Monday, January 21, 2013


I’m aboard another boat in Vietnam's Mekong River Delta, only this time the wooden craft is larger, and motorized. We’re cruising upstream on a wide expanse of the Can Tho River, and I’m amazed at what I'm seeing. We're surrounded by hundreds of boats, in all shapes and sizes.

There is a flurry of activity, since these watercraft double as mobile floating shops. Vendors are drawn here from all over the province to sell their wares, mainly food. The surrounding boats are burdened with cargoes of pineapple, watermelon, vegetables and rice. Some craft are so heavily loaded, they almost appear to be sinking.

This is the floating market of Can Tho, and these floating markets have been the centers of commerce in the delta for generations. Buyers navigate their way through the larger vessels to find their chosen cargo. They pull up their empty boats alongside the selling boats, then bargain out the prices, load up their goods, and move on. Most smaller boats are piloted by women, who row their boats expertly, as well as any sailor. For these boat driving ladies, this is just another day of selling or shopping for their family.

The size of these riverboats ranges widely, from 60 foot long diesel powered freighters, all the way down to eight foot long rowboats. They have a rustic look to them, since none of them are made of fiberglass. All of them are made of wood, and few are painted. Their bare brown color nearly matches the brown water of the dark river that they are floating on. I see four large boats lashed together in a row, where buyers can more easily walk across them, from one over to the next. This way they can more easily load a few different items all at once. Many boats anchored and lashed together here, create the Mekong Delta’s version of a strip mall.
 This floating market is one reason that Can Tho city is the delta’s economic center. Besides being used for floating shops, some of these boats also have entire families living aboard. A few of the floating residences have laundry hanging from clotheslines strung along their tight living quarters.

I spot some youngsters working on boats right alongside their parents. This must be a difficult life for children; I wonder how many of these young river dwellers are able to attend school. 

Like much of the delta, there is still no bridge to get here by car. Although Can Tho is the largest city in the delta, I still had to cross here by ferry. But there are bridges under construction, so I wonder how long this unique market will continue. Since much of the delta lacks roadway access, this floating piece of Vietnamese culture will live on into the future.

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