Chau Doc, Vietnam
The Jahan anchored overnight, just downstream from the fishing town of Chau Doc. In the morning, we boarded covered water taxis that took us to visit the floating market nearby. It is a little late for the morning rush, but we were graciously invited to visit a large “wholesale” vessel, where we were proudly shown the storage hold and the living quarters—the entire family spends its life here, cooking, playing cards, and working on the upkeep of the vessel. But most of all, they stock up on their particular specialty and sell it to the smaller craft that visit early each day to transport products to the markets. In this case, the featured fruit is succulent watermelon and our guide purchased three at the remarkable wholesale price of one dollar a melon. While the life may seem idyllic to some, we learn that the children often do not go to school, so literacy in this river community is not as high as the Vietnamese average.
Once we all scrambled back into our water taxi, we proceeded into the market area of Chau Doc, where we first visited the local temple, honouring heroes of the community. We were not surprised to see in the middle an image of the late President Ho Chi Minh, who started the Vietnamese revolution, but never lived to see his country united. A cavalcade of oddly-configured cyclos drew up alongside and took some of the intrepid travelers on a circle tour of the market area. They dismounted some time later to walk along the riverfront, admiring the colourful display of local fruits and vegetables—very appetizing indeed. This is a practical market—along the sidewalk are shops selling everything from fishing supplies to seeds to natural medicines.
We were then taken to see one of the hundreds of floating fish farms, each holding up to 15,000 catfish, or “saba,” which will be flash frozen and exported, mainly to the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The farms also produce tilapia, mainly for domestic use. These farms constitute a major investment: the producers must first procure fingerlings, then purchase the nutritious feed pellets that supplement a home-made mash of rice bran, fish meal, and sweet potato, and pay the overhead for their floating farms. In a good season, the payoff can support a family very comfortably.
In the afternoon, I gave a brief introduction to the contemporary history of Vietnam, in preparation for the days ahead.
The day concluded with a walking tour of the prosperous Delta village of An Hung, which produces a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, specializing in red chilis. We were invited by a local family to sample some of the succulent fruits, including very rich durian, which seems somehow to have been modified to reduce its noxious smell. On offer also were delicious mangosteen, corn, jackfruit, and other seasonal fruits. The monkey bridge crossing the nearby stream offered a challenge for a few hardy souls, but most are content to sit quietly and listen to a group of local musicians playing traditional instruments in the family home.