At 5:00 am we met our guide, Hum, at our hotel she was about the same age as our daughter. She took us to the river where we hopped on a local boat propelled by an older woman who used an ore and a small motor. All the tourist boats we saw that day, were operated by older women.
We traveled down the river for about 45 minutes to the first floating market which was a wholesale market. Boats full of melons, fruit and vegetables. The boats had big poles with signs or examples of what they were selling.
We were told that the boats come 30-70 km to sell their products and they stay until everything is sold. Retailers from the city travel to the market by boat to buy. On a busy day some 200 boats come and go, We had a breakfast from the passing breakfast boat and coffee from the coffee boat. It was a bit too dark for pictures and we were not the only tourists.
We stopped at a noodle factory where we learned that they put tapioca in the noodles to make them springy. We also got a chance to make and cut noodles. It’s harder than it looks!
Our next stop was a second market which was more retail and tourist oriented but it was raining so everything was covered up. The first market was more interesting but we were almost too early arriving there.
We returned along smaller canals and stopped at a fruit farm where we had hot lemon tea and fresh fruit.
We were asked if we wanted to buy a snack and some tea for our boat driver which we obviously did. While we were touring the fruit farm she made us rings and bracelets out of palm leaves. We still have them. It rained again on the way home but our driver produced a cover for the boat and a plastic table cloth to cover our feet.
The best part of whole trip was our young guide Hum she answered all our questions about life in Vietnam and what it was like growing up there. We learned that dogs are lucky and cats are not. If an owl flies into your home it’s very bad because it means someone will die. You have to pay to go to school in Vietnam but people with less money pay less and children with parents in the government or military do not have to pay. There are entrance exams for University but you can keep taking the exam until you pass. Hum was in school studying to work in the tourist industry.
They pay for health care which surprised me as Vietnam is a communist country. But there is government funded health insurance. New Years is a big deal. It’s a three-day event: on day one you visit your family; on day two you visit your in-laws; and on day three you visit your teachers. We are still Facebook friends and she occasionally sends us pictures on WhatsAp.
You can get to the floating markets for less by hiring one of the many drivers along the river but there is no guide and we were glad we spent the extra. We did a get a seven hour tour with breakfast and a guide for $50 US.
It was still raining when we returned to town so we went to the museum it was all military and most of the visitors were in uniform. Lots of captured US planes and tanks. There were also many artifacts from heroes like the glasses belonging to a lady who killed 17 Americans. The museum is divided into three wars: the war against China; the war against the French and the war against the Americans. A reminder that Vietnam has spent a large part of the 20th century at war.
We stopped by a bakery on the way home to buy buns (the French brought French bread and it has become a staple in Vietnam). When we tried to buy four buns we thought they said 80,000 VND which is high so we said no thanks. They looked upset, turns out they said 8,000 VND (about $0.46). Dumb tourists!