Once again, we had everything perfectly under control. Nice hotel on the water front, close to the center of town and the lively market area. Specifically important: the hotel had the perfect restaurant, floating, providing the ideal setting for, well, a beer in this case - neither gin nor tonic to be found in town. There is a special quality in sitting on a wooden platform, seeing river life pass by in the late afternoon, in the evening, mid-morning again, any time of the day, really. Small canoes transfer people from one side to the other, fishing families - wife paddling and husband operating the net -, go about their business, huge sand ships and rice boats are ploughing through the canals. All very peaceful, harmonious.
River traffic in front of the hotel, including (1) the red ferry lady, (2, 3) various fishermen, and
(4) curiously, a deck of cards floating by (somebody must have been very angry about losing!)
Chau Doc is a dusty town on the river. Houses on stilts where necessary, once again water can rise ferociously in the wet season, but here all houses, walls and roofs, are made of corrugated iron, and the stilts are mostly concrete. To be sure, the larger part of Chau Doc is on land, this is a real city, including its inevitable market, where the focus is totally on fish, every type, every sort, every way processed. It also has a bank, where we changed money; instantly becoming millionaires again, in dong this time (Cambodia operated largely in dollars, the riel was only used for small transactions and change). The sight inside the cashier’s office of the bank is priceless.
(5) Cashier’s office of the local bank, which stacks local currency notes wherever they can find space.
(6, 7, 8, 9) The local market sells every kind of fish, fresh, dried, processed, you name it you get it. I just don’t have a clue how to name it. Except for the fish sauce, of course – Vietnamese are the most ardent users of fish sauce. By the way, imagine the smell at the market...
A two-three hour boat tour includes the inspection of a canal dug as early as the 15th C to alleviate high water levels, allegedly using 80,000 labourers (quite amazing, if you think about it), and of a fish farm, with the fish kept in netted off cages under the platform; apparently there are over 50,000 fish in one such cage, and all of them try to come to the surface at once if they are being fed! The town has also a significant Muslim population in the form of a Cham minority, holed up in a village on two sides of the Bassac River. This village is mostly noticeable for the many very young children selling home-made cookies, right under a sign saying that you should not buy cookies from children if you want to avoid getting colic. Beats me, why they are still trying! The real charm of such tour, though, is plop-plop-plopping through the back waters, quiet canals past people’s back yards. At the end we come to a floating market, essentially a bunch of boats moored in the river, each one selling a different fruit or vegetable. They keep those underneath, but advertise by hanging one of their fruits on a bamboo mast. It takes a day or two, three, to sell the contents of an entire boat, after which the boat owner lifts the anchor and goes in search for new stock; the Mekong delta is full of orchards and vegetable gardens.
(10) Fish in a fish farm, trying to get to the food.
(11) Children trying to sell cookies to an unsuspecting tourist, note the warning sign on the building.
(12) Chau Doc canal, and (13) riverside house, all corrugated iron and concrete stilts.
(14) Fish drying in a village, and (15) Woman using a local bridge.
(16, 17, 18) Floating market, including advertisement and interior storage – here, too, is water melon season.
The advantage of a hotel on the river is that the boat drops you, well, at the hotel’s terrace. Where we continue the process of seeing the river life pass by. I could spend a week here, easily.