For this trip I hired a boat for about $14 dollars that will take me on an approximate 3.5 hour tour on the Hua River, a tributary of the Mekong where I’ll see a wholesale floating market in action and visit a rice paper making village. After 45 minutes of passing by colorful vessels and regular river activity, including tourist boats heading in the opposite direction on their way to other floating markets we arrived at the Cai Rang wholesale market. Cruising at a slower speed by boats almost spilling over with pineapples and other fresh fruit and produce. Local buyers arrive to purchase goods from the farmers that bring their fruit and produce to Cai Rang and take it to the cities to sell to shops and other wholesalers.
It’s important to hire a boat and leave the dock at Can Tho before 7am otherwise you’ll mostly just run in to other tour boats by the time you arrive. You can either book your boat in advance at your hotel or make a deal with one of the boat ladies hanging out at the dock on Hai Ba Trung. Typically a boat here will have a sample of whatever they’re selling attached to a long pole, so it’s easy to spot what you’re looking for from a distance on the water. This also saves the farmers or sellers from having to yell out what they’re selling like in a typical market.
You’ll also have a chance to interact with boats pulling up and offering drinks and snacks.
Can Tho was once part of the Khmer kingdom. There’s still a significant Khmer community noticable by the numerous Cambodian style Buddhist temples in the city.
If you’ve just arrived from Ho Chi Minh City you’ll appreciate a slighter slower pace with a mix of wide streets and narrow lanes. The city has enough interesting sites and places to stroll to keep you engaged for at least a few days. I found it effortless to settle in and enjoy the even friendlier environment and the inexpensive delicious food and fruit of the region.
The Khmer style temples of the region are Theraveda Buddhist unlike the Vietnamese type that are filled with Taoist Gods and Buddhist deities. A visit to Munirensay Pagoda will either immediately take you back to your days in Cambodia or inspire you to cross the border.
There are plenty of lovely restaurants along the waterfront on Hai Ba Trung as well as a nightly market with plenty of cheap food stalls but don’t miss out on the great spots on De Tham, the street of food located on Hue Vien close by the Munirensay pagoda. Here you can find a huge selection of dishes whether you favor meat, fish, or vegetarian. Plus there’s bake shops that sell slabs of cake for less than 50 cents, and fruit stalls with jackfruit that’s as sweet as candy.
There are lots of friendly streets to stroll and if you decide you want to take a rest and have a caphe da, or vietnamese iced coffee, just grab a plastic chair and have a seat. I like the fresh fruit juices cafes serve here as well.
Head back to Hai Ba Trung walk along the river’s edge, check off another Ho Chi Minh statue you’ve seen on your trip and make your way to the prettiest temple in Can Tho, Ong Temple inside the Guangzhou Assembly Hall. Under all of the huge incense coils that lends to the temples magical atmosphere you’ll find Kuang Kung or Guan Yu, right in the center. The God of war Kuang Kung symbolizes truth, justice, and courage among other qualities. Kuang Kung is the main deity worshipped at the temple.
Development and modernization is spreading across Vietnam including Can Tho but there’s still remnants from the past including the Ninh Kieu Pier Tourist Market and it’s Market Hall dating back to 1913. Inside you’ll find trinkets and clothes, souvenirs, and a restaurant/cafe with lovely river views. Meanwhile back on the floating market tour we traveled up one of the quieter pretty canals to visit a rice paper making village.
As touristy as some of this activity may seem you’d kick yourself if you didn’t hire a boat and visit a floating market while staying in Can Tho or the Mekong Delta region. The feeling of cruising up and down the river amidst this unique way of trade is an extremely rewarding adventure.
There are longer river trips and more temples and sites to see around Can Tho. However it’s the slower pace, obvious relaxed feel of the city and it’s people as well as the transcendental experience of the Mekong River system that is the bigger take away. It’s a reminder that as much as the country is changing it’s the old ways and pace of life that reflects the true beauty of Vietnam.
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