Can Tho: The Entryway to the Cai Rang Floating Market & Much More

with 63 Comments

 

One of the places I was really excited about visiting in Vietnam was the infamous floating markets. After spending a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, we booked a tour at one of the many offices in the backpacker district. The tour included transportation by air-conditioned mini-van, one-night accommodation (in a decent guest house), meals while touring, two days visiting the floating market and a whole lot of other stops.

We don’t usually like to join tours but this was at the end of our three-week trip of hardcore negotiations to avoid being scammed and sleepless nights on mostly filthy buses so we decided to take it easy. Plus, the price of about $18USD was unbeatable. Getting there on our own was more expensive and complicated so this was our best option for relaxing on our last leg in Vietnam.

 

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On our way to Can Tho, we made a quick stop at Vình Tràng Temple (included in the price) – a multi-acre complex made up of neatly trimmed gardens, pretty potted plants and a variety of Buddha statues – one of which seemed very joyful with his bulging belly.

 

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Upon arrival in Can Tho, we headed to the dock to board a small boat with a basket-weave roof providing much-needed shelter from the burning sun. Our guide was a very gleeful and upbeat man with a talent (not really but he seemed to think so) for singing. His heart-felt songs (in Vietnamese) and his off-tune, crackling voice filled the boat with laughter from all the passengers of different nationalities and races – yup his talent was transcendent!

 

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After some time on our boat equipped with our very own singing guide, we transferred into smaller wooden boats known as sampans to float along the narrow, murky waters of the canals snaking off the Mekong. We arrived at Turtle Island to visit a candy-making & wrapping workshop with a few other shops along the way beckoning for our dongs. I didn’t really like this part of the tour but I made the best of it by straying away from the crowds and finding a little respite further along the canal.

 

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Candy-making & wrapping – I would’ve skipped it but it was part of the tour

 

 

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The sampan boat ride would’ve been much more pleasant if it weren’t for the constant, aggressive demands from the lady paddling it to give her tip money.

Tip money, tip money! 

We laughed it off so she finally joined in making the ride much more fun. At the end of the boat ride, we did give her a tip but true to Vietnamese nature (as far as those dealing with tourists), she complained that it wasn’t enough.

Sigh & good-bye!

 

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The “Tip money, tip money” lady

 

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We arrived back in Can Tho when the sun had set. We had the whole night to ourselves to do as we pleased. I didn’t expect much from this riverside town but turns out it was very enjoyable. The night market was bounding with merchants and buzzing with people – just the way I like it (I even bought a cute pair of shoes).

The immaculate granite-tiled boardwalk overlooked by a golden statue of the controversial leader Ho Chi Minh was the perfect setting for an evening stroll along the Mekong. The vibe in Can Tho was very laid-back and unassuming – the kind of town not bothered by tourism despite being the entryway to the much-visited floating market just a few kilometers away.

 

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The next day it was time to finally go to the floating market – yay! The closest and most accessible floating market from Can Tho is Cai Rang – the biggest and busiest in Vietnam. After a short boat ride, we arrived at the bustling floating market I had waited so long to see. Vendors selling fruits & vegetables were clustered together deeply involved in transactions while others were engaged in very animated conversations.

Some of the vendors stopped by the boats filled with tourists to offer coffee and an array of their items. I noticed that many of the vendors actually lived full-time on the boats – children and dogs and all. Rows of small wooden houses barely standing on stilts lining the Mekong River made for a very authentic setting.

 

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Perhaps we got there too late in the day but I did expect there to be a higher number of boats (this being the biggest market) but it seems the tradition of doing business in floating markets is waning down with the arrival of newer more modern options. Nonetheless, I was glad to have experienced everyday life of some of the people still dependent on the floating market.

 

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Up next, we docked on the muddy banks of Unicorn Island. This time, we went to a noodle-making workshop. The rustic equipment used and the demonstration of the process of noodle-making was interesting and even fun (better than the candy-making workshop) thanks to the friendly workers. This seemed to be an authentic workshop doing real business not one set up just for tourists (but I could be wrong). You can even buy some freshly-made noodles to take with you; one pound cost about $1USD.

 

 

 

I liked drifting away from the Mekong and seeing people go about their day in a more intimate way. I can only imagine how strange it must seem to them seeing foreigners enthusiastically taking pictures of them doing normal, everyday chores. I sometimes feel guilty (and silly) when taking pictures but then I think of those who don’t have the same privilege as me to travel and my guilt turns into a sense of appreciation and gratefulness (my apologies to the locals).

