I posted a few photos from the Mekong markets when I wrote about my very fun soup angel rescue mission in Cai Rang, one that finally resulted in a bowl of steaming hot bun rieu. It was hard to choose the photos for that post. A mere handful of pictures insufficiently conveys the glory of all that technicolor at dawn. I’m not even remotely a morning person, something that can be confirmed by just about anyone who has met up in the morning hours. Until I get a cup of coffee I’m fairly intolerable, my brain cobwebby and clunky. But there is one exception: morning markets. With swarms of people bustling about, gorgeous piles of fruit and vegetables and more food to eat than I know what to do with, I fly out of bed in anticipation of a market visit.
Tourists head to the Mekong specifically for the floating boat markets at dawn, among other things. In recent years, however, new suspension bridges and rebuilt roads have meant that market wares available only by boat are now accessible by land. While the floating market exists, I found that tourist boats closely numbered the local market boats in Cai Rang; what used to take up a huge swath of the river had narrowed considerably. In its place, the land markets ** were growing quickly, with residents buying a motorbike instead of a boat. According to Theu, who ran the guesthouse I stayed at (more about her soon!), a boat and a motorbike were roughly the same price in this part of Vietnam, and families were opting for motorbikes due to practicality, resilience and ease of use. It made sense, then, that the markets would shift with demand.
[** A small note on terminology. The land markets in Cai Rang are still referred to as “wet” markets because they comprise a wet part (for fruit, vegetables, meat and other produce, where the floor and stalls are literally doused with water to keep them clean) and a dry part where spices, dried goods and other foods and household products are sold. When people refer to a wet market in Asia, it is usually on land, whereas a floating market would be on a boat.]
What follows are a series of photos from the floating market at dawn, with soup sold boat-side and boats skewering their wares on spiked poles to indicate what they had for sale. In addition, there are photos from the Cai Rang wet market, a place most tourist boats skip on their return to Can Tho. Given that the land market was relatively untouristed, people were surprised to see me meandering around, buying dragonfruit and desserts and eating, eating, eating.
This photoessay is a small taste of the deliciously overwhelming, unique feeling of standing in the middle of what seems like total chaos and watching it move around you unperturbed. I know these markets are a normal part of life for people in the Mekong, and having seen similar versions of them during my travels, I am no stranger to their beauty. But no matter how many times I venture to the markets at dawn, I always find myself with a silly grin on my face, spinning in all directions to take in as much as I can.
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More to come soon about the Mekong, including the fabulous story of how the couple that ran my guesthouse met each other in Vietnam.