Raindrops barrage the water’s surface as our small boat rocks from side to side. Our Captain, a local Vietnamese man who we’ve paid $25 to guide us through the famous Cai Rang floating markets, desperately yanks the pull cord on the Honda motor but it continues to putter. A good 500 feet of murky brown water separates us from either side of the shoreline. We glance at one another, acknowledging that this is actually happening. We're stranded on a tiny wooden boat in the middle of the Song Hau River... in a monsoon.
Five hours earlier, the little vessel is successfully chugging along up the river, passing riverfront homes on stilts and boats carrying everything from fish to produce to motorbikes. Cai Rang is the largest floating market in the Mekong Delta, where locals from the surrounding web of rivers sell goods and produce, easily identified by the samples hanging atop poles on their boats. All of them stacked top to bottom with every fruit, vegetable and variety of fresh water seafood imaginable. Kids lay on the top deck, quietly eating pho as their normal morning routine plays out. The engine cut, our boat snakes through the market, quiet observers in everyday life.
A sharp turn off the main river narrows into a neighborhood of "side streets," or waterways, that twist through fruit orchards and around homes.
We stop at a small farm where jackfruits grow on the trunks of trees and happy fish perform aquaculture. The sun is still shining after an hour spent laying side by side in hammocks and sipping coconuts and mango juice (while our captain kicks it in a nearby hammock, opting for the 10am beer instead).
We're reaching the end of a seemingly perfect day as we embark on our two hour trip back to the pier. In true monsoon fashion, the rain makes a surprise attack. Within seconds of us saying "it's sprinkling," sheets of rain fall from the sky. Our captain struggles against the wind and rain to hoist up the small boat cover, tossing his jacket to us for added protection. The pounding rain combined with the river current and the wake of large passing boats result in a bumpy ride as we calculate the remaining hour or so back to Can Tho. We're the only small boat that is braving the storm on the wide river.
Just as we're nervously laughing, adventurous attitudes in full force, the engine dies. The captain manages to turn it over a couple of times and we momentarily celebrate, only for it to die again. Drifting down the river, rain pouring down, we finally reach a small dock where a friend/mechanic with a wrench and screwdriver in hand works on the wavering motor. It takes 45 minutes, a couple of false starts and a lot of Vietnamese banter, but it finally turns over and we're heading home.
Having weathered the storm we arrive back in Can Tho, say goodbye to the captain, and hope that our tip will contribute to a new motor for the next couple that braves the Mekong on the brink of rainy season in Vietnam.