 

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After the noodle-making workshop, we went to a farm where pineapples and pitayas (also known as dragon fruits) were harvested. It was the first time I saw pineapples in their natural habitat – aren’t they cute? I was amused at the funky, dread-locked trees on which the pretty pitayas grew.

 

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This tour was obviously tailored for tourists so, at times, it definitely felt like a tourist trap but it was perfect for the way we were feeling at the end of our trip. We also had the chance to make friends with like-minded travelers from Sweden, Hong Kong and Germany which made this excursion much more fun!

 

 

 

Read all about my travels in Vietnam

 

 

 

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Did you visit any floating markets in Vietnam? Am I the only one who didn’t know how pineapples grew?

 

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  • amy

    Thanks for this! I generally like going without tours too but like you said, you were able to meet people from different countries, which is always such a good time! I feel like I related a lot with you on your empathy with the local people. Sometimes I feel like an ignorant American taking pictures of people doing everyday things. I enjoyed your post 🙂

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      haha…..well then I feel like an ignorant Canadian when taking pictures of locals! 😉

  • Wow looks like you had such an amazing time! we want to head back to Vietnam soon and will definitely visit this place! Love those floating markets!

  • La Vida Viva Travel

    Sounds like you had a great time and that floating market is awesome, especially for that price. Really enjoyed hearing about your time. What was your favourite part of the trip?

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      My favorite part was just floating on the Mekong taking in the scenery. It’s such an iconic river and I was mesmerized at how much it’s a lifeline for so many people!

  • Sumti Bhadani

    Floating market seems to be very interesting to visit…..Thanks for sharing!!

  • Kathy James

    I too sometimes need a break from negotiating my own way through a country especially when there is always wanting a piece of you (or should I say money). I completely understand the need to go on an organised trip.
    It does sound like you had a lovely time at the floating markets and I am glad you managed to turn the experience of the lady in the boat to a funny one.
    I remember seeing pineapples growing like that and I was really shocked. I thought it was a mutant tree :-0

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      This tour was exactly what we needed and we got to meet some fun people from around the world! Haha….I’m so relieved to know I’m not the only one who thought the pineapple tree was strange (and very cute)!

  • So wonderful that you got to explore the Mekong Delta beyond Ho Chi Minh City. It looks like you had such an authentic experience, and really got to see the way the locals go about their everyday life. U$18 for your tour is incredible – what a find! Learning how to make noodles at Unicorn Island (what a cool name), sounds like a great experience. And those Pitaya plants look so unique.

  • Conversations of Us

    This is a good take/perspective of Vietnam and this is just beautiful! Markets are really fun in Asia and we could always attest to that and their colourful culture, simply amazing! 🙂

  • I am really excited to make it to Vietnam, but your introduction of a 3 week trip of hardcore negotiations to avoid being scammed and many sleepless nights on dirty buses sounds…adventurous. O.o’ So the $18 tour sounded like a great option! But it looks like an amazing and interesting experience. I think I would be most interested in the temples, which look pretty intricate and complex. We briefly visited a floating market in Cambodia, so I’d probably like to visit the Can Tho is Cai Rang market. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I believe the buses have improved tremendously but I don’t think the scamming has let up unfortunately! 😉

  • I don’t know much at all about travel in Vietnam, so this was super interesting to me! Especially learning about the culture and tipping haha…I had no idea they would complain about that. I’ve never heard of floating markets, but I definitely want to experience one! I also love that there’s a place called Unicorn Island hehe. Here’s to hoping I get to travel Asia sometime soon!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hope you make it to Vietnam one day – it’s a wonderful country as long as you’re careful with your money! 😉

  • michelle d

    WHO KNEW WHAT A PINEAPPLE LOOKED LIKE WHILE GROWINg! I think I’m most blown away by that picture haha!! Looks like you had a lovely time

  • dolceandmasala

    I would love to explore South East Asia. Only been to Thailand so far. Thanks for sharing your experience in Vietnam! I too would have wound up with a pair of shoes (or two). With my poor negotiation skills, a tour for $18 sounds good. Sounds like you had some interesting entertainment thrown is!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I actually wanted to buy another pair of shoes but they didn’t have my size. 🙂

  • Bit unfortunate hearing about the Tip Lady! Sadly I’m not surprised to here that happened… I didn’t end up visiting Can Tho while I was in Vietnam and I didn’t know that Cai Rang is the biggest floating market! It’s always great when you meet like-minded travellers on the road though 🙂

  • Victoria Hawkins

    I have yet to visit any destination in Asia. Vietnam looks awesome and the floating market is really something! Demanding tips is a real turn off though, I experienced that aggressively in Egypt!

