New day, new tour – this time we’re going to the Cai Be floating market, which is a wholesale market where barges come loaded with fruits and veggies and lock arms on the river to do their trading. The market is a two hour drive though, so we take the opportunity to catch up on sleep. We’d imagined we’d see barges overflowing with pineapple, melons and exotic fruits. The reality is much more boring however, most of the barges are covered and you only get to see a hint of their cargo as you float past, so we don’t dwell on the market very long and instead move on to the next stop of the tour which in the description was called the “Coconut candy factory”. Now I took it as a given that this would be the usual tour stops where it’s either beautiful but entirely unnecessary stuff (that would cost a fortune to ship) or the plain crappy stuff of dubious quality that you don’t want for that reason.
But this place is refreshingly different from the others I’ve been to, it feels more authentic in a way I can’t put my finger on. There is the coconut candy that’s actually really tasty, we get to try and make the rice paper used when making spring rolls and we get to taste too many snake, pineapple and ginger infused kinds of booze (yeah, they’re pretty much universally awful). I’m off taking pictures of something when I suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, spot Jen in the process of wearing a python! The kids surrounding her are ecstatic that she dares to do it – if they only knew… =P Soon it’s my turn (my first time handling a snake actually) and it’s just awesome to feel the smooth, raw muscle sliding around on you!
Next we stop at a large wok pan, filled with very fine, heated, black sand. We get to watch as a guy pours rice into it and immediately it starts popping violently. Within 20 seconds all the rice has popped and the guy grabs a large bowl and starts scooping up the rice, pouring it through a large sieve, ridding it of sand. In less than two minutes he’s gone from raw to puffed rice, very cool! Afterwards we get to sit down and have some honey and pollen tea, it’s very nice and the subject of conversation naturally drift towards bees and he says the pollen and honey is all local. I ask him if we can see a hive and he doesn’t really like the idea. But we twist his arm until he agrees and he takes us to this woman who apparently is the bee wrangler. She happily shows us the hive, which is just next to the café while our guide is keeping a safe distance. She unceremoniously picks up one of the honeycombs and hands it over to an eager Jennifer who inspects it closely all the while our guide watches with a horrified look on his face.
The bees mark the end of our factory stop and we board the boat again to cross the river and end up at a restaurant of sorts where we get to watch a rather lame music show. Next to the restaurant is an orchard though and that part of the tour is something we’ve been looking forward to. It too is a bit of a letdown though, there isn’t much fruit in there, mostly mud and a few jack fruit trees. The best part is actually all the bugs Jen manages to find. Down to the river again and this time we’re put into a canoe and are off to explore a small side river that feeds into the mighty Mekong. It’s very serene and you actually get a bit of a jungle feeling as we slowly make our way through. Afterwards it’s time for lunch and we’re taken to a very nice restaurant that serves elephant ear fish, deep fried in its entirety. You then just hack off pieces from the flank and eat, it’s delicious and the only thing disturbing the perfect afternoon is the boatload of, presumably American, dudebros and -gals that are also getting their lunch there. This marks the end of the tour and as we get back into town we make sure that arrangements are set for the bus trip into Cambodia tomorrow morning.