A floating market tour in Can Tho is a gritty slice of rural life in the Mekong Delta. With lots of mud. Check out the highlights in this video and read on for more details:
Visiting the Floating Market
My wakeup call was 5am. Vietnamese friends advised that the “real” floating market opens early. A short taxi ride from our hotel in Can Tho brought us to the dock. We boarded one of the first tour boats of the morning as a cloudy sunrise brightened the sky.
The merchants’ boats are as weather-beaten as their faces. Long poles rising from each boat serve as signposts; the fruit dangling from the pole lets you know what each boat has to offer. Some of the boats are floating kitchens offering hot food. One by one, merchants pulled alongside the tour boats to offer their produce to tourists who were mostly interested in taking pictures. “I feel bad if I don’t buy something,” one visitor said.
The smell and sound of gasoline-powered engines overwhelm your senses as you travel through the maze of rusty boats. Although some tours stop for breakfast in a riverside floating restaurant, our destination was a rice noodle factory. The Mekong Delta is the rice bowl of Vietnam, producing more than enough rice to feed the entire country with a surplus for export. At harvest time, large conveyors can be lowered to water level in order to transport rice directly from farmers’ boats into processing factories. This region was of strategic importance as a source of food for fighters in the Vietnam War. Read more about visiting war-related sites in this post.
Mekong Delta Mud
I’ll be honest and say that visiting this part of the world during low tide in the rainy season (mid-July) was not the best idea. For the next part of the journey we had to transfer to a smaller flat-bottomed craft that could navigate the shallow water in the canals. Sadly, the amount of plastic trash meant that the boat had to stop several times to disentangle the propeller from old shopping bags and diapers.
It had rained the night before so the riverbanks were covered in slippery mud. We stepped off the boat onto a village path where we were offered bicycles. After pedaling about the length of a football field we gave up and walked the bikes. Another football field later we parked the bikes and carefully stepped along the path to a “monkey bridge” — two slim wooden poles with an improvised handrail.
I’m sure there were fruit trees out there somewhere, but just getting to the end of the trail without giving my ass a mud bath took all of my concentration. Curious farm children and their dogs watched with amusement. I pondered what it must have been like for those who had to navigate this unforgiving landscape while toting a weapon and trying not to get killed.
My Vietnamese friends and I returned to our hotel as a mud-splattered merry band of adventure-seekers, just in time for the buffet breakfast.
Peaceful Farm Life
For a much more serene experience, I was invited to have dinner on a working farm that also serves as an outdoor TV studio for Vietnam Television’s VTV station in Can Tho.
The self-sufficient family here can feed itself with ample fish, livestock and produce grown on site. The bountiful home-cooked food just kept coming, one delicious course after another. I even got to try my hand at fishing before saying goodbye to my new friends in the Mekong Delta.
Terry’s Travel Tips
Getting there: Can Tho is a 2-hour flight from Hanoi, or a four-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Many visitors come here on a day trip from HCMC.
What to bring: Sturdy Salomon waterproof hiking shoes are a must-have for a farm visit. Your flip flops won’t stay on your feet long in the Mekong mud, and my companions were wearing dressy flats!
What to eat: Vietnamese cuisine usually includes beef, pork or chicken, so it can be challenging to be a vegetarian. My hosts took me to a Buddhist restaurant for vegetarian pho, and seafood lovers will enjoy endless varieties of the local catch from the aquatic farms in the area.
Staying there: We booked our early morning tour, including the floating market, noodle factory and orchard village, through our hotel in Can Tho. Be aware that this area doesn’t get many foreign visitors staying overnight, and the pictures on hotel websites can be a bit more posh-looking than the actual conditions. But you can forgive a few rough edges with rooms going for as little as $26 per night. If you want to be closer to the action, there are plenty of hotel choices on Can Tho’s busy main wharf.
Want more stories like this? Like @strangersinthelivingroom on Facebook, and sign up for the occasional email when there is a new post here on the blog. And for more helpful tips on planning a visit to Vietnam, read my posts on Seeing Hanoi like a Local and Cruising UNESCO World Heritage in Bai Tu Long Bay.