A rare sign in English said, “Mekong Delta: Orchards and Waterways Tourism” — and that proved to be true. We spent 36 hours in this fertile, heavily populated part of Vietnam, where the Mekong River finishes its journey through 5 countries to meet the ocean. Too many of those hours were spent in the van, but otherwise it was an interesting couple of days in a more industrial area than we’d seen before.
We drove to Ben Tre and then travelled by boat to visit a brick making factory, a coconut processing operation and a home where they make straw sleeping mats. We’ve been repeatedly struck by the resourcefulness of people here — they don’t waste anything — and the coconut factory was no exception. They use the outer husks as sisal for ropes and mats, the inner shell for bowls, the water for drinks, the skin for coconut oil and the meat for food. We also learned that palm trees and coconut trees are not the same thing. Makes sense, now that we think about it — palm oil and coconut oil are not the same thing, for example…And land coconuts are different from water coconuts (shown below) — water ones have no water in them.
We’ve also had several experiences of visiting people in their homes to see what they make there — it’s a form of eco-tourism that generates some extra income for them. The older couple working together to weave straw mats was adorable, and the weaving process was not unlike what I enjoy doing as a hobby at home with wool. We weren’t sure how much of this was all set up for tourists, as in most cases we were watching what they called “traditional” ways of doing things that are increasingly being replaced by machines, but it was still very interesting.
We enjoyed a platter of tropical fruit (including a couple we hadn’t tried before) before heading to the restaurant for lunch. T, G, J took a large tuk-tuk while H and R rode bikes. It was a peaceful 20-minute ride, when the tuk-tuks weren’t speeding past us! Lunch involved rice paper wraps filled with elephant fish, that came to the table whole, displayed on a stand, then filleted by one of the staff.
We stayed in Can Tho that evening and enjoyed a restaurant full of locals that came with a bill for $12 for the 5 of us. We also wandered the night market, which has become a bit of a routine for us. Sometimes it’s full of souvenir stands (almost all alike), but this one was mostly full of bad knock-offs of “NKIE” running shoes and poorly translated English on T-shirts.
The next morning we got up early to visit the famed floating markets near Can Tho. They were admittedly a bit of a disappointment, as we simply boated past them for about 10 minutes having driven 2+ hours the night before to get there. They are a wholesale operation — huge quantities of vegetables and fruits brought by boat from farmers and resold to restaurants and merchants. Interesting to see. Then we stopped at a rice milling factory and a rice noodle-making operation, again in someone’s home. We’ll never look at a package of rice or noodles the same way again!