Marvelous Floating Markets of the Mekong Delta
Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
195Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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Where I stayed
Number 1 Hotel
What I did
4/04 Há Tiên to Càn Tho; 193 kilometers by Bus
(Not Nga Bay as planned!)
At 7AM, our buddy, with his moto-friend, was there as promised to take us to the 7:30am bus to Càn Tho.... out of the goodness of his heart.....imagine that...what a guy! By now we are pretty fearless about getting on the motorcycles with all our gear.
To our surprise, before we even got to the bus station, a rolling bus stopped for us and our packs were quickly transferred. Before we realized what happened, we sat in the bus and were asked for the equivalent of $10 each for the trip. We realized it was outrageous for the rickety non air-co bus we found ourselves. Dave asked if everyone else paid that. "Of course," was the reply. I said okay let us out of the bus. The price dropped by $4 immediately. But with limited communication skills, we were still at the short end of the stick, figuring we were still paying double what we should for this class of bus. But it was difficult to justify getting off and spending an hour or two to find another bus which could save us three bucks each. This was a local rattling window type bus and, in the end, we gave in and chalked it up as a lesson learned. The lesson? We should have gone ahead of time to the bus office where prices are usually posted.
We insisted on having the front seats next to open window, which was one constellation. The landscape was fascinating and beautiful; the lush green landscape, the rice paddies, fruit orchards, vegetable fields. The entire trip followed rivers and we watched wonderful village life. Rice was drying on plastic sheets next to the narrow road.
Three hours into the trip, a wheel seized up. A front wheel bearing needed to be replaced. They lacked proper tools and the driver's assistant pounded on the frozen part of the bearing with a cold chisel for over an hour before he was able to cut it off so he could put a new one on. Overall, it took about an hour and half to fix and we continued.
Then the bus arrived at a cross road where they told us “Cần Thơ, Cần Thơ”. We figured maybe we were at a bus station outside of town because CT is supposed to be a good size town. Again everything happened really quickly. Before we realized what happened, we stood on the street with our packs, traffic zooming by and sweat pouring down our backs. "Let’s have a bite to eat here before heading into town." Dave barely took three steps before we were led by our hands across mad traffic to another bus. "To Càn Tho" a lady missing most of her front teeth, insisted. "No money," she said. We got on to the other rickety bus. It still turned out to be another 2.5 hour ride to Càn Tho.
At the real bus station, Dave negotiated hard for two moto taxies (ex om) to take us the final kilometer an a half to the riverfront. Those seem to be the main form of transport here in Vietnam. We had them drop us off at Sao Hom, a nice riverfront restaurant where we dined before looking for a hotel.
Dave scouted a half dozen guidebook recommended hotels and stumbled upon the one month new, Number 1 Hotel, a five story skinny mini hotel with very big and very nice air con rooms starting at $14 per day. There were plenty of cheaper places in town but this one was well worth a few extra dong.
4/05 Càn Tho
-Mani & pedicure 60000 dong / $3
-Night market food
-Rice cakes banana and coconut
-We interviewed boat tour people before settling with Thuy for a 6 hour private boat tour for $20.
4/06 Càn Tho; 5:30am floating market tour
--First stop Cái Răng wholesale floating market. (7km)
--Rice noodle factory
--Phong Dien floating market (18km)
--Mangrove and nature walk
Lâp, Thuy’s husband, was our boat driver and guide for today. He picked us up before dawn and we walked with him to where he had moored his small boat. We shared the river with a variety of boats differing in size from barges freighters and a variety of interesting wooden boats locals use. The river supports a wonderful mix of transport. On both sides of the wide river, we glimpsed narrow wooden or cement bridges with steady streams of people walking and cycling across.
Lâp pointed out the sun rising behind us as the orange glow spread across the sky.
Laden ferries crossed the river at frequent intervals, connecting the labyrinth of trails and roads through the delta.
As we approached Cái Răng market at a fork in the canal, a guy floated up to us calling out "coffee, tea hot or ice?" He had an efficient set-up and apparently didn't spill a drop. Why did we bother to bring our own cool drinks?
We got closer into the wheeling and dealing of this wholesale market and it was hopping!
Large wooden boats, loaded with piles of squashes, onions, cabbage, melons, mangoes, pineapples, and garlic, came here to buy and sell. People haggled and loaded and unloaded goods. It's a busy place. And ladies in small boats floated by to sell hot food to the hungry merchants.
