Dec 1, 2015

Can Tho, Vietnam

We weren't sure whether we'd been here before; on our Mekong Delta boat trip in 2011, we were never entirely sure where we were. Mr. Wong, our guide, spoke such heavily accented English -- and then the names of the places were so unfamiliar to us anyway -- so we just floated along and enjoyed ourselves whether we knew where we were, or not. Marc had been under the impression we'd come to Can Tho and I was slightly less sure, but when we got there we realized that nope, never been here before. Which is also good! A brand new place.

Can Tho is the largest city in the delta, and one thing it's known for is its floating markets. We'd gotten up at 4 for the early flight from Hanoi, and arrived in Can Tho mid-morning, hopeful that our room would be available before check-in, and it was. We stayed at the Victoria Can Tho, not a kind of hotel we usually stay at, but we chose it because it had a wonderful pool and was away from the busy hustle of the city -- Marc always thinks about what I will need since I get so easily overheated, and also overwhelmed by noise and chaos. So we started off with a quick dip in the pool:

this is early evening, obviously
The hotel is a ways from the center of town, but the hotel offers a shuttle boat that runs in the mornings and evenings; since we were right in that no-boat window, we walked into town to find a lunch spot. Over a bridge, into the busy city, we navigated our way to a place Marc had identified as a great lunch spot, and in fact he got some of the best fried chicken he'd ever had, called "backyard chicken" on the menu:

we've gotten good at eating in places that don't cater to tourists!
backyard chicken!
More pool-lying-about (you'll spot a theme here), and we took the shuttle boat back into town for dinner, which was a steamy hot affair, even though we got the lone table on the sidewalk.

our little shuttleboat, so cute!
benevolent Uncle Ho watches over all. our waiter made sure we noticed him too. 
a quick, steamy walk down the street to two bustling night markets -- the enclosed one, all in red.... 
and the street one. mostly for sale were various kinds of food and plastic junk
The next day, after breakfast, we shuttled into town to organize a trip to the floating markets. We were very proud of ourselves for getting it all done with minimal back-and-forthing. Then a very quick walk through sweltering streets and back to the hotel for more swimming and sun-lounging. I loved that part a lot.

a map on the wall at the place we arranged our boat tour -- a good reference! Can Tho is on the lower branch of the Mekong
passed this food vendor and had to double back to take a picture. I don't want to know.
random temple -- there aren't many signs of religion here, at all 
one of the intersections, just for a flavor of Can Tho. It's an ordinary city, really. 
ordinary and hot. so hot this building caught on fire. (that's probably not why....) 
and so hot that Marc very wisely pushed me to buy a hat. it's so cute, but so cheap it'll
probably melt if it gets wet. still, it serves my purpose!
After another quick swim we walked around the corner from our hotel to this little restaurant, one of three in a row -- two with completely indistinguishable menus. Marc had studied TripAdvisor reviews and knew which one we'd try first, and it was so good we went back the next day. If you're ever in Can Tho, this is where you go for banh xeo:

you can't believe how cheap this is, on top of its amazing fresh deliciousness. 
that big basket OVERFLOWING with so many fresh greens, that omelette, so very good.
A very old woman showed us how to assemble it, and with a sweet smile.
fab summer rolls, obv.
We ate more than we really meant to eat for lunch, but it was so good we couldn't stop. Back to lying around the pool, swimming and floating and reading and napping, and at one point Marc walked along the riverfront to scout out a place for dinner that we'd passed on our evening walk the night before. It looked like a giant food court kind of place, with several restaurants connected in a large space, but it was just one restaurant, and he said the menu had photographs and zero tourists -- so we had our dinner plans made!

it looks like multiple restaurants, doesn't it?  
all the tables were filled with Vietnamese people, men for the most part but an occasional woman 
the waitresses wore either: this short red dress (with a Saigon Beer label),
a shorter black dress with black high heels, or jeans and a white
button down shirt. No idea who got what kind of waitress 
this was our sweet, adorable waitress. I really liked her so much. 
green onions, bean sprouts, garlic, SO good 
and this fried tofu, I will never forget it, ever. it was like a pudding cloud inside. I ate it two nights
in a row, it was so so good. 
beer is cheaper than water in SEAsia, and I like to try all the different beers. Tiger is a
Singaporean beer, and it's OK -- but they serve it with a straw and a giant ice cube!
And when you order beer, they drop a case by your table, even if you just want one.
"Just in case," I guess. Each beer was 67 cents. 
We were up early the next morning for our trip out to the floating markets. There were all kinds of trips you could hire, but we just got a small one, a guy with a little boat, no English, and a breakfast of coffee and juice, bananas, banh mi, and a baguette and a chocolate croissant. We had no idea what to expect, really, either from the floating market or from our specific boat driver. The floating market we'd seen on our last trip was huge, vast flotillas of boats gathered together, and we'd seen it from our relatively large sampan, with a mostly English-speaking guide, dear Mr. Wong. Anyway, our little boat driver showed up right on time, 7am at the boat dock of our hotel, and we were off.

our boat driver greeted us with all these things he'd made with palm leaves -- grasshoppers and flowers and
birds and a crab. and a small basket, which he'd filled with fresh hibiscus.
breakfast -- the banh mi had mushrooms and greens 
the driver was a jokester -- charming at first, and for a while.... 
boats tie their produce to the top of a pole so you can identify what you need. it's very clever.
some boats have a veritable grocery store tied -- all the veg and fruits
women rowing among the big boats, some selling pho and grilled meat 
some sell fresh baguettes 
some boats (like the one on the left) are painted with eyes, to scare off monsters in the river 

We turned off the main river onto a small tributary to visit a rice noodle making factory:

they spread a rice-water slurry on a large drum for just a brief minute of steaming
then the disks dry....
and get fed into a noodle cutting device
Then we wandered in the backwaters a little longer before returning:

a little home 

fishing boats
On the trip back, our driver kept making and draping palm frond jewelry on us to accompany the "halo" he'd made. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were wearing necklaces, bracelets, and I had earrings.

I am fascinated by those grasshoppers 
my 'halo' had grasshoppers, and he hadn't yet given me the necklace.
I don't think the floating market was as magnificent as the one we'd seen before, but it was such a fun trip. And it's fun to float among hardworking people just doing their regular daily routines. The boat driver fitted my 'halo' onto my hat and I just wore it the whole day -- glad to be older and not care what others think, finally -- and it seemed to delight people. Vietnamese people smiled and laughed and said my halo was pretty, if they spoke English. I have no idea what it may have signified to anyone, but I was just in it for the day and had a wonderful time.

We went back to our same place for dinner and fumbled our way through a different version of the menu, but luckily I'd taken photos of the food I'd eaten the night before, and Marc happened to have looked online at the menu and took photos of things he wanted, so we were able to show our pictures and get what we wanted. Unfortunately, I also seemed to get either a flu or bad food....but that's a post for another time.

Can Tho was a fun trip, we enjoyed ourselves -- and that beautiful pool -- and it's not a place either of us feels a need to return to. From here we move on to Thailand. Tam biet, dear Vietnam. I hope to come back.

the pool at night

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