Our photography travel club is heading off to Cambodia & Vietnam next week and one of our members shared an awesome story about his experience at the Mekong Floating Markets:
The sun rises in a cloud haze over the wide Mekong. Its brown water moves swiftly sending branches and clusters of white water lilies with it. Not a minute of this early morning is spent ‘waking up’ – the river calls and locals always answer without a moment’s hesitation. Boats filling up on fuel, repairmen without shirts restoring the open vessels, merchants loading up on cargo, stubby boats filled to the brim with pineapples – one of 365 mornings in Cai Be.
The boat full of tourists I’m on quietly takes in this humbling scenery, all of them lifting their cameras in unison to take a picture of a floating refueling station. Another boat we pass is filled with orange brick, half-covered with a turquoise tarp. A middle-aged couple is navigating, the missus squatting on the edge brushing her teeth in a small red dish. The smaller, row boat sized craft bob through the turbulent water, most have what can only be described as a weed whacker for an engine; the body of the motor, throttle, steering is mounted waist high for a skipper standing at the aft, the long aluminum neck positioned on a swivel and a tiny prop at the end dipping into the water
I am alarmed and amazed how close homes and buildings are to the water; they are the actual shoreline, nothing to buffer the relentless tides and currents. Any influx of water from rain or tributary flooding could easily rise above the few centimeters spared. Some homes are so low, it seems like the river is part of the house, spilling through the doorway and into the living room.
As our boat gets closer to the center of the floating market, we are swarmed by smaller row boats that latch on the sides of us shouting ‘hot coffee’ or ‘water’ or ‘fruit.’ As quickly as they came, they detach, zip away to find another boat full of groggy, tourist faces. The floating market is clusters of anchored barges. They are packed with bundles and bags of multi-colored produce of every shape and size imagineable. Some easy to recognize: carrots, green onions, sweet potatoes, small watermelons, pineapples. Others are tough to identify on first glance: green oranges, bumpy melons, oblong root vegetables. The larger boats have motors the size of a house generator, no covers to protect their tiny innards. One noisy motor revs up next to me, spewing black diesel smoke on my arm, the same volume as an aircraft engine. AMekongwoman sits in the aft of her 40 foot boat loaded with wicker baskets overflowing with green and yellow durian. One of the few passengers on my boat who is Vietnamese is having a fantastic time ordering all the tasty snacks that float by. Long bamboo poles lay down lengthwise along the boat’s gunnel to assist in transactions too far away for a hand exchange. Other poles stick into the air like flagpoles with the flag replaced by whatever produce is their catch of the day.
Ten pound bags of garlic in red onion bags, huge sacks of potatoes, large grocery bags holding bright pink dragon fruit all pass me at arm’s length. The larger boats serve as the hubs, smaller boats coming to buy and sell. Small boats are mostly the farmers, coming to sell their crop then returning to the fields. The sun creeps over the palm hillsides, allowing the untrained observer to take in all the details of one of the
world’s most unique marketplaces. Laundry dangles off rusty metal hooks jutting off the back of most boats. Some of them are named, the white paint turning into a dusty etching. Most have paint chipping away, peeling back slowly to reveal knotted teak wood. Something about their weathered appearance makes them appear unsinkable.
Now and again, garbage is tossed around by the currents and wakes. A floating black sandal misses his other half, empty plastic bags unable to escape the water’s suction. Looking towards shore, citizens of the land are starting to get busy; they should know they are a few hours behind already. By the edge, men are unloading cargo, women washing clothes in shallow plastic basins. The only thing not recycled by theMekongRiveris time.
About the Author: Andrew Skarvinko is a avid traveler and member of PhotoFly Travel Club. He just returned from Taiwan and a memorable year long journey teaching English in Southeast Asia. You can check out his blog at: Andrew is Asian