There are two ferry options when leaving Chau Doc for Phnom Penh. There’s the “slow boat” which takes eight hours and the “fast boat” taking five. Of course, these time frames are approximations and either boat generally takes longer than the marketed time. We choose the “fast boat” in case the other ends up in China.
If Can Tho is the gateway to the Mekong, then Chau Doc is its pulsating heart. With an estimated population of one hundred and twenty thousand it is a giddy blend of Cham, Vietnamese, Khmer and Chinese communities. Situated on the banks of the Bassac river it is a frontier town bordering Cambodia and a popular river crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia.
“Sightseeing is one of the more doubtful aspects of travel … It has all the boredom and ritual of a pilgrimage and none of the spiritual benefits.” Paul Theroux
If you, like me, travel regularly for images, stories and that something different then endurance is your goal. And sightseeing is part and parcel of the exercise, well for freelance photographers it is. Both travel and sightseeing (or tourism if you wish) involve prodigious amounts of walking but equally significant use being made of man-made means of transport. And therein lies the need for an ability to endure lest you lose your mind and commit mass-murder or some equally heinous crime.
Despite the effort of getting up early to be collected from the hotel at 515am, “mellow” is the theme for the day. At the Can Tho waterfront we’re greeted by a chunky, pudgy, squat, strong women with a hugely disarming smile that she flashes with regularity displaying a healthy set of gums and teeth. Her round face is open, charming and delightful. The supposed wife of the little man who sold us the boat tickets she is purported to speak “50% English”. Turns out it is more like 5% with “hello, taxi, toilet and coffee” being her repertoire. Good enough for me.
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.
I’m not attracted to communism, after all what’s in it for me? Likewise I’m a little put off by what passes for capitalism today – conspicuous consumption, a high degree of cosying-up to the state for contracts and favorable terms and the inevitable corruption that arises. Remembering of course that corruption requires two parties to occur – the official and the beneficiary. So I’m interested to witness the “socialist capitalism” or “managed embracing of free market principles” here in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
What’s to be said about Ho Chi Minh City that’s not been said before? Described in romantic sentences filled with superlatives in any guide book you care to look at, the city is everything that’s said about it, and more. The Viet Cong toppled Saigon so that Ho Chi Ming City could rise from its ashes. And rise it certainly does.