Because we were in such small boat, Lâp easily maneuvered in between the tightest spots and we had a ball getting an up close view of fascinating cultural experience.
We watched a few large tour boats breeze by the perimeter, with megaphone equipped guides blasting stories in their ears. The bewildered tourist barely had time to frame a shot.
Our next stop was a rice noodle factory down a small side canal. They used pretty much the same process we had watched in the village in Cambodia except on a bit larger scale. The thin "crepes" are steamed for a few seconds then dried on racks in the sun and then put through cutter.
We returned to the main thoroughfare and continued along the channel to Phong Điền, another floating market. Phong Điền wasn't as big or lively as Cái Răng. It had the same fruits, rice, lunch boats and was less crowded this hour of the morning.
It was 8:30. “Ready for lunch?” Lâp asked. At 8:30?
We doubled back and turned left down a side channel and motored by houses with decks and platforms hanging over the water's edge. Villagers washed their clothes and bathed in the murky Mekong Delta river water.
After venturing into an even smaller channel, Lâp pulled the boat to a small diving board size dock. It was time for the nature walk!
Then we came to small bamboo house with large vegetable gardens, behind which, expansive lush rice fields opened up. A cute little girl came out with plastic bin and joined her parents picking beans. Continuing the hike, we heard frogs jump in the river ahead of our approach, so peaceful.
We suddenly got to a precarious bridge and I was sure to take a picture of a local lady when she effortlessly crossed it not realizing I would be next! I was not so nimble!
Birds were few. Then I heard chirp, chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp, chirp. I looked and looked and tried to find what I imagined must be a colorful bird in the branches.
Here the trail was paved and Lâp was waiting for us at the restaurant. It became 9:30 by now. It was high time for lunch!!
The boat ride back to Can Tho was every bit as scenic. We continued through the small canals in the mangroves before breaking back out to the wide expanse of the Can Tho river. More fishing boat with nets, more barges, more river life in general. We were back within the 5 to 6 hour estimate and would have been happy to keep going. It was all we had hoped for.....
4/07 More Time in Càn Tho
-9 Vietnamese eggrolls
-tofu stuffed gourd
-2x fried somethings, crisps & rice
-2x ice tea
Total 49000 dong ($2.39)
Yes, we have made Càn Tho our home a bit longer-than planned. It is relatively cool with nice afternoon breeze from the river cooling things. This is all relative. It is still 34c. We enjoy the town, life on the river, and the markets. It suited us for a week or so. Our hotel was comfortable and central located. The everyday stuff, like the different food we encounter, I like to write about.
For lunch today, we stumbled across this small place bursting at the seams with people eating and slurping. That is a good sign so we decided to give it a try. At the counter, we pointed to all the dishes that looked interesting to us. A table was cleared and a fan was pointed in my direction immediately. I guess they noticed the sweat pouring off my brow. And large glass mugs of ice tea were put in front of us. Next came the 9 Vietnamese egg-rolls. The vegetable soup followed by the tofu stuffed gourd, two fried somethings, crispy seasoned chips made of fried dough & rice, and green beans. It was all tasty and fresh, and above all, homemade. We asked for the bill, which spurred a big discussion among the staff. One girl was joined by another and they jabbered and jabbered. Then another person from the back joined them and a calculator was brought out. Dave and I looked at each other like "we've been had". Finally, the calculator was pushed in front of us; 49000 dong ($2.39).
4/08 Lingering in Càn Tho
We had a second fabulous moonlit dinner at Sao Hom Riverside Restaurant. I ordered the fried Mekong fish and Dave had the crispy noodles with seafood again. It was another beautiful balmy evening. We watched the moon rise over the Mekong. Small boats scurried between the larger boats to cross the river. It appeared to be a chaotic mess of river traffic; ferrys crossing in between various wooden boats, small flat motor motorboats ferrying people back and forth, sometimes barely missing the larger ships, a free for all. It looks like anything goes but it appears to work.
Dinner was served. My fish was cleverly perched up between large toothpicks on a halved cucumber. The waiter then expertly operated on my fish like a surgeon and had it looking even prettier with both meaty sides curled down. He showed me how to fill the small rice pancakes with noodles, vegetables and fish then roll it tight and dip it in the tangy dipping sauce. What a treat. We lingered over this meal.