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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
Enjoyed this post? Please pin it?
Did you visit any floating markets in Vietnam? Am I the only one who didn’t know how pineapples grew?