Floating markets, rice and Saigon

An early rise to hop on a boat which took us to one of the nearby floating market in Cai Rang. Roughly 700 boats trade here between 4am and 7pm every day. After buzzing around and watching small kids shampoo their hair into mohawks and dive into the water we went back onto the canals and stopped off at a noodle “factory”.

This was effectively a large bamboo building where a watery rice mixture is poured onto material suspended over boiling water (the water is heated by burning rice husks and the resulting burned material used as fertiliser – no waste!). The thin film is covered for a few seconds and then rolled onto a spiky stick thing and then placed onto a bamboo rack. Once the rack is full, it’s put outside in the sun to dry. Once it’s the right consistency, the sheets are fed through a simple rotating guillotine to make the noodles. It’s all very repetitive work, but the simple tools used are very impressive to see in action.

Our next stop was a fruit orchard where we saw quite a few of the local crops growing – tiny juice-packed oranges, very strong chili peppers, lychee… And then sampled far too many of them. Next up was a rice processing plant where rice husks are stripped of all the outside bits and turned into the white rice that’s sold in bags. Lots of loud machinery and magic going on inside boxes.

Our boat then ferried us back to the hotel where we had a decent lunch. This time a bus picked us up direct from the front of the hotel and we headed for one of the cross-river ferries. These things run almost non-stop and fill up to the brim with each run. Locals all stayed in their vehicles while we were asked to get out and stand to the side. Apparently this is because the locals know how to get out of a vehicle should the ferry capsize… Looking around they had all the windows open just in case.

Obviously, we got across with no major incident and our bus picked us up again. Our next stop was around 2 hours down the road where we visited a “bonsai garden” – more of a series of restaurants in a nice setting. The Dutch couple took motorcycles to My Tho for their extra night and we picked up a few more people who were on a different trip.

Ninety minutes later we were in Saigon, parked right opposite the little silk shop I’d stayed in on my last visit. As Leah wanted aircon, we walked round the corner to mini-hotel alley. The first place we looked (the Happy Hotel) was lovely, but a little more than we wanted to pay. Generously, the staff said we could leave our bags there while we scouted for somewhere cheaper. We ended up in the Phi Long just around the corner in a pretty decent room with free wi-fi.

After showers and a relax, we popped out for dinner. Waking round the area, we made the most of a rain-free evening to stroll through the park and up and down most of the streets in the area before stopping at Lotteria for a burger. A series of Chaplin films were showing on the TV in the restaurant so we stayed longer than we needed to before having one drink in the Guns ‘n’ Roses bar and trailing back to bed.

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