  • My wife is from Thailand and I plan on going to Vietnam in 2018. Your tour of the floating market for $18 USD seems really good value for money (much cheaper than Thailand); too bad about the sampan boat lady bugging you for tips, the wee singer sounds like a funny guy though. I like your pictures – I didn’t know pineapples grew in the ground like that – I thought they grew on trees like coconuts lol! Nice post. Take care, and good luck on your travels.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      The price was truly unbeatable – we were very happy to have taken the tour (saved us lots of headaches)! I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t know how pineapples grew….lol! Happy travels to you, too!

  • Floating markets appear to be a staple in Asia, isn’t it? I always love reading about these markets and other cultural activities from a country. That is such a good price for the tour, too!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Floating markets are definitely part of traditional South East Asian culture and they’re great to visit especially when they haven’t been turned into tourist traps. 🙂

  • Lynne Sarao

    I absolutely loved seeing the floating markets in Vietnam because it is something so completely different from anything I’ve ever known. Your story and photos brought me back there! Such great memories!

  • Gokul

    I am off to Thailand next month. I hope to get to Vietnam from there. This post really helped to get an idea about the place.

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    It was definitely a relief to not bother with bargaining and to not have to deal with scammers. It turned out to be a great decision on our part!

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    haha…..the noodle-making turned out to be quite fun and interesting only because the workers were so friendly and we weren’t pressured to buy anything. I’m Italian and my grandmother used to make homemade pasta but I never even tried to make any….lol!

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    Unfortunately locals always expecting more money from travelers is rampant in Asia. We found this to be quite annoying in Vietnam though!

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    Great! We booked our tour in one of the many agencies around the backpacker’s district in Ho Chi Minh City. We only went to 2 or three and they all seemed to offer the same thing but this price was the lowest and the girl selling the tickets was very nice. 🙂

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    I think floating markets are pretty much the same everywhere but what probably differs is how they’re presented to tourists and if they’ve kept their authenticity (which doesn’t seem to be the case in most countries). :

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    Yes it was a bargain that we just couldn’t pass up! I only bought one pair of shoes only because they didn’t have my size in all the ones I liked. 🙂

  • A Woman Afoot

    What a great tour! I’ve never been to this place of the world and it just looks magical! I loved especially the narrow Mekong river’s natural greenery! I am also surprised how those stilt-houses don’t collapse! Thank you for sharing your adventure with us!
    Ioanna

  • The pineapple is super cute! The tour sounds like a lot of fun and I love the pictures of the floating market. I also love the jolly Buddha with the bulging belly. It’s great that you have a sense of humor about things like the tipping lady too.

  • I am headed to Vietnam soon and this sounds amazing. I love the Unicorn island and your noodle making workshop. cant believe how cheap the noodles were 🙂 I am always amazed how south east asia is so afforable – even more than India… thats why I keep going back 🙂

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      You can easily book a tour when you’re in Ho Chi Minh City – I’m sure they all offer the same circuit. We bought a pound of those noodles but they rotted by the time we got home….lol! Enjoy Vietnam!

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    You need to get some pics of your people then! I didn’t go to the floating markets in Bangkok as I heard they were mostly tourist traps. I didn’t feel that way about the one in Can Tho but I was expecting it to be much busier. But, you’re right, it was nice to get a glimpse nonetheless.

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    There was plenty of candy to be bought to satisfy your sweet tooth! 😉
    I had such a hard time finding my shoe size – everything is so much smaller in Vietnam and I ended up buying (North American) size 10 (or European size 40) when I usually wear size 6 or 7!

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    I really liked Vietnam but, unfortunately, one of the downsides is scamming and always being asked for more money (no beggars though). I’m sure as travelers we can be quite annoying to some locals with our cameras….lol!

  • Sandy & Vyjay

    A refreshing post with a candid perspective. Loved the photos, they bring alive the life and the enchanting natural beauty of the place in vivid colour.

  • Laura Nalin

    Very cool pose! I didn’t know pineapples grew that way until a few years ago when I saw some on Maui. I am going to look through some of your Vietnam posts. It’s one of my favorite countries – my partner and I are actually planning on moving there in July! Loving all your photos =)

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Vietnam is also one of my favorite countries! I’m a little envious – we only spent 3 weeks there but we both felt it was a place where we could live. Good luck with your move!

