One of the highlights of a trip to southern Vietnam is taking a boat trip through the unique Cai Rang Floating Market. Cruise between overloaded wooden cargo boats who are selling fresh fruits and vegetables to small wooden sampans. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
Can Tho is a busy Vietnamese city on the banks of the Hau River, a distributary of the Mekong. It’s a very colourful city. The streets are decorated with lights and bright flower ornaments. At night, the colourful lights make a beautiful scene. The Mekong Delta is called the ‘rice basket’ of Vietnam due to its fertile soil. The fruit and vegetable markets are filled with fresh produce grown in the nearby Mekong Delta.
On the busy streets we saw families, including mom, dad and two kids, crowded on to one motorbike as they drove through the city. Often, they were also carrying their groceries and other supplies they just bought. Most of the children didn’t have helmets.
On the edge of this modern city is one of the most interesting fruit and vegetable markets, Cai Rang Floating Market. It’s a 30 minute boat ride from Can Tho to the market. On the boat trip you pass tin or wooden stilt houses with tin roofs on the sides of the riverbanks. It’s a stark contrast to the progressive city of Can Tho.
Cai Rung Floating Market is different from typical floating markets in other Asian countries. As with many in the Mekong Delta, at Cai Rung, large cargo boats are laden with fresh produce. Small wooden boats called sampans weave between the larger boats. They are owned by merchants who are buying produce which can then be sold in the local markets. The cargo boats have tall bamboo poles on the end of their boat displaying the various produce that they have for sale. We took a tour of the market on a private sampan. Our small sampan took us between all of the various market boats, giving us a real feel of the action. Tours are also available on larger boats.
Many people live on their market boats which have basic kitchens and sleeping quarters. You can often see their laundry hanging at the back of the boat. Some of the small sampans are cafes, offering coffee, tea, soup, sandwiches and noodles. They are very popular with the live aboard boats as well as the tourists. This 100-year-old market has everything covered from buyers and sellers to cafes and tours. It was fascinating to see this unique market in action.
Here’s a short 1 minute video taken from our sampan.
Getting to Can Tho – The easiest access point to Cai Rang is Can Tho, which has a bus station and an international airport with limited flights. From Ho Chi Minh City, buses leave from the Western Bus Station (Bến Xe Miền Tây). There are a dozen vendors selling tickets for all classes of bus and minibus. Before buying a ticket, ask the fee, schedule and how long the drive will take. Some buses stop at every town on the way, others are direct (time can vary from 3 – 8 hours). Prices are 92,000 – 170,000 VND.
Getting to the Cai Rang – Purchase your boat ride from the vendors near Ninh Kieu Wharf or from your hotel a day in advance. Boat tours usually pick you up around 5:00 am. The boat ticket for a two-hour trip usually costs from 40,000 VND to 80,000 VND per person (big boat) and 200,000 VND/boat (small boat).
Coming up: The Incredible Temples of Angkor
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For more stories from our other adventures, go to Destinations.
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