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Mekong River cruise at Chau Doc

Wednesday 11th November

We were up very early, had breakfast, and were picked up from the restaurant by Long Nguyen (from the Hoa Sen bookshop) and a boat "driver". I noticed that the boat had no lifejackets, but reckoned I could swim to shore ok — and Richard had been doing a lot of swimming as part of his physiotherapy, so even one-armed was probably a better swimmer than me.

part of the floating market at Chau Doc

the morning's shopping
Our first visit was to a floating market. The floating "shops" have long poles which display a sample of their wares, which here were mostly fruit and vegetables. Peddlars and others were coming out from Chau Doc in small boats to buy goods, and some merchandise is also trans-shipped for Cambodia. (Though his accented English was sometimes hard to understand, Long was very knowledgeable.)

We visited a banana "shop" that was packed full of bananas. It had come up the river from Can Tho, a ten hour trip, and was heading back down the next day.

The second stop was at a fish farm, which consists of a floating house with the river underneath it enclosed to hold fish, in this case catfish for sale to China. We were told that it costs $100,000 to build a fish farm — the special wood comes from Malaysia and Cambodia — and that it will hold 100 tons of fish when they are fully grown — it takes 10 months to reach selling size at around 1kg. At $6 a kilogram, that makes the contents of a full fish farm worth half a million dollars, and the banks will happily take fish take as collateral for loans.

Diseases are a problem, and some people have moved away from the river, into aquaculture in converted rice ponds.

Richard feeding the fish
a floating house fish farm

The final stop was at a Cham village, where we visited a house of weavers and the mosque. The village has links to Malaysia, where students go to further education.

One of the house pillars had marks showing where the floods had peaked each year: in 2000 the floods had reached the first floor, as high as Richard could reach; 2009 had been relatively low, and the water had clearly receded from its peak quite some way already.

flood levels from different years

There were lots of other sights along the way: the pump for the Chau Doc city water supply, boats of all kinds.

photo photo photo
boats on the Mekong

We were returned right to our hotel restaurant.

We visited a nearby Chinese Temple and the markets, and found a dessert stall where we had banana and bean desserts, which were strange-looking but tasty. Then Richard went back to the hotel, while I went to the central square and looked at another temple, this one Buddhist, with a Virgin-Mary like Guanyin. At the Hoa Sen bookshop, Long helped me book a car to take me to Tra Su that afternoon, which took him a bit of phoning around at such short notice.

Back at the hotel, we had coffee in the restaurant, which was being gently rocked by the wash from boats. There was a bit of a breeze and it was a bit overcast, so quite pleasant sitting in the shade.

The moving weed made panoramas problematic, but I sat there for some time taking photographs: boats half-full of water transporting live fish, a woman ferrying people backwards and forwards across the river, floating "cafes" selling drinks, bulk cargo carriers, and so forth. Every boat, big or small, was potentially photographable, and I used the telephoto lens extensively for the first time.

I checked my email and confirmed that Facebook was blocked in Vietnam, then we had lunch in the restaurant and I booked the boat to Phnom Penh the next morning.

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