Yesterday at the hotel we had booked a floating market tour with our walking tour guide – a nice lad called Thong. It turned out to be a bit of an early start but we did not mind because we wanted to see the market at its best and busiest. Thong came round to our room to collect us and we went through the hotel’s gardens back down to the hammocking area next to the river where a small boat awaited us. As there were no other guests at the hotel as soon as we were settled aboard and our captain was happy with the boat, the four of us set off.
The trip was quite a way down the river but it was quite interesting as there were a lots of other river-faring vessels, some that appeared to actually be more submerged than floaty in appearance and in between the ‘boats’ there were bits and bobs of wildlife to be seen. We tried a bit of waving at the passing traffic to entertain us along the way to the market, which as ever turned out to be a bit of a laugh.
Nearing the end of our ‘sail’ we turned into a tributary and all of a sudden buildings started to appear on either side of the ‘new’ waterway. On the water there were a number of barges filled with fruit or vegetables, so we were hoping that this was a good indication that we would soon reach the floating market. We then pulled up alongside a single boat where a lady trader was on board, she was of the ‘gap-toothed’ variety but she had a most brilliant smile to make up for her toothy omissions. We were quite intrigued and our guide jumped aboard indicating that we should follow him over. Once inside we sat down and looking around it appeared she had on board every fruit and vegetable imaginable and she soon started chopping up some of them up so we could have a taste. Our favourite fruits, the mangosteens were there and we tasted a few of them. It seemed to be all very nicely choreographed and afterwards our guide asked that we give her some money, which was no problem as it was only a small amount and we also bought some fruit to take away too. We climbed back aboard our vessel and bid her goodbye joining in with her toothless smiling too as our captain transported us away.
He took us to the opposite bank of the river and moored up and our guide ask that we follow him up on to the bank, this was far easier said than it was done as the stairs were wet and quite treacherous too. Once on the bank we went into the market there, it was not quite as ‘boaty’ or ‘floating’ as we had expected so we were somewhat confused by it all but thought that perhaps our next port of call would be the ‘real’ floating market. This ‘land-based’ market was not unlike the one that we had been round at Hue, there were all the usual suspects inside, the traders and the wares they had on offer was all very similar to what we had seen previously except for one particular item. We had previously seen toads being sold in Vietnamese markets but here the twist was that they were still alive and yet had been skinned. We were not really sure what to make of it all, it was so shocking that there was nothing that could say to rectify how I felt. A part of me hoped that the little fellows merely took their skins off at night rather like wee coats and that these had then been stolen but the realistic part of me knew this was not the case at all and that part was coming to terms with feeling both sickened and outraged at the same time. I am not sure why they would have to be sold this way but then what do I know. We had, before the tour started, asked our guide to take us to see things which were less touristy, I am not sure whether or not that he thought this was what we wanted to see. In a gruesome way I suppose it was, you want to see how real people live but the suffering of the animals just seemed too high a price to be paying.
In a completely different and almost welcomed turn of events our guide then ended up taking us to one of the many little tourist handicraft ‘traps’ that seem to be located in, or nearby most Vietnamese attractions. Thinking about it I suppose it is not too dissimilar to the souvenir shops back home in the UK. Although seeing the handicrafts was quite interesting, as we were not actually interested in purchasing anything the ordeal seemed to hold little attraction for both sides. The handicrafts on offer included paintings which were not that great to be honest, some toffee making, rice wine, rice paper making, rice popcorn, honey and royal jelly to boot but we neither needed nor wanted any of them, even if we did try and taste whatever was thrown at us!
After the handicraft overload, Thong informed us that we were to be going home on the boat, so that was it. It turned out we would not be seeing a floating market on the floating market tour! So after we got our heads together and did a bit of grumbling, as us Brits do, I then explained to Thong that the tour had not been what we had expected at all and that we were not happy and in return he seemed quite upset. He is a nice enough lad who we got on well with but the tour had been far from satisfactory. He explained that there is a season for the main big floating markets that we had seen pictured in the Lonely Planet and that the barges he had shown us was all that was left at this time of year but we were still not happy with this explanation – to be fair, would anybody be? – so he got on the phone to his bosses and then he refunded half the price of the tour which made us feel that at least we had not been entirely ripped off and that he had listened to our grievances.
The day was only half spent so for the rest of it we simply spent it doing some serious lazing around our hotel. We ventured in and out of the pool, had an alcoholic drink or two and then Liz played with the hotel’s dog a friendly little thing called Sue, so we were truly well and relaxed on all fronts.
At night the meal by the river was very tasty so we held no grudges and had forgotten all about the tour by now and after eating we had a few games of pool with the hotel’s owner. He could not speak any English at all so that made it quite interesting and when he went off to watch the TV we continued to play on our own. I did divulge a few pool secrets to Liz in the spirit of teaching her how to play the game better only to find that she then started using this new found knowledge against me. I have a bad feeling about this as I may have created a ‘Lizenstein’!