The scary storm of Pakhar had us spending most of the evening at the hotel. Winds were gushing almost at 110km/h. The window to our room was banging as if somebody was throwing rocks onto it. For all regard to our safety, I decided to put on hold our trip to the Mekong River. Still, to proceed with Cai Be tour or not depended entirely on the weather the next morning.
We woke up early as the trip to Cai Be Floating Market was scheduled to leave Ho Chi Minh at 8 a.m. We hadn’t booked any tour for the uncertainty of the weather. Lucky we knew where to go.
STA Travel Agency. 234 De Tham St. District 1, Ho Chi Minh
The tour officer was still sleeping when we walked in. He made several phone calls to make sure we departed with one of the buses heading to the floating market. We worked our lucky charm that morning, there were few seats left for Cai Be tour.
What is Cai Be?
Cai Be is one area along one of Asia’s great rivers, Mekong Delta. The Mekong originates high in the Tibetan plateau, flowing 4500km through China, between Myammar and Laos, through Laos, along the Laos-Thailand Border and through Cambodia and Vietnam on its way to South China Sea.
Unlike Ho Chi Minh, life at Cai Be is at slower pace. Dazzling and vibrant Vietnamese life can be seen when you cruise the delta. Cai Be is famous for its floating market. Shallow wooden boats containing variety of food products ply to and fro the delta looking for potential buyer. In the Mekong Delta, products are purchased wholesale.
Cost:- USD18 inclusive of the lunch. For a full day tour commencing at 8a.m. until 6p.m., I consider this package as a cheap deal.
My expectation from the tour
Get to see this:-
Bustling Cai Be Floating Market like the old days where waterways were the main mode of transportation
*Picture googled* Property of Mekong Tourism
And the journey began…
Mekong Delta is known as the ‘rice basket’ of Vietnam. On the way to Cai Be, some 3 hours from Ho Chi Minh, eyes widen as the bus cruised the highway smacked in between lush green paddy fields. I couldn’t help but to notice the shrines in the middle of the paddy fields. It is the belief of the paddy farmers that burying a dead body of the family members and build a shrine for the dead within the vicinity of the paddy field will help to flourish the paddy fields and its products.
We dropped by a coffee shop by the road with an interesting concept. As we alighted the bus, we queued to buy our glass of coffee; a choice of Iced coffee, Hot Coffee, Iced Milk Coffee and Hot Milk Coffee and Coconut. Narrow table spread across the compound of the shop with plastic chairs circling it. Even interesting, each table was surrounded by hammocks tied in between pillars. A glass of iced coffee. Myself in the hammock. Occasional breeze blowing. Tell me any better way to spend your Sunday morning at coffee shop!
Once we reached Cai Be jetty, we were then transferred to a longtail boat where the seating arrangements were such that rattan-made chairs were lined at the right and left side of the boat to provide balance. Ours was a basic boat with a rooftop. The Princess of Mekong, luxury boat has a hammock hanged at the back of the boat and a table of fresh fruits. You get what you pay!
Off we went cruising at Cai Be Floating Market. First you need to remember, we reached Cai Be Floating Market at noon. Second, it was not the best season to visit as the best time is the monsoon from June to September. By noon, the wholesalers were more relaxed and settled as most wholesale deals were made early in the morning. We had to settle with what was left. Too bad, my seat in the boat was not feng shui as the liveliest part of the Delta Mekong was on the opposite side (right side). By the time I wanted to take pictures, the tourists at the other end were blocking my view.
I noticed there were more tourist longtail boats as compared to wholesale boats. The first sight of the river life was a huge tourist boat with a string of three narrow wooden boats on top of which three Vietnamese women cladding conical huts sat comfortably.
And then I saw a wholesale boat full with pumpkins. It has been a conventional practice in Cai Be for the wholesalers to hang a sample of what they sell at the top of a long pole attached to the boat. For example, coconut wholesaler will hang coconut leaves and pineapple will hang pineapples.
Apart from the buy-sell affair at Mekong Delta, eyes widen to see the daily life of Viet people living by the river. Some operate their house from the boats while rows of houses can be seen by the river.
a) Public ferry
b) An elegant church
c) Typical house at Cai Be
d) The live-on-board home
e) How you transport your motorcycle
There were so many missed moments at Cai Be due to my seating position in the boat.
Travel tips: To fulfil your photography satisfaction, consider staying one night in Vinh Long to catch Cai Be Floating at its liveliest during the morning.
If you have been to Thai’s floating market, bear in mind that it is definitely a different experience altogether.
Always seat on the right side of the boat!
OVERALL, I DIDN’T GET TO SEE HUNDREDS OF WHOLESALE AND NARROW WOODEN BOATS AT MEKONG DELTA. I WOULD HAVE STAYED ANOTHER NIGHT IN MEKONG DELTA SHOULD MY TIME PERMITS. MAYBE IT’S A REASON WHY I SHOULD REVISIT MEKONG DELTA, NO?
Footnote:- Next right up: Coconut candy factory, bee hives farm, Vietnamese luncheon and Ben Tre narrow canals cruising