This morning, we got up way too early and headed down to the docks to catch a boat to the famous floating markets. Almost right away, a tiny old lady approached us. “Floating market? By boat?” We nodded our heads, and she pulled our her cell phone. After yelling at somebody on the other line, she beckoned us to walk onto the pier. In the dark, we waited for a boat to show up. After maybe 10 minutes, we heard a stuttering engine and saw a weak light approach. We hopped on the small wooden boat, and off we go!
The floating market is about an hour away. We joined the massive tourist boats and a few other small boats, chugging up the massive river as the dark sky made way for daylight. Shortly after dawn, we made it to the Cai Reng floating market!
Here, we saw lots of boats selling wholesale amounts of fresh fruits and veggies. It’s kind of like the Costco of markets, in a way – only come here if you’re willing to buy a couple dozen of everything! I think a lot of the street vendors who supply the markets buy their fruits and veggies here.
Each boat has a tall pole at its stern, with a sample of its wares strung up high. For example, a turnip boat would have a turnip speared up on a tall bamboo stick to show everyone what they can buy there. It’s kind of a funny system, but it works!
Our boat driver maneuvered us around the market, and we got to see all the wares. I get the feeling many of the people live on their boats, as whole families would peek out from behind the deck. Some boats even had dogs on board!
Unfortunately, as we didn’t go through a tourist agency (and ended up saving lots of money), we weren’t able to communicate well with our driver. Many of the tourist boats had guides, which I could see being helpful sometimes. Much of the time, we were just steered along the rivers without much of any idea where we were going!
We kept driving, but had to stop shortly because something got caught in the propeller. It turns out it was a plastic bag, tangled up and twisted. We tried to untangle it, but were only able to get it off with help of our driver’s knife.
The next stop, which we deduced from our driver gruffly shouting “market two” at us, was the Phong Dien floating market. It was similar to Cai Reng, but smaller, and not just for wholesalers.
Next, we left the big tourist boats behind and steered into a canal – not before another piece of plastic debris got caught up in the propeller again, though! This one may have been a diaper, so thankfully our driver got it off herself.
Then something weird happened. We asked to pull over to use the toilet, and after we came back our driver yelled for me to get on the boat. Tristan, on the other hand, was useful to her. Wildly gesturing and pointing with her knife, she got him to cut down a big bunch of bananas up high on a tree. At one point, I called up to him to be careful and stop if he didn’t want to, and she aggressively shushed me. Pretty sure she was stealing them, using us as her accomplices. Cool.
One bunch of bananas heavier, we puttered our way through the canals, totally unaware of where we were going. We knew the floating market tour usually includes a fruit garden, and a trip to a rice noodle factory. After a little while, we stopped and were let off alongside the river. Our driver motioned for us to walk, and drove away. We had no idea what was happening. From what I’ve read, I think that a guide would have taken this time to show us the fruit trees growing on the way – we saw a papaya tree, banana trees, and some others. We were just left to walk cluelessly, but it was a nice opportunity to stretch our legs anyway.
After cutting off another plastic bag wound around the propeller, we stopped at a restaurant just as it was starting to pour rain. We didn’t order any food, as it was super expensive. We did meet another group and their tour guide, though, and chatted for a bit. Their tour guide was nice enough to chat with our driver, and made sure we got to see the rice noodle factory (as we had no idea how to ask her).
The rice noodle factory was neat. Another group’s tour guide kindly took us around the small factory when she saw we were there alone, and explained the process a bit. Basically, they make a dough of rice and tapioca flour, roll it out and cook it like a crepe, and put it out in the sun to dry. Finally, the thin rice cakes are put through a machine that slices them into thin noodles. So cool!
Our driver seemed to get more grouchy and cantankerous as the day went on. I gave her the benefit of the doubt at first, thinking that maybe the language barrier just made her seem rude, but yeah I’m pretty sure she was actually just rude. We were happy when our tour ended, and we were finally on dry land again! It was too bad our driver was such a grump (who also casually stole the bananas Tristan harvested – they just disappeared..), but we saw everything we wanted to anyways. After 7 hours on the boat, even though it was only noon, we were dead tired.
We spent the rest of the day just taking it easy, before walking to the unofficial hot pot alley later in the evening. We went into one of the busiest places, and got a huge pot of duck & spicy tofu hot pot for 120,000 dong. I swear there was almost a whole duck in that pot! The broth was so delicious, and we got unlimited greens. I know that doesn’t sound super exciting, but I’ve been seriously missing my fresh vegetables. It’s hard to eat out and eat healthy!
Once we were sufficiently stuffed, we headed back for an early night of sleep (finally!).