Touring a floating market in the Mekong Delta is a box that many travellers to Saigon wish to check, and none are bigger, or more popular than Can Tho’s Cai Rang Floating Market. Here’s what to expect on a basic tour of the market.
The Cai Rang Floating Market, the largest wholesale floating market in the Mekong Delta, starts around 05:00 and runs until around midday, meaning that you’ll have to get an early start to the day if you want to visit. Most tour boats along the riverfront leave between 05:00 and 07:00, so if don’t make it to the water by then you’ll have a hard time finding a tour.
The market is about six kilometres from Can Tho, or about a 30-minute boat ride. While floating down the river, you will glimpse life along its shores. You’ll pass vibrantly painted boats anchored along the shore, merchant vessels carrying loads down the river and houses built on stilts over the water.
Once you finally reach the market, it’s an impressive site. A stretch of boats selling all variety of goods lines the river. Not really a place for souvenirs, people come here instead to buy large quantities of goods, mostly foodstuffs, and you will get an idea of what water commerce in the Delta looks like. Your guide on the boat will usually give you tidbits of information about Cai Rang as you weave through the hordes.
You’ll learn that boats identify what they are selling by hanging a sample off the top of a long pole; if you want pineapple, simply scan the horizon for a hanging pineapple. You’ll also get the opportunity to interact with some of these floating merchants; most commonly this happens when a small boat selling drinks latches onto the tour boat’s side.
After the market you’ll be ferried off to your breakfast break at a local orchard. You’ll be led around a fairly large garden growing a big variety of local fruits, which you’ll get to sample after your walk. Once your breakfast of fruit is eaten, you’ll go back to the boat and it’s time to explore some of the Mekong’s canals. Your tour boat will slowly coast down a few of these quiet canals, choked on both sides by greenery. As the sun starts to heat things up, your tour will draw to a close, returning you to downtown Can Tho sometime around 14:00, making for around a seven-hour tour.
Since the market starts early in the morning, and because Can Tho is a healthy bus ride from Saigon — about four hours — you won’t have the option of seeing this floating market as a day tour from HCMC. Instead, you’ll have to spend the night in Can Tho. Several tour operations in Saigon will sell two-day, one-night tours starting somewhere around the 1,000,000 VND mark and up.
I’d recommend heading down to Can Tho on your own and booking things yourself, as you’ll be able to pick your bus, room and boat while saving some money. Certainly, any hotel in Can Tho will have tour options at its desk or, if you want to book a boat ride yourself, simply go to the Can Tho downtown waterfront on Hai Ba Trung and negotiate directly with one of the many boats you’ll find along the shore. Expect a tour booked this way to cost about 200,000 VND a person; just remember to get there early or the boats will leave without you.
By Max Murta.
Last updated on 19th February, 2017.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.