Although our main purpose in Can Tho was to see Mekong Delta’s rural side, I welcomed the chance to have a glimpse of the town’s urban area during a short night stroll.
We arrive in Can Tho just before sunset after spending a day exploring the river system and canals near Ben Tre some 3 hours away (I’ll write about this soon).
Though the rains have stopped I did not held my breathe for sunset, as the sky is still a dull shade of gray. After setting our stuff in our room, my wife and I went out to find a place to eat. I had other intentions of course – to shoot.
It was blue hour by the time we went out – perfect, what’s not was that I found out that my tripod, which I had never taken out of its bag ever since we landed in Saigon, was cracked at the center column where you attach the head - its barely usable! So much for handling fragile items, thank you Cebu Pacific!
Finding dinner was bumped off the top of the list with finding a ”super glue”. A hardware store (we found one nearby) shopkeeper listed intently for several minutes while I explained the problem animatedly with elaborate hand gestures, then smiled sheepishly and said “No English”, breath stinking with beer. Agitation was turning into frustration.
Next we tried a supermarket, surely they have some form of glue or epoxy, but of course we got the usual “No”. We had no choice but to check every aisle. Found one, bought several tubes, but discovered my tripod problem is not easily fixed. I resigned to the fact that I won’t be shooting much that night.
We walked along one of the major streets of Can Tho, looking for a place to eat. The streets are similar to Saigon’s: line with food stalls and hawkers, overflowing with motorcycles and scooters (Can Tho is Mekong Delta’s unofficial capital and is also a “university town”). Crossing the street always requires patience, courage, some quick thinking with matching quick feet.
We passed by several brightly lighted stalls selling moon cakes, bought a sample after agreeing we are not being ripped off with the price, though my wife still thinks its expensive for 55,000 dong (about 2.5 USD) a piece. I told her its because it has “stuff” in it. We were famished and we consumed one in record time.
Language is always a barrier in ordering food. We bypassed several food stalls after quickly surveying what the others are eating: mostly seafood stuff, some soup, and grilled meat, and deciding we won’t be able to effectively communicate what we want to eat. In the end we decided to go for the safest bet: pho.
We found a stall manned by a young man who was more interested on talking on his mobile than getting our order (I’m sure he is talking to a girl). He smiled while we described what we want and then went to preparing our pho. I wanted beef while my wife wanted chicken. After a few minutes we got our noodles: mine with chicken and pork while my wife got pork with her pho. Pho is pho so we did not complain. He must have seen us eyeing with curiosity what the others are ordering for he kept on bringing us freebies. “No charge”, he said. After dinner we had several glasses of free cha.
The next morning I woke up at 4AM, picked up my tripod – doused the crack with several tubes of super glue the previous night, and head out to shoot sunrise in one of Hậu River’s tributaries (Hau is also known as Bassac River. It starts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia). I had to wake up someone to open the front door. It’s pretty common in Vietnam for hotels to lock their front doors after midnight.
The streets are alive already. I passed by a balloon arc announcing an international trade fair. This is the new Vietnam: socialism is giving way to capitalism. Business is booming, especially in cities like Saigon, and more people want to make more money. The years of the trade embargo are but a distant memory.
I found good spot facing the east on the bridge along Nguyen Trai. A group of drunks nearby, who were probably drinking since the previous night, were eyeing me with curiosity. Several motorists stopped, asked me if I was “media”. I showed them several of my shots, they nodded approvingly, perhaps just to be polite, then went on their way.
Sunrise was dismal and the constant buckling of the bridge as huge trucks pass by did not help some of my shots at all. But I enjoyed watching the blue colors of dawn playing tug of war with the rust color of the river.
On the way back to the hotel I stopped by a stall selling coffee and tea. Aside from pho, coffee and tea are also universal in Vietnam. People start their day with either or all of these three. Somehow I managed to order iced coffee (ca phe da). I could not understand how much to pay so I just showed the lady selling coffee my wallet. She picked out a 2000 dong bill. She could have picked out more bills, I was willing to pay more, but she didn't.
Further along I stopped by a woman selling colored sticky rice wrapped in thin pancake and rice paper. An old man asked me something in Vietnamese. Somehow I understood the question for he replied “Ahh” when I told him I am a Filipino. He smiled and waved when I said I have to go.
In retrospect I find Can Tho a friendlier place than Saigon.