The floating markets are among the most popular attractions in Vietnam and if you are in the country, put it in one of your must-visit destinations.
Some months back, I went with a couple of friends to visit the famous Cai Rang floating markets in Can Tho, about four hours away by car from Ho Chi Minh City. I would have wanted to try the bus but there were no early trips and we would have to spend the night in Can Tho if we were to make it to the floating markets.
We rented a private car which picked us up from my friend’s apartment at 2 in the morning. I was planning to sleep through the trip but changed my mind when I saw a female driver behind the wheel. I have nothing against female drivers, except that this one was yawning every minute, and was so obvious she didn’t get any sleep the night before.
My two companions slept through the trip, but I didn’t. I was keeping an eye on our drowsy driver and tried to ply her with snacks and conversation. It was still dark when we arrived in Can Tho. We fell in line with all the others who were heading to the floating markets. We were handed damp life jackets on we went to where the boats were docked.
We sailed into the Mekong River for a few minutes until we saw them–boats loaded with agricultural products, fruit, bananas, root crops, watermelons, flowers, hot food and noodles, and Vietnamese delicacies.
It was a busy scene but the passengers from our boat seemed more interested in taking photos and selfies than in buying anything.
The sun was just coming out when we returned to the dock. We headed to the Bihn An market at Lo Boulevard, just along the riverbank. Here, everything is an explosion of life and movement and colors. Vendors display meat, seafood, freshly caught fish, and an assortment of products in an open market and on the streets.
This is the destination for local people, restaurant owners, and residents to purchase all kinds of food and ingredients.
Most of the vendors at the market are local farmers selling products straight from their farms. You get the freshest of products at prices so cheap you would feel guilty to even try to bargain.
Vendors at the Can Tho market only used to sell fresh vegetables and fruits but over the years, they have attracted more tourists and expanded to include other items including clothes and textile, household goods, souvenir items, and more.
The market comes to life as early as 3 a.m. and is active all the way to 9 a.m. but be there just before daybreak to get the best deals.
It was hard to make a choice on what to eat. There were just too many goodies all spread out in one place. We ended up buying several bags of fruits and traditional cakes which we along the way and finished whatever was left back at my friend’s condo.
On the way back, we asked our driver to stop at one of the coffee shops along the road and forced her to take a nap in one of the free hammocks shop owners offer their customers for free. She insisted she was fine and did not need sleep but we could not risk having her fall asleep on the wheel. We insisted she needed a nap. She was outnumbered and finally dragged her feet toward one of the hammocks. We watched her and she started snoring the minute she snuggled into a hammock.
You can join tours for the floating market experience in Can Tho, or go on your own. From Ho Chi Minh City, you can take the bus which costs about $5 to $8, rent a motorbike for about $15, or take a taxi for $100. If you rent a car, you have the freedom to stop at those quaint roadside coffee shops and eateries or divert from the main highway for a bit to catch more of the rural scenery.
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