Floating markets, rice paper and pigs

Yo-hey and I were rudely awoken very unnecessarily this morning at 6am by a loud knock on the door from a gentleman who claimed to be ‘hotel law inforcement’. Either his position of porter had allowed his imagination to run a little wild or sleeping in past dawn was breaking some crazy Vietnamese law i didn’t know about! I showered, ate (I can’t really say ‘enjoyed’) my very bland breakfast of a plain baguette and one triangular sized portion of laughing cow cheese spread, provided by the hotel, and I was still ready to leave by 6:50, 40 minutes before our given departure time.

We walked along the river front to the port from which we would charter a small motorboat out to Cai Rang floating market. It wasn’t the kind of market I’d experienced in Bangkok, where vendors sell their wares in tiny wooden paddleboats on a narrow stretch of river only wide enough to accommodate half the number of boats travelling upon it. This was an incredibly large stretch of river and some very large boats by comparison. All the boats displayed tall masts and attached to them, a collection of the wares that they were selling. So there were masts decorated with pineapples, carrots, watermelons, potatoes, as well as other unidentifiable objects.

Having passed the first market we continued along to a small village where we were able to watch the process of rice paper making. I had witnessed this process before in Cambodia but never on such large a scale. There were barrels upon barrels of the mixture, which looked like thick white emulsion and had stained the outside of the barrel as if to mirror this fact. There was a lady thinly spreading the mixture on to a large cast iron plate, which smoked as she did so due to the intense heat below it. A young man would then remove the cooked rice paper, wrapping it arounda thick wicker baton and then placing it on a length of bamboo gauze, along with three other dinner plate circles of rice paper. The now full gauze would then be placed, along with hundereds of others, on a large wooden frame in the garden and left to dry in the sun. There was also a rather enormous and exhausted looking pig feeding her six babies in the pen outside. I spent so long trying to snap that perfect pig picture that I nearly lost the rest of my group!

We next arrived at a rice husking mill where there were so many cobwebs hanging from the rice husking machines that you’d think they hadn’t been used for centuries! Finally we meandered through Phong Dien floating market, where smaller paddle boats mingled with the larger motorixed versions, which gave it much more of an authentic market atmosphere. We watched people on the boats exchange wares and a few of us bought some mangos from a passing fruit vendor.
Back at Can Tho we ate lunch at the neighbouring hotel, whilst watching an over-dramatic, over-acted Korean soap opera on T.V. Alison and her friend (Canadian and British English teachers from Japan) who I met at breakfast this morning were wrestling with a crab next to me, whilst Stacey, Susan and I chose the cheaper and easier to eat option of fried noodles and vegetables.
After lunch we began the journey back to Ho Chi Minh City, stopping at Leng Dinh Pagoda, which is also the site of a small incense stick making factory. Due to the distinct lack of parties (myself excluded; I love local markets) interested in visiting Can Tho market, we arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City an hour early, at 5pm. I checked into a $5 room at the guesthouse nextdoor, the Ngoc Guesthouse. They do actually offer $4 rooms but these were unfortunately full, so for the extra dollar I got cable T.V with very bad reception. As the music channel is the only one you can really appreciate when a serious snow storm is interfering with the picture, this is the one I tuned it to when I arrived back from having a drink with East Rider Tony, who was occupying the same spot in Ngoc’s ‘beer garden’ as when I met him a couple of days ago.
Photo to follow.

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