Sunday, February 18, 2007

Travel Market: Adrift on the Mekong River

This is the sixth in a special series of food reports from my recent trip to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Return every Sunday and Monday for the latest postings.
To escape from the chaos of the city, I took a detour to the Mekong Delta for two days during my trip to Vietnam. The Mekong River is a major river in Asia that cuts through several countries, including China and Cambodia. It ends in Vietnam before emptying into the Pacific Ocean.

It's amazing to see how the people of Vietnam is so dependent on the river. It provides a major transportation highway for people who live along the river. Vietnam is still a growing country, so there is basically just one highway running north to south. So with just one highway, it can be a long road to where you're going. That's why people still rely on floating down the river to get to where they need.

In the two days in the Mekong, I visited the cities of My Tho and Can Tho. My Tho is the first major city along the Mekong Delta and just an hour from Saigon/HCMC. It's noted for its tiny islands that produce a variety of fruits for sale. But the highlight was in Can Tho, the provincial seat of the Mekong Delta. Quite a large city in itself with wide roadways and hotels, Can Tho is also the place you catch a boat to view the floating market known as Cai Rang.

The floating market is this amazing gathering of boats of all sizes, where boat owners are farmers who come in the morning to sell their produce from their boats. People would let others know what they have for sale by tying up the different items on a bamboo pole at the front of their boats, and then if you're interested, you sail on by and barter.

But not everything is on the water. Cai Rang also has a regular street market where sellers work out of booths lining the sidewalks to sell a variety of produce and housewares. It's a real taste of the local river commerce.

Here are some photos from both the floating market and regular land market near Can Tho.

Here a beverage seller grabs on to our boat to sells us some drinks. The sellers can get pretty aggressive, not letting go until you buy at least one drink.

A shopper takes a water taxi home with all her produce.

A little boy and his father sells bottled water.

This seller shows off more than his produce to tourists floating by. Notice the bamboo pole with the various items for sale.

At the street market, this booth sold a variety of flour of different colors.

Isn't it cool how they weave their scallions together for sale? It's almost too pretty to eat.

Pickled cabbage for sale. I used to love eating this as a kid.

This woman has some big pots of piping hot rice soup and noodles for sale.

This is a cool looking root produce. My guess is taro or something similar.

A major produce market at the corner.

Postscript Mekong: Snake wine
One of the unusual items for sale in Vietnam comes from the Mekong Delta. It's snake wine, and as this bottle shows, it's actually a small bottle of wine with a tiny snake inside. This is primarily sold for its medicinal purposes and it has a strong alcohol taste but not in a sweet pleasing way but more like rubbing alcohol. Snake seems to be pretty prevalent in the Mekong. Along with snake wine, the locals eat snake grilled, almost like eel. It's served mostly as an appetizer, not as a full meal. Really, how much meat can it have?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found snake wine on internet, if it can help somebody else: