Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cai Rang floating market and sunset at a lake

Cai Rang floating market is probably the most interesting site in/around Can Tho and that is why travelers come to this little town. Boats to the market leave from Hai Ba Trung, the river-side street. The market opens up as early as 6 and goes on until 9. So most of the tours start at 5-5.30 in the morning and arrive in the market by 6.30. The tour companies charge USD 20 for each person, but if you go to the river-side yourself you can hire the entire boat for as low as USD 15, irrespective of number of people. This is without guide, but from what we saw, I don't think that the guide is necessary.
We got up at 4.30 in the morning and walked to Hai Ba Trung. Even so early in the morning the town looked pretty active. There were already little chairs being arranged on the road-side shops serving coffee. A bunch of people were jogging on the side streets. A few vehicles zoomed by us. By 5.15 we reached Hai Ba Trung and met our boat driver. We had negotiated the ride at USD 15 for four hours ride which included Cai Rang floating market and a canal.
Our boat started at a slow pace and almost every other boat was taking over us quite easily. But we did not mind that as the morning was pleasant and the river was sublime. Many of the boats carrying goods passed by us, heading the same way as we, to the market. The sun held itself below the horizon and it was still dark as we passed a couple of bridges to leave the city behind. The water cooled down the wind flowing downstream now and it became chilly too soon. It was a hazy morning and everything looked grey or dark. First rays of sun brought some colors to life and the muddy Mekong. Soon, a boat came up to us selling coffee which brought some warmth to our body. Our driver did not say much but was a happy man and kept smiling all the way.
Our boat negotiating through the grey light
It was all alight by the time we reached the market. It was full of life. All of a sudden, there were boats everywhere. Some carrying tourists like us, others carrying items for sale such as fruits and vegetables. A few more carried coffee and morning breakfast for those visiting the market. There was shouting everywhere and bargaining and sounds of goods being shifted from one boat to another. Each boat carried a tall stick at the point of which a sample of item being sold would be attached, so as to advertise and to be visible from far. Our boat wound its way through the morning rush, having to stop here and there or sometimes having to retreat to let a bigger one pass. We spent about 45 minutes in the morning and while returning stopped at a floating house for toilet break. The wooden house was floating on tyres and big drums and swayed with the motion of the river. There were a few children inside playing a game and two women doing their morning work. We ourselves enjoyed the swaying for a while before continuing on to the canals.

Cabbage-seller at Cai Rang

Waiting for customers


A floating house behind the boat

Floating house from within
MJ, very happy to get some breakfast

On the way back, we took a narrow canal going to the right from the river and we were in a peaceful place once again. Further down, we went under a few narrow wooden bridges, curving over the canal, only meant for pedestrians and cyclists. Both sides of the canals had water coconut trees, jack fruit trees and a few small houses here and there. Our boat navigated the way through the weed floating on the water, hiding the muddy color of the water under its fresh green. Now we were staring at the sun, but it was a gentle sun, still young in the morning. It was a very quiet place, only sound was that of the motor of our boat. Our mood relaxed and the smile on our driver's face widened. He quickly cut a pineapple and offered us the fresh meat inside. A small shiny bird flew past us before settling on a tree ahead, and as we went past that tree, it flew off again, and settled on the next one, as if to give us a company. Deeper inside, the canal narrowed down and our driver shut off the motor and used the pedals instead. Now the only sounds were that of pedals pushing the water behind and birds tweeting in the morning. A few ducks made a way to let our boat pass harmlessly.
Taking a U-shaped tour of the canal, our boat emerged once again on the big river and took us back towards the city.
Entering the canal system

Staring at the sun

A wooden bridge

Water coconut trees
Our boatman, a happy guy

In the evening we started walking towards a lake lying in the middle of the city. We carried on besides a canal and passed through a small lane of many restaurants and cafes before the lake revealed itself. It definitely was not the prettiest of lakes. Water was less and not so clean. But as the sun started to go down, it started to look better and better. We took a sit on a bench facing towards the setting sun and had a long chat with an old gentleman who was doing rounds of the lake as an exercise. The lake is surrounded by typically narrow Vietnamese buildings and as the night fell, the lights on these buildings started to twinkle. The transformation of the view ahead was just fabulous. Too soon, however, the mosquitoes decided to attack us and we had to make our way back to the narrow street. We found a nice little restaurant and had the most amazing fish for a very cheap price!

Sunset at the lake

After sunset

Fish dish
We headed back to the hotel and came across a sort of open theater with people enjoying coffee sitting on small chairs facing a TV in the center. We got one for ourselves and enjoyed a Chinese movie to end the day.
Coffee at an open theater

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