February 1st to 3rd
07.02.2016 30 °C
Having an adventurous spirit, I decided to head off to a little known floating market in a place that actually I have never found on a map of the Mekong Delta. I found out about it as it was on a photography tour which I would have liked to have participated in, but could not do it solo. So instead I decided to try and get there on my own. What makes Nga Nam special is that it is located at the convergence of five rivers so the setting is quite amazing. I headed off early in the morning to a town in the vicinity of Nga Nam named Soc Trang. As I was likely going to get to the floating market when it was mostly over, I added a little side trip to my adventure hoping to find some salt fields on the beach at a town called Bac Lieu on the coast. A place that I would love to have gone on this trip to Vietnam is these salt fields is near Nha Trang which is north of HCMC. quite aways I just could not fit that into this trip so thought I might just find what I wanted to see in the deIta. Just to give you some idea of what I am talking about I found some great photos on line on this website if you want to look it up.
In order to find this area, I had to take motorbike (with a driver of course) and he apparently knew where to go. This is of course with showing them pictures of Na Trang and pointing to Bac Lieu and using the app google translate, which is always a bit of a question as to whether it is correct. (Sometimes the translation is ridiculous. The most off it has been was when I was visiting a temple and I was trying to communicate with a young monk and it translated what he said as "Spicy men size 33" when we tried it again, it changed to "That tree is a huge tree". So when people get a strange look on their face with google translate it almost certainly is a bad translation. Still it is a help sometimes.) It was quite a trip which took us on tiny little paths with precarious little bridges over waterways, some so unstable that the driver had me get off. We arrived at four measly salt mounds in the middle of a slough with no ocean beach to be seen. He was so excited! Finally he found the ocean but it was a swampy shore and what I had seen in a photo was not there. Who knows maybe it is somewhere else. So back to Bac Lieu I went on the bike (probably and hour), but the saving grace of the trip was we passed by a Buddhist Temple on the way and I stopped to see that. Here are a couple of pics:
Inside was quite beautiful and unique.
I then got a bus to Soc Trang so that I could get a find a motorbike taxi (known as XE OM) to Nga Nam for the floating market. After negotiating a price, we set off and I spent most of the trip thinking that we were not going to Nga Nam as we did not go the way I envisioned. After my experience in Bac Lieu you can imagine I was doubtful. Sadly to say we back tracked and just 15 kms from Bac Lieu we turned off for Nga Nam. Had I known I would have not gone back to Soc Trang in the first place! Mostly, it was a little scary as we were on a main road and there was a lot of traffic. I had the driver stop several times and pulled out my handy dandy iphone, and used google translate to figure out if we were on the same page. I even phoned Lyly to check and see if he really knew where I wanted to go. The Vietnamese language is really challenging to learn because it is tonal meaning there are 6 different tones that complete change a word when you say it. I have found it difficult to pick up much of the language. I feel it is a bit hopeless as mostly when I try to say words, they don't understand and after a minute or two they say what I thought I was saying but with a different emphasis on the word. However, I am getting really good at gestures! Two hours later (half an hour extra was added due to a puncture in his front tire) we arrived at Nga Nam and I got set up in a pretty good hotel. It was spotless. But as beds are in Vietnam, it was hard.
On my way into town to figure out exactly where the floating market was the next morning, I walked by some highschool students and one of them started to talk to me, practicing her English. She happily walked with me into town to show me where the market was and helped me negotiate a boat fare with a woman boat woman named Moma who would be there at 6am the next morning. I was set. Even though the formal market was finished I spent the next two hours taking in the activities on the river. Luckily enough there was a balcony several stories up that had a great view of the convergence of the rivers and all the life on it. It gave a great perspective of the market area.
View of the convergence of the rivers where the Nga Nam floating market takes place everyday
I watched this man carefully pack his motorcycle for the trip home from the market. He had to support each side with a chair in order to keep balance!
He is on his way. Hopefully he made it home without losing his load!
There were loads of people out in the evening and great street food most of which was seafood, octopus, clams, prawns, crabs and so on. Things seem to be extra festive these days just because it is the run up to TET. I love how people come out in the evening and either have a drink or eat together. It is incredibly social. Then there is the Karaoke which is everywhere and the voices usually are pretty bad. I have gotten pretty used to it already. They have a habit of starting later at night and going on quite late.
