Today, we’re rising with the sun to witness the vibrant floating market just outside of Can Tho, in South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
We begin at the Ninh Kieu Pier, right in the center of Can Tho, with its pretty square and larger-than-life statue of Ho Chi Minh.
The floating market is 4km away as the river runs, and our boat makes its way past fishermen casting their nets on little skiffs, larger trawlers and boats laden down with all sorts of goods.
It’s a fascinating look into how the residents of the Mekong Delta use this expansive network of waterways for transport, for food… really, for life.
We watch the watery world go by as we sip on a much-needed cup of strong Vietnamese coffee and a beautifully presented breakfast buffet…
… complete with Western pastries, an egg station, fresh fruit for which the Mekong Delta is known, and even a traditional Vietnamese “pho” station! It’s a lovely way to spend the 30 minutes or so to the floating market while watching the ever-changing scenery on the way.
The trip flies by and we soon catch our first glimpse of the dozens of boats that make up the floating market moored just outside the tiny town of Cai Rang. We semi-begrudgingly exchange our croissants for cameras.
It’s barely 7:30, but some boats are already heavy with produce, making their way back to supply the land-based markets.
Our boat offers the perfect vantage point from which to see all the wonderful fruits and vegetables brought here from all over the Delta: green and orange pumpkins, watermelons, pineapples and other exotic fruits we’ve never even seen before.
The boats and barges are so full, there’s barely enough room to move, which means that the best way to move items around is by tossing them from one end of the boat to the other, or from one boat to the next!
Because many of the boats sell the same types of items, many of the vendors focus on presentation, cleaning the produce and piling them high into attractive mounds.
There’s no need for hawking here, though, as whatever’s for sale is hung up on long poles, easily seen from afar.
The market begins early, at the crack of dawn, meaning smaller boats also ply the waters selling noodles, bread and coffee to the vendors and to early-rising tourists alike. Thankfully, our breakfast buffet remains open so we’re happy to take a bite of croissants with homemade jam in between photo ops!
If you think that by taking to water, you can avoid Vietnam’s ubiquitous lottery ticket sellers, you’d be wrong…
The ultimate in home delivery…
Because for many of the sellers, home is their barge, complete with satellite dishes, sound systems, potted plants and laundry…
… and pets!
The market has been around for decades, from a time when roads were lacking. Even still, river transport is cheaper than land and with so many houses built right on the side of the river, taking a boat to the floating market is just as easy as driving to a land-based market.
By 9am, the market begins to slow down and the buyers are heading home…
It’s been an amazing experience witnessing up close and personal how commerce is done on the river.
If you go: There are numerous types of boats available for hire around the Ninh Kieu Pier, including tourist boats which accommodate large groups to smaller ones for just a few people. The Victoria Can Tho Resort has its own boat, the Mekong Princess, on which early risers can enjoy a beautiful buffet breakfast while cruising past stilted homes, women doing laundry and children playing football on the banks of the Hau River. In addition to a visit to the Cai Rang floating market, the boat makes a few additional stops providing a glimpse of daily life around the river.