Visiting the Mekong floating markets in an empty boat

We were an hour too late. The market at Vinh Long took place on the waters of the Mekong Delta, the dramatic labyrinth of rivers, canals and islets that signal the end of South East Asia’s longest river, the Mekong. Boats heavily laden with fresh produce congregated near Vinh Long. But it was over.


Trading on the water

This Mekong trading hub was nestled somewhere in the maze of murky brown waters like milky coffee, encroached on all sides by endless green riverbanks falling over the shoreline.

Farmers and traders ferried watermelons, potted plants, pumpkins, fruits and veggies, and huge sacks of rice from farm to market, and from ship to ship. But by the time we arrived on our boat, just some stragglers were trading pumpkins.


Faces on the Mekong boats

The market rush was over, with little left to see. The tourists had come and gone, and so our tour boat had been cut to half price. It was 20 metres long, thin and pointed, with a bamboo canopy overhead, cartoon eyes painted on it’s black and red prow, and plenty of empty seats.

Jeff described the vessel as an ‘ol’ chugger’, and we pootled slowly through leafy canals, past ramshackle wooden houses, and bulging retaining walls. Missing the market was a blessing in disguise though; this huge tour boat was all ours.


The driver sat at the front, steering casually with his foot, smoking and waving to passing boats. Normally, a tour like this included a guide, however, as there was nothing really left to see, we just had our driver.

A tour from a guy who didn’t speak English

He didn’t speak a lick of English, and occasionally pointed to things to draw our attention. He dropped us off, wordlessly, at a small rice production workshop, presumably part of the tour, but in this case just a chance for his smoke break.

Without any explanation, Jeff and I ambled around, studying machines and objects, and eating some sort of rice bubble product (The driver motioned for us to eat using his hand, and we did so).

We spotted a barge sitting low in the water, carrying a CAT earthmover that was plunging it’s claw ineffectively into the waves, scooping for something. Fishing with a metal claw, maybe? A passenger ferry released a torrent of motorbikes as it docked at a nearby ferry stop.

The Mekong, after several months of travel in the region, becomes an old pal, with many personalities as you bump into it from time to time. It was a strange little trip, but relaxing on the boat without a tour guide (and avoiding the singing, workshop tours and donations) was a refreshing way to just sit and watch this fascinating part of the world go by.

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