Our host told us the floating markets were not any good anymore because of the building of some bridges at prime locations in the Mekong Delta, so more and more produce is moved around by truck. However, she said the local market is worth seeing.
After a leisurely scrambled egg, bread and coffee we head off on the push bikes into town. More by luck than planning we find the markets. We kind of thought we were heading the right way and this was confirmed by the ladies and bikes going the opposite way with baskets of produce. We asked the lady at a small pharmaceuticals shop if we could park our bikes there. Well, it was more pointing, smiling, giving a kind of walking and looking gesture and a thumbs of signal, rather than asking. She smiled and gave us a thumbs up in return. All good, we think. And into the sea of umbrellas and tarps we head.
There is the usual array of both familiar and unfamiliar fruits, vegetables and meats. Live produce, including ducks, chickens and all kinds of fish. What is different about this market to ones I have visited in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand is that people are riding their motorbikes and pushbikes through. So you have to be constantly alert as you look. It is not really a place for browsing but more for just shopping for the days food, in and out quickly.
It proves interesting none-the-less, as are all wet markets, they give you a real sense of the people, what they eat and their daily lives. We spend a while wandering the aisles, snapping photos and recognising various common and more unusual food stuffs. After a while, the need to sit and rest becomes apparent.
It is important to just go with the flow in these hot, humid climes, so we locate a suitable shop and sit for a cold drink and a ca pha. I am on my own as I work out how the local coffee making contraption works. We see a man nearby pour his obligatory iced tea into his coffee. So I do the same. I feel as though I am being watched. Am I doing the right thing? Was his just hot water? Anyway, it tastes good, the tea diluted down the ultra sweet, thick strong coffee.
Then we take a leisurely bike ride through some obviously more well-to-do streets of Cai Be. Larger houses with well maintained gardens and elaborately decorated fences and walls. It is amazing how quiet the streets are without cars. Only the occasional truck goes by. Otherwise, it is just the small, quiet, local motobikes and pushbikes. Kids play happily on the street. Even the littlest ones appear to be street wise and aware of passing vehicles. Everyone is friendly and wanting to say hello.
We are looking for a restaurant our host recommended. It is on the other side of town, she said the food is good, local Vietnamese. So we take her word and search it out. It is quite an eloborate, large affair, maybe it used to cater for large tour buses, or maybe we are to early for any action, but anyway, it looks a little seedy and run down. We head to the Karaoke Bar. There are a couple of workers there, they indicate that it is closed.
So we head down a slippery track following a cafe sign. It looks like it has been a good few years that the cafe has served food. There was a sad looking lake with an upside down floating pontoon. This sort of thing was so common on Batam when we lived there, strange, newish, but deserted establishments, catering for what they think the tourist wants. By day they look crap but at night when you can’t see the crap, the lights come on, the weather is perfect for outdoor dining and they are transformed.
Anyway, unphased, we head back into town, deciding to just grab something for lunch at a small, local place. We initially decided on what looked like a noodle place, but the guy shook his head and indicated that we go over the street and eat at the Pho place. We just shrugged…whatever. Sitting to eat our Pho we understood his decision when three workers arrived and promptly began some concrete maintenance to his pavement out front of his shop. This proved very entertaining as we ate our delicious lunch and did some site management. Up the road a bit a man had set up some very large speakers on the street and it looked like some sort of party or karaoke was underway, whatever it was, it provided very loud background Vietnamese ‘pop’ music for our Pho.
Our little Pho place was the front of a house that backed down to the river, and the local kids were playing a familiar game out the front. We call it the stone game, or Mancala. We learnt our version in Indonesia but it is played in Malaysia, India, and obviously Vietnam and I think Africa as well. This version was just drawn onto the concrete using chalk and the kids played with bottle tops.
After lunch, we headed back to our lodge for lunch and respite. Later in the afternoon I headed off for a solo bike ride. On the way to the ferry I passed some Westerners wheeling suitcases down the gravel track, I said hello, like a local and kept going. Shortly after I decided to head back the other way and on passing our lodge saw the three Westerners sitting out front.
Oh Lordy, I was not told to expect more guests and wasn’t quite sure how to handle the situation. I decided up front was the best approach. I asked, “Do you have a booking?”, “Yes,” they said, “Booking.com.” “Hmmm,” I said, “Have you spoken to the lady?” “Yes, and she nodded.” Of course she did. I told them the hosts had gone to Saigon for the weekend and continued on my bike ride. I don’t think this homestay business is for me.
A little further down the track I banged into a big group of white people who disappeared behind this very fancy wooden gate complete with security guard. I started talking to two German ladies who were taking a stroll and they were very surprised that I was out on my own, they kept asking if I needed help, where is my guide. I said, “It’s ok, I have a map.” And showed them. They were very impressed and invited me into to the Mekong Lodge for a cooking class. I said “I shouldn’t, my mother was cooking me dinner and I should head back.”