One of the most popular destinations in Vietnam is the Mekong Delta.The area, also known as Miền Tây or Western Region by the Vietnamese, forms a triangle as the Mekong river empties into the sea through 9 distributary channels. Because of this, locals call the Mekong river Sông Cửu Long or the Nine Dragon river.
The landscape in the Mekong Delta is dominated by the dense jungle, flooded plains planted with rice and river islands. The Delta was formed over thousands of years from the sediments deposit by the Mekong after passing through 6 countries, covering 4,350 km from its birth place in the Himalayan Plateau.
The Mekong represents the way of life for the inhabitants of southern Vietnam. The population settles on its banks, people travel from one place to another navigating through the network of rivers and canals, fishermen fish and traders exchange goods from boat to boat. Entire families live on barges as they cannot afford a residence in land. All the water used in the house comes from the Mekong and returns to the Mekong, children play splashing in its waters, … The river is also a cause of tragedy when the water level rises and forces people to live with their homes flooded. The Mekong is everything, it brings life and death.
With an estimated population of 1.5 million, Can Tho is the capital of the Mekong Delta. The city is located on the bank of the Hậu river, the bigger branch of Mekong, and is famous for its floating markets and canals traversing its rural area. It reflects the beauty of the Mekong Delta.
The highlight of the visit to Can Tho is Cai Rang Floating Market. The market opens early at dawn so visitors must spend the night in the city as there is not enough time to leave from Saigon and arrive in the same day before it closes.
1-day tours to the Mekong Delta usually include a visit to Cai Be Floating Market, located between My Tho and Vinh Long, however this market is smaller and not so impressive as Cai Rang. Therefore, spending a night in Can Tho is absolutely justified.
The best time to visit Cai Raing Floating Market is early in the morning, when it’s active. Visitors should head to the tourist port at 5-6 AM. If you show up at 7 AM you may get to the floating market at 8 AM when the activity has already slowed down and there is not much to see.
There are two tourist ports in Can Tho. The most popular spot is located at the beginning of Hai Ba Trung Street, in Ninh Kieu District. It’s easy to identify the pier next to the tourist market.
Upon arrival to Ninh Kieu port, you can approach the information desk of Can Tho Travel Service Center and enquire about tours. Tours are scheduled, as the company operates its own fleet, and are divided in different itineraries taking from 3 to 4 hours:
– 3 hour tour to Cai Rang Floating Market + fruit garden, from 360,000 VND per boat
– 4 hour tour to Cai Rang Floating Market + river canals, from 550,000 VND per boat
– 4 hour tour to Cai Rang Floating Market + Phong Dien Floating Market, from 550,000 VND per boat
Each tour has a limited number of passengers so it is recommended that you book as earlier as possible or even the day before. If you show up in the morning and the next tour is fully booked you will need to wait for the following slot available.
There is a more flexible option though, which is to rent a boat from the “boat ladies” who wander around the pier. These ladies work directly with the boat operators docked at the port and can quickly arrange a tour based on the tourist demand. There is no need to book in advance. You can just show up, wait for more travelers to arrive and jump on the next tour.
The “boat ladies” usually arrange 2 kinds of tours:
– 1 hour tour to Cai Rang Floating Market and back to Ninh Kieu, 50,000 VND per person
– 4 hour tour to Cai Rang Floating Market + river canals, from 500,000 VND per boat
It’s important to remark that these tours are the same offered in the tourist packages of the travel agencies in Can Tho or Ho Chi Minh City. Travel agencies do not own their own boats, they resell the tours departing from Ninh Kieu port and add a markup as commission. You may consider traveling to Can Tho and arrange the tour by yourself to save money.
Once there is a minimum number of tourists in the group, from 5 to 10, the boat departs and heads to Cai Rang Floating Market, which is located 6 km upstream. It takes around 20 mins to get there.
As you cross under Cai Rang bridge, on the right bank you will notice a local riverside market, Chợ An Bình or An Binh Market. This is the second tourist port, which is closer to the floating market and is accessible by taxi.
From this public dock you can join a motorboat tour of 1 hour around the floating market for 150,000 VND per boat. You can rent a boat for you and your party or join other tourists and share the cost.
Cai Rang Floating Market can be easily distinguished as a large group of barges floating in the center of Can Tho river. Depending on the time of the year the market may have more or less inflow of farmers and merchants. The most active seasons are January-February, 1 or 2 weeks before Tết or Lunar New Year, and April-May when tropical fruits are picked and make it to the consumer market.
The operation of the floating market is really interesting and worth to understand. With the first light of dawn farmers arrive on their small boats carrying the products they have picked from their gardens, mainly fruits and vegetables.
Traders, who live on the barge with their families, place a stick on the bow. Farmers offer traders those fruits and vegetables that still do not hang from the stick and may be of interest for them. Traders buy the desired products and place the stock on the deck.
Few hours later, the roles are reversed. Farmers leave the market with their boats empty and it is now the turn of buyers, who approach the market from the shore. The goods in the floating market are cheaper than in land markets for one simple reason: commercial transactions off-land are exempt from taxes.
Buyers navigate through the mess of barges and see what each merchant has to offer by taking a look at the fruits and vegetables hanging on the stick.
If they are looking for any particular goods they will come closer, examine them and proceed to purchase. The minimum amount is 10 kg.
The goods are exchanged from boat to boat. Payment can be made in cash or barter if they have another product to offer back.
The floating market also attracts food vendors serving Bánh mì sandwiches or noodle soups for breakfast. The river is the meeting point for all kinds of merchants, big and small ones.
After stocking enough products, buyers go back to land and resell the fruits and vegetables in the street markets, where final consumers do the daily shopping. The sales cycle is completed.
The visit to the floating market can be complemented with an extension to the rivers canals and the fruit gardens. Once the boat abandons the main river, it gently cruises by the tranquil canals through the rural districts of Can Tho. The ambient is quiet and relaxing, surrounded by the dense vegetation and far from the bustling urban area.
Here tourists can observe the day-to-day of the inhabitants of the Mekong Delta. Most settlements are located on the river banks. Houses are built high on stilts to withstand the flooding caused by the tide, which occurs twice a day in the Delta estuary. The front door usually points to a small dock where the residents park their boats, the common kind of transportation in the rural area.
Back to Ninh Kieu port, travelers can spend more time walking around the city center of Can Tho or visit the numerous pagodas.
How to get to Mekong Delta
Travelers can find schedules, compare bus companies and book tickets online to Mekong Delta with Baolau. We hope you enjoy the Western region of Vietnam and the wonders of the Mekong Delta!