than planned (not a bit surprise as I didn’t take a walk or took a break at the restaurant) we arrived at the tourist pier in Can Tho. It was a nice way to see more of the Mekong Delta. Getting my bag and all the presents I got from the very friendly captain (who looked after me with my hangover, and made sure I felt comfortable on the boat), and I was finally in Can Tho – in the middle of the tourist area. Along the street that runs parallel to the Mekong you find quite a few hotels, shops and restaurants.
I saw a couple getting their motorbike ready, and checked with them how the hotel was they just left – Than Thuy hotel. They highly recommended it, so I checked the single room. I got the choice of a windowless room or a larger room with a balcony. To save some money I went for the windowless room. While it was not the biggest (the double bed filled nearly the main room), it was clean, the A/C worked well, and most important, the bed was very comfortable. A great plus was the amazing staff who where so helpful and provided some great advise
After a little break to fully recover I was off to explore Can Tho. Obviously it was very hot as it was around noon, so after a wee walk to see some of lovely colonial buildings and side streets with quite a few little bakeries selling tasty looking cakes I just stopped at the first food place that looked busy. Being back in a popular tourist destination people here actually spoke English, so I just took what was recommended – a local dish containing noodles and prawns – and some spices. While hot it was still nice, and had a good laugh with the owner, her family and some guests.
It was still a bit too hot for a walk, so after lunch I thought it was time for a coffee break. Conveniently there was a rather large café near the restaurant. So moving the few metres (it was hard work due to crossing a busy road) I found a nice place to watch the locals in the café, the street while enjoying a nice ice coffee (the staff here couldn’t speak English).
After the longish break I finally managed to face the heat and tried to see a bit of of Can Tho. Walking away from the river front where all the hotels were I just crossed a rather large bridge, and according to my little map that my hotel gave me I realised that there was a beach in Can Tho, yes, a beach on the Mekong river. Intrigued I made my way there – crossing one of the bridges to a peninsular, and soon enough I arrived on the recreation part for the locals – the local beach. Don’t get me wrong, this beach will not challenge places like Phu Quoc, but it was still a nice place to visit. It is located where two large parts of the Mekong merge, so the Mekong was massive here. The locals clearly enjoy spending time there in the afternoon, sitting in one of the cafes next to the beach or using some of the water activities that includes Jetskis or the infamous banana ride, while kids were playing in the water (everyone was wearing life vests – I was rather surprised). In addition you have a great view of the surroundings. While walking a bit around and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere I was asked a few times by locals to take picture of them – maybe they have mistaken me as the local photographer.
When I finally walked away, I stopped briefly at one of the little stalls located in this area, as I saw some interesting looking snacks. Taking it as a good sign I just sat down and watch the owner’ daughter preparing the food for some locals, before dealing with my order. For some reason it seemed that she took more care for my order. It seems not a lot tourists bother visiting the beach area. She was relieved when she saw my smile when I have eaten the food – and it really was nice.
On my way back I just walked along the Mekong, enjoying the view along the river, watching locals collecting mussels and garbage in the water or cleaning cloth. At the end of the path I was able to see the touristy side across the river, and I think that it was more pleasant on this side, more relaxed and a bit more peaceful, sitting down next to some locals trying to fish.
Being back near the hotel I enjoyed a little break near a park with a massive Uncle Ho statues, watching the locals and the busy ferry point with boats full of locals getting ready to cross the Mekong to the houses on the other side. I realised the best way to enjoy Can Tho is to take it slowly.
For dinner I wanted to try something new, and when I spotted a dish I have heard about but never tried, I asked at the hotel if they could recommend a place to have grilled snake.
Instead of the touristy place the receptionist gave me direction to a local place. She ensured me that it is good – they have sent a Belgium chef there a few weeks ago, and he was delighted.
So off I was to find this restaurant. As I walked part of that route earlier, it was easy to find the main road – however I didn’t get a hang on the numbering of the alleys straight away, and turned into a rather dark alley, not finding a restaurants, just a few locals working in small shops looking surprised to see me there. After a while I understood the system, and found the right alley. But walking there I couldn’t see a restaurant, until I realised I had to walk through the backyard of a house to get there – before getting through the living room to finally arrive at the restaurant at the back of two houses in a small alley. The place was busy with locals, and I spotted the first few snakes grilled on each table. I only got an empty table inside, and as there was no English menu one of the staff who spoke English checked what I wanted, and soon enough a little grill was prepared on the table, and soon I had a plate full of raw little snakes in front of me, with some rice and vegetables.
Not really knowing how to prepare snake, I just put some pieces onto the grill, and hoped it was cooked enough and not overcooked. I think after having a laugh about me, one waitress took pity on me and looked after my food – making sure there was always something on the grill, and took it off when ready.
So how was it I hear everyone ask… Firstly, the small ones are difficult to eat, as there wasn’t lot of meat on the bones (which really looked like fishbone). The skin was actually nice, the little meat not bad. The issue was that there were eggs on the grill as well – and the one inside the pieces were very chewy and not very tasty, while the one fully grilled were a tad better. Overall it was a nice experience to try it in a local place, but I wouldn’t rush to have it again.
I finished the evening with a late night drink in one café close to the square at the riverside, which was still busy with locals. I actually met the couple who were on a private boat who had a small race with my boat in the morning. It was nice to have a drink and share more stories. It was another great day – despite the hangover.
The next morning I took it very slowly. The amazing staff of my hotel was able to book a bus ticket for me to get to Rach Gia – the gateway to the Phu Quoc island.
So I had a little time for another little wander. Another interesting point of Can Tho is that some cafes where using very light water sprays to cool down the seating area. Haven’t seen that one before. Obviously I timed my stop at one café perfectly, as I just got my coffee when it seems the whole family was gathering for lunch – it was more like a buffet on the table. They politely offered me some spring rolls (well – I clearly needed more food.
But my real lunch I had at one of the touristy places along the river. The food was actually quite nice, and a great way to enjoy the view for a last time.
Slightly delayed I was picked up from the hotel around 14:30, and my rather short stay in Can Tho was over.
Can Tho is a very popular place for tourists – and I can understand why. The location at the Mekong here is amazing, as quite a few different arms of the Mekong merge here. It also offers the chance to visit a few floating market – again something very nice to see. But while it is touristy, it is not over-crowded by tourists, and like other places I didn’t get hassled at all. It was rather a laid back atmosphere, which is a big plus. So I would say it is worth a visit. I enjoyed the trip to the floating market (despite a terrible hangover), though I enjoyed the smaller one 1 1/2 hour away bit more.
In addition I enjoyed spending some time at the local beaches, which is very popular place for the locals – it got a bit busier later in the afternoon. And having the snake dinner was a good experience – always nice to try new things (even though I won’t rush to repeat it). I still prefer the lesser visited part of the Mekong Delta, but Can Tho is good place too visit (and apparently very popular for people cycling there – as I met a few)
The Than Thuy hotel was a very good choice. I am sure it is even better to have one of the rooms with the balcony, but the room was clean, the bed was comfortable, and the staff was fantastic – really trying hard to make sure I enjoyed my stay. I really couldn’t ask for more, and would therefore highly recommend it.
Leave early for the floating market to see it when it is busy. I was at the first market around 6:30 and it was a good time to see the locals doing their daily shopping. Also, a private boat seems to be a better option – you are more flexible, and should be able to visit the smaller one 1 1/2 hour away. Visit the beach – it is a great place to watch the locals enjoying their free time. There are plenty of restaurants, and as usual the one along the river are more expensive. Heading towards the bridge to the peninsular will lead to you more local food places.