For our route into Vietnam, we decided to take the less traveled voyage via the Mekong River from Cambodia. The first part of this journey took us to the outskirts of Phnom Penh. We stopped every few kilometers to pick up and drop off people and various cargo. We eventually made it to the dock, where our awaiting boat reminded me of a yellow submarine. The boat was a bright yellow, hot-dog shaped fiberglass vessel. For this trip, we paid US$7 extra for a “fast” boat, while our fellow German traveler¬† paid only US$10 for a “slow” boat. While we were all being ushered to the same boat, confusion filled us and we enquired as to the difference in the tickets. The representative replied “same, same.” Ah yes, same, same….but different. This is our favorite saying in SE Asia. We must hear “same, same” twice a day from vendors, bus drivers, and restauranteurs. And if we bite, it’s always as we expect—same,same…but different.

In the end, it was explained that it was not cost-effective to run a slow boat for one-person so our German friend got a good deal. We were just happy they didn’t trade the fast boat for the slow one! Our trip down the Mekong was relaxing and smooth. We watched cargo boats and dredges ply their way down the river.

Arriving in Chau Doc, Vietnam, “hello, hello” met us at every turn. It must be the friendliest city in the world. Unlike other places, the warm hello’s were rarely followed by a sales pitch. While touring one of the local sights, a girl probably less than two waved and screamed, “ayo, ayo!” It took us a while to figure out she was screaming at us, but as soon as we waved back and returned her greeting she clapped enthusiastically. It is moments like these that rarely make our blog but fill our travel memories.

In Chau Doc, we climbed Sun Mountain amid the laughter and knowing smiles of the locals while sweat drenched our clothes. We were the only tourists attempting to climb the mountain stairs during midday, and apparently we were quite a sight to see. Taking the local bus caught the attention of locals as well. Everyone looked at us like we were crazy to be getting on the green and yellow city bus, but when compared to a US$3 RT motorbike ride versus a 70 cent RT bus ride—the bus ride is going to win for budget travelers like us. I don’t care how crowded the bus gets. Ok, well that’s a lie—we waited for a second bus to come along on our ride out to Sun Mountain because the first was packed to the gills (and I am not exaggerating); there was no room for Western bodies in that thing, even the people on the bus waved us off.

Making our way further into the Mekong Delta, we visited Can Tho. Set alongside the Mekong River, Can Tho is known for its floating markets. The best way to see these markets is by going down to the docks and negotiating with the little, weather-worn ladies yourself. The markets of Cai Rang and Phong Dien start early in the morning, so our little lady collected us at 5am to start the trip. In the twilight of the moon, we stumbled our way down the street to the docks. Everyone seemed much more alert than us. People buzzed about setting up markets and exercising. Chatting friends filled the local sidewalk hangouts sipping their iced coffees. To our surprise, she led us to one of these for our morning coffee. Sitting on plastic step stools, we sipped away the haze of the early morning.

Motoring down the Mekong River in a long-tail boat, we watched the sun rise over the tin-roofed houses. We reached Cai Riang market after an hour of slowly plying through the Mekong. It is a cluster of boats selling enormous amounts of fruits and vegetables. Hulls are so full of goods, some boats sit really low in the water. A pole from the bow with different vegetables hanging off of it denotes what the seller has aboard. Some only sell lettuce, while others are like a grocery store; their poles have lettuce, carrots, potatoes, and who know what else hanging off them. Our guide rowed us among the sellers boats, buying a few things here and there. We think these markets serve wholesalers rather than individual shoppers though. Huge amounts are traded, much more than an individual family can eat.

Making our way to the Phong Dien market, our guide took us through the back streets of the Mekong. We floated down the canals lined with verdant fields and crossed by narrow bridges. We passed many people going about their daily lives. Some washed clothes in the canals while others lazed away in its shade. Orchards and rice paddies hugged the banks. Our guide pointed out various fruits including mangos, bananas, and jack fruit.

Reaching the other market, it was more chaotic than the first. Many rowboats choked the area into a boat jam. We listed back and forth stuck between two sellers, but this allowed us to see exchanges between boats. They appeared to do more trading rather than selling. Potato sacks were weighed and exchanged, their different colors probably signaling a different vegetable. Our journey on the Mekong and to the markets was an interesting and relaxing introduction to Vietnam.

To view all our pictures from the Mekong Delta, see Chris’ ¬†and Jodi’s flickr pages.

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