A village with several century-old houses adds to the attractions of Cai Be District in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang
Cai Be floating market is a main attraction of Cai Be District, Tien Giang Province / PHOTO: CAC NGOC
When we set out for Cai Be a few weeks ago, we were only thinking of its main tourist attraction, the floating market.
However, as we sat chatting with the owner of a com tam (broken rice) restaurant in the town, which is about 100 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, we acted on her advice and made a snap decision to expand our itinerary to include Dong Hoa Hiep, a village near the market.
According to the restaurant owner, the village is already popular with foreign tourists.
Then she urged us to leave soon to catch up with the floating market, which only opens from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m.
“If you want to buy fruits, visit the nearby market on land for reasonable prices,” she said, adding that both the markets were wholesale markets.
Following her recommendations, we hurriedly got on our motorbikes and headed to Cai Be Bridge.
After passing the bridge, we rented a tourism boat to visit the floating market, which was established in the 18th century.
Situated on a section where the Tien River meets Tien Giang, Vinh Long, and Ben Tre provinces, the market is one of the busiest of its kind in the Mekong Delta.
We enjoyed watching boats moving around, carrying fruits, poultry, seafood, home utensils, and even fabric. Sometimes, the only way we could know what a boat was selling is that it had a pole in front where a sample of the goods being sold was hung high.
The restaurant owner had told us that after visiting the floating market, foreign tourists often rented bicycles to ride around the market on land and take photos of busy fruit stalls.
We also learnt that from the wholesale market, fruits and vegetables are transported by road to HCMC as well as central and northern provinces. It is also a place where goods delivered from nearby provinces are stored before being taken to the floating market the next day.
We did not have the time so we skipped the bicycle tour around the market on land.
A 176-year-old house in Dong Hoa Hiep Village, which is near the floating market / PHOTO: CAC NGOC
The boat that we’d rented took us to Dong Hoa Hiep Village right from the floating market for an additional charge of VND10,000 each.
After the boat docked at a wharf in An Loi Hamlet, we took a quiet path that bordered by a long green hedge. It led to an old house and a garden that we knew immediately was very special.
The house belongs to Phan Van Duc, better known as Ba Duc.
Duc said the house was built in 1850 and he was the sixth generation in his family to live in it.
He said at first it was a typical house found in southern Vietnam, but in 1938 his great-grand father modified it, mostly its facade, in a Western style.
The atmosphere inside the house was truly ancient. Duc has kept intact many precious artifacts passed through the generations, including three sets of altar cabinets inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and ancient scrolls. The house is made even more attractive by it setting, a fruit garden of nearly two hectares.
With many visitors being charmed by the house and its surroundings, Duc has opened a homestay service. At first visitors stayed at the house with his family, but since the demand increased, he built a separate accommodation area with spacious rooms and modern amenities.
During their stay, guests can join Duc’s family in tending to the fruit trees, cooking, and buying food at local markets. They can also learn about local people’s lifestyle and culture.
Leaving Duc’s house, we headed to another special house that belongs to Tran Tuan Kiet on foot. Built in 1838, the house is famous for being made entirely with rare wood. It has been restored with Japanese help.
Inside the 1,000-square-meter house there are 108 wooden columns. Its walls are wooden bars placed in such fashion that allows it to receive sunlight and breeze. Decorative details sculpted on its columns, beams and walls enhance the house’s beauty.
Besides the two famous houses, Dong Hoa Hiep Village has six other old houses that are located in different hamlets. Directions to these houses are kept at the village entrance.
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