  • TalesOfABackpacker

    Haha I didn´t know pineapples grew like that till I saw some myself in South America last year 😉 I too usually tend to avoid tours but in situations like this they really are the best option! Sounds like you packed a lot in.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Glad to know I’m not the only one! They’re just so cute! The tour was definitely the best option both for our wallets and our sanity. 🙂

  • Pack Your Baguios

    What a great tour! I would have thought there would be more boats, too. I love all of the vegetation and bright colors! Pinning this for my hopefully future trip!

  • Neha Verma

    Such a wonderful experience that you had. I particularly like the big laughing buddha followed by the sleeping buddha. Buddha seems to be a favorite here. Also, the ‘tip lady’ story made me smile..seems like a trend in many places across Asia

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      We often encountered people like the ‘tip lady’ throughout Vietnam – it’s one of the negative aspects of traveling in this country. Most people who didn’t deal with tourists were really nice though.

  • Vietnam always looks amazing. Its on out bucketlist for this year . My wife has chased down markets all around Europe i think she would enjoy a floating amarket

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Then your wife is going to love Asia as there are markets of all sorts everywhere – it’s one of the things I love most about traveling in that part of the world!

  • Sounds like such a fun experience. I am the same where sometimes I just don’t want to deal with all the negotiating and scams and will just give into a tour. Sometimes they are a little too touristy and cheesy, but you do meet other amazing travelers. Most of the time the experience doesn’t’ really end up being so bad. I loved all the photos you took. It really felt like I was there with you. I wish I could of heard that one guy singing 🙂

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      The price was so unbeatable it was hard to resist not taking the tour! The guide was so proud of his singing…..makes me regret not filming him. 😉

  • I visited something like in Cambodia and it was definitely very interesting. This looks fabulous. I know what you mean about the scams

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Unfortunately as travelers we always seem to be on guard when it comes to scams but I guess it’s all part of the adventure. 🙂

  • Girlswanderlust

    This sounds like a great few days and experience! Would love to experience the floating markets one time :-). Nice photos also!

  • Hot Foot Trini

    Asia always has the best markets, don’t they? These markets in Vietnam look like fun. Would you ever visit that country again?

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Outdoor markets of any kind are one of the reasons why I really like traveling in Asia! I would definitely go back to Vietnam because we only had 3 weeks and we both feel like it really wasn’t enough.

  • Even I hardly take up organized tours. I’ve been on only one in England where public transport wasn’t good and we didn’t have a vehicle! Looks like a good way to end a trip. Btw, the woven baskets look gorgeous!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I’m really not a fan either but this tour was perfect for our weary selves. Unfortunately those baskets weren’t for sale but I also found them really pretty (and I love baskets)! I did buy a few in Hanoi just before leaving (didn’t want to be carrying them around for 3 weeks).

  • Marcie Wirtz Cheung

    You got to do this for $18!?! Awesome! The colors in your photos are so vibrant! Thanks for sharing with us!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Yup $18USD which was great for us back then because the Canadian dollar was equivalent to the US dollar (now it totally sucks!). This was almost 4 years ago so I don’t know if prices went up but it was an amazing deal!

  • Pete

    As a Queenslander, pineapples are no surprise. I’m used to whole hillsides of them. Bananas, likewise; my grandfather had a banana farm up Eumundi way and he used us as free labour.

    What do the dragon fruit taste like?

    It all looks very lush and green and doubtless humid.

    Had to lagh at your “tip money!” lady. Glad she did too.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I personally don’t like the white interior dragon fruit (I find it very bland) but the red interior one is really good! Both look the same from the exterior but the red interior one is brighter on the outside. It’s hard to tell which is which though. We were in Vietnam in April/May so the heat and humidity were quite heavy.

  • Brooke

    I have wanted to go to Vietnam for so many years. I’ll admit it’s in large part because I could live on nothing but Vietnamese food and be happy. My absolute fave Asian cuisine. It also used to be such a less visited part of Asia but of course like everything in this internet age now that everyone can see all the other people traveling to a place there are far more people going places that used to be off the beaten path. Glad you enjoyed your trip! Did you go to Sapa at all?

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hi Brooke! Then you would be in heaven in Vietnam – you have to go! 😉
      We did go to Sapa and really enjoyed it though it is quite touristic (like much of Vietnam). You can read about it on my blog post. 🙂