So while everyone back home was enjoying their Labor Day weekend, here in Vietnam people have been sitting back and enjoying National Day (or Independence Day, depending on who you ask). The holiday, which happens on September 2nd, meant that I got two days off of work, which was not particularly exciting for me since, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t teach Monday and Tuesday anyway. But that’s beside the point: it was a holiday!
I’m still a bit fuzzy on what exactly happens on National Day. From what my students and coworkers have told me, it seems like people generally take a day or two off of work to return to their home towns and spend time with their families. Seeing as my family is a bit far to visit for a 2-day break, and since I only found out about the holiday the week before, I had low expectations for the time off. But as it turns out, this past weekend was actually full of fun surprises.
First, my roommate, Peter, arrived on Saturday. I was glad to have someone else to share this house with – you’ll see when I post pictures (soon!) that it’s a bit big for one person. Also, the way the houses are built and the close proximity to neighbors means I hear a lot of what’s going on around me, and I have found myself running downstairs more than once thinking someone had wandered into my house. This was never actually the case, but I was still glad to have another person around to go through everything with me.
And traveling with Peter were three other women from the VIA program, including my friend from Pac Rim, Selina. It was great to see her after almost 3 years, and it’s such a crazy coincidence that we’ve both ended up in Vietnam. She’s teaching about 2 hours away in a smaller city, and I hope to visit her at some point, once I figure out my schedule.
So anyway, after a week of solo time, it was awesome to have people around. On Sunday morning they invited me to go to the floating markets, and since this appears to be Can Tho’s biggest tourist draw, I said sure. Turns out the market is an early morning thing, and I found myself waking up at 3:30am in order to make sure I could leave the house at 4:30, and meet up with our boat and guide at 5:00am. Ouch!
We ended up having the boat to ourselves, and the whole tour cost us about 600,000 Dong, or $30, for a 4-hour tour. And yes, that’s $30 total for the group of five, not per-person. It pays to have Vietnamese-speaking friends!
We arrived at our meeting spot a bit early, and so we got to watch other tourists getting onto boats and early-morning joggers in the park. Jogging is surprisingly popular here, though you can’t really do it on the streets due to the traffic.
Eventually our boat showed up and we all climbed aboard. Our boat driver then proceeded to take off his shirt and jump into the water, presumably to untangle a rope. We were all a bit surprised, and he spent probably ten minutes in the water. The people in the park kept yelling suggestions for untying the rope, and eventually he got it. We were off to the market.
I had been told the market was a tourist venture, and thought that meant there would be boats selling things to tourists. This wasn’t really the case. The market appeared to be wholesale fruits mostly, and we guessed that this is where local markets got their wares.
We stopped at a restaurant boat and had a breakfast of fried egg, tomato and a baguette, and some amazing coffee. Did you know Vietnam has some of the best coffee in the world? Even I, the eternal coffee hater, had to admit it was delicious. It doesn’t hurt that it is often served with equal parts coffee and condensed milk. Yum!
After breakfast it was back to the boat, and we drove back through the market. The guide had said he was taking us to two markets, so we prepared to see another similar sight. On the way we drove past Can Tho Bridge – it’s the longest main span cable-stayed bridge in Southeast Asia. Which is a big deal, and yeah, it’s a very long bridge. I crossed it on my way into the city and was terrified, since it’s also pretty tall. It’s much nicer to look at than go over….
Once past the bridge we pulled up to what the driver described as a garden. We got out and were asked to pay 10,000 Dong (50 cents) to enter what appeared to be some woman’s garden and restaurant. Out of curiosity we went inside and found…. well, I’m still not sure what it was. There were monkeys, birds, and the odd flower. We didn’t spend long there, and returned to the boat to head home.
Once home I headed immediately back to bed, and woke later to teach a class. A busy day! It was capped off by the official welcome dinner for the new English teachers (myself, Peter and a Filipino teacher named AJ). All in all, it was a great day, and a really fun weekend.