We were off to the Mekong Delta today - we had booked a tour as the logistics of organising boats and buses yourself was a nightmare. The tour started at 7:30 with a ride out to a delta town (Ca Mau) where we alighted onto a boat to see a floating market. As it was now nearly lunch time, the market was over and there was very little trading activity. After this it was the obligatory visit to see Coconut candy and Rice paper production. Then off to an island where we could see life in the rural setting. We had bikes to do this - the rural Mekong delta looked highly fertile and was intensively farmed compared to the other parts of Vietnam we had seen. It was then in a small boat (4 seats with a lady rower) to see some of the smaller waterways. The Vietnamese have a distinct style of rowing - standing up with both oars simultaneously - this is mostly done by women but still looked very awkward.
We then were back on the big boat for a trip to our next destination - Can Tho, which is the main city of the region. The trip was very pleasant - through lots of rice paddies and other crops with the occasional town - you certainly saw different aspects of life on the river. The only downside was we were going against the current and tide, so our progress was behind schedule. As it got dark, we found out it was another 1 ½ hours to Can Tho - all in the dark and I didn't trust the local safety rules about lighting boats - ours were powered by a small scooter battery and flickered all the time - other boats had none. Still we made it OK - the last bit crossing the main river toward the lights of Can Tho looked like we were landing from sea as the river was that wide at this point.
Next day, we had to get up early again as we had to be on the river by 7:30 to see the main floating market. The market consisted of lots of fairly sizeable river boats each displaying a fruit or vegetable attached to a large piece of bamboo to advertise what they were selling. It is essentially a wholesale market with the farmers bringing their product for shopkeepers to buy in smaller craft. We attached ourselves to a boat selling pineapples - he did a roaring trade preparing and selling them to tour parties. We had an opportunity to see the market at close quarters in a smaller boat - a fascinating experience.We then had a couple of visits to rice noodle places - couldn't call it a factory as it was a couple of machines run by a family. They seem very proud of their recycling as nothing they produce seems to go to waste - even running a small pig farm to use all the by-products. After this we had a chance to look round Can Tho before moving off to Chau Doc - the border town with Cambodia. Here we were staying in a floating hotel on the river which gave some nice vistas. We had dinner on the deck, looking over the river towards the town - great apart from all the insects!
We quite liked the Mekong Delta area - the people are friendly and the pace is a little less hectic than Saigon so we decided to stop in Chau Doc another day, before moving off to Cambodia. We borrowed some bikes from the hotel and went onto the road, We were met by all the small kids practicing their 3 phrases of English. This area is less touristy so we were a bit of a novelty.We caught a ferry over to the town (we were moored on an island) and set off to Sam mountains - a large hill close to Chau Doc with lots of temples with good views. As it was hot (well over 30C) and we had cycled 7km there, Fran decided that we would take the motor bike taxi up the hill, she decided it was better to risk the motor bike than exhaustion in the heat - a short journey but interesting! The views were amazing as all the land below was completely flat with large parts under water. We cycled back via the market to stock up on fruit for the next day , then spent the rest of the day relaxing as it was just too hot and humid - we shouldn't have complained so much about the cold a couple of weeks ago! We caught the ferry back to the town for dinner - we were stared at constantly as I don't think they see too many westerners on the ferry.