The mighty Mekong river separates Laos from north and central Vietnam, wanders through Cambodia and spills out in the South China sea via the Mekong delta in southern Vietnam.
The city of Can Tho is the political, economic, cultural and transportation centre of the Mekong Delta. Like many cities in the Mekong delta it is a waterfront town with a couple of wide boulevards and a warren of narrow backstreets. With a population of some 1.1 million people it is the perfect place to experience some of the Mekong delta’s delights including the floating markets of Cai Rang and Pgong Dien. It is also the perfect beginning staging point for our journey to Phnom Penh along the Mekong river.
We choose to get to Can Tho by bus and duly book through a travel agent in Ho Chi Minh City. The bus arrangements all seem vague yet we have faith that the trip will work out. Part of the appeal of travelling is the beauty by which events unfold and look after themselves. Of course there’s apprehension and a little anxiety, but what would travel be without a little angst?
Somehow the bus trip comes together: the travel agency sends a flunky to find us a taxi because their driver didn’t arrive to collect us from our hotel. Our taxi drops us at the bus station and we’re bewildered by the plethora of busses lined up ready to depart. A kind man, himself waiting for his bus to depart, makes sure we get onto the right bus and we squeeze into our seats. In front of me a little old lady with gray hair pulled into a tidy bun folds herself into her seat – I can barely fit into mine. The bus breaks for lunch and a man with his left foot in a cast explains to us in sign language that we should eat while we can. Thus it is with travel … it all works out somehow,
At the bus station in Can Tho we’re accosted by a gang of taxi drivers offering to take us to our hotel, for a fee of course. With our India travel experience firmly to hand we negotiate a reasonable rate (thanks to the Lonely Planet guide we use as a reference).
We find our hotel and enter into a long debate with the receptionist who cannot speak a word of English. Several phone calls from her to her superiors, and with much sign language and laughter she figures out what to do and we dump our packs in our room.
We head to the Can Tho waterfront with the objective of booking a river cruise to the floating markets and to explore the Mekong delta in and around Can Tho. As photographers we’re looking to secure a boat for two, driven by an understanding guide. As it’s the afternoon, the waterfront is quiet and securing a boat looks dubious so we stop the world for a moment and seek out a cappuccino, as is advisable when things get too hectic.
During our break we chat with a travelling English couple who share stories of their Cambodia travels. They too are looking to secure a boat but also don’t know how to go about it. And then, once again, when we finish our cappuccino and walk along the waterfront, the travel gods do their thing – a round little man wearing a golden motor cycling helmet engages with us and we arrange a 2 person boat for an 8 hour trip to the floating markets while exploring the delta between the markets.
Delighted with the days proceedings, we walk the waterfront taking photos and sampling the street food. Delicious, deep fried potato, deftly cut into a spiral shape and skewered, pork kebabs and rice and vegetables and finally a roti-type pizza cooked on the back of bicycle by a young lady and her mother who close up shop immediately after serving us and scamper away as a military patrol on its rounds passes by.
Travel is about uncertainty a lot of the time. Reducing uncertainty and planning for every contingency is to be avoided, in my mind. The less uncertain things are, the more of a tourist one becomes. And if travel is your pursuit then uncertainty is to be embraced … and with a little bit of help from the universe and the travel gods (whomever they may be) it all works out.