Part of my supper that evening
I woke up early as I didn’t want to miss one minute of the floating market experience. It was still completely dark by the time I arrived, but you could hear everyone talking back and forth. Moma was there at 6am just as she said she would be. I had a really nice feeling about her. This floating market was very different than the other one, partly because of the diversity of what was being bought and sold. In Cai Rang, near Can Tho, it seemed almost more a wholesale market, whereas in Nga Nam it was more retail with lots of small boats mixed among larger ones. There was even a butcher shop on a boat with all the cuts of meat displayed at the bow of the boat!
The floating butcher shop - I am getting quite used to seeing this as the Vietnamese are prolific meat eaters. Though I have to say there are some sights that are hard to take in!
At times there were humongous boats passing through that I could not believe would even try and pass through such narrow waterways. I was really glad that I had a confident woman maneuvering the boat as it is very tricky indeed. Often we bumped up along side other boats but given the number of boats navigating the waterway it was inevitable. The water itself was turbulent just because of the convergence of the rivers.
I really was so taken by being in this experience, it really was like being in another world. The people of Nga Nam were exceptionally friendly to me. I really have not experience a place like it before. I think that there are so few tourists coming that it has not being spoiled by tourism. I rarely had anyone refuse to have their photo taken which is unusual. I loved just hanging out in the middle of the river, in the midst of many small boats, mostly being handled by women. We had breakfast out there which was noodle soup called Pho with shrimp. It was hands down the best noodle soup I have every had! I felt so lucky to be having this experience. We spent hours just paddling around the market and needless to say I have a few photos of the experience.
Moma, wanted to show me more of the different rivers, so she started up her motor and we explored each direction for a bit. Then she was insistent that I come back to her house with her and have some food (even though I had eaten just two hours before). I got to meet her son and her sisters and their kids and visited two different homes. It really was sweet. It was very dear the way Moma looked after me. About 1pm we set off back to my starting point as she needed to sleep.
Before heading back to my room for a rest after all the excitement of the morning, I went up to the balcony once again to get a perspective of the market which by then was way less congested but it will give you some idea of it.
It was so amazing and I simply had fallen in love with this place and the people. That afternoon, it became clear that I needed to stay another night just to enjoy being here. I was not ready to leave. Later in the afternoon, I went back to the market area and enjoyed watching the activity that was constant. Drinking yet another ice coffee, I met a Vietnamese photographer, Son who was delighting in the sights. He was so sweet allowing me to use his tripod to take a few night shots from the favourite balcony above. Luckily he spoke some English.
The next morning I headed out again on the boat, this time with another woman as Moma was not there sadly. I went for her smile rather than look of the boat and discovered it was not as stable, certainly not very comfortable as the board I was sitting on was pretty narrow and also as I found out she was not skilled with her boats and had people constantly telling her off for this. With Moma I mostly felt confident to stand up in the boat, unless larger boats were passing, but with this other woman, I didn’t dare…. I did not want to end up in that water for sure, especially with those propellers everywhere! The boats all are powered by what are called long-tailed outboard motors, which allow them to be in water of little depth.
My boat driver the second day at Nga Nam - she does have a nice smile! Wish I could remember her name....
I totally enjoyed that last morning taking it all in. I of course had another bowl of Pho soup with shrimp and fish.
This is the woman who made my breakfast and my boat woman
I had met a young woman, another university student, the night before who spoke some English and she wanted me to visit her parents shop in the market so I spent a little time with them and then had to pack up and leave to get back to Can Tho.
The university student I met
In the spirit of spontaneity I had decided to change my air ticket date to go back to Hanoi and the north to being 5 days later. I wasn’t ready to leave the south yet. As this time was unplanned in terms of where I would stay, I have the luxury of being very spontaneous, so instead of staying on in Can Tho, I headed off in a Futa bus (hands down the best bus service I have encountered anywhere) to another place called Long Xuyen known also for its floating market. It again is not a well visited town so I knew that the market would likely still be quite traditional. I will continue on with the adventure in my next entry. Bye for now. Dana