Bustling CAN THO Amidst the Serene MEKONG DELTA

A trip from Hồ Chí Minh City to the bustling city Can Tho amidst the rural Mekong Delta is one of the touristy standard tours.

Man holding a rooster in Can Tho in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam
Definitely a rural spot.

Actually, you can take the trip on your own since there are public buses going to the Delta on a regular schedule. This way, you can put together your individual program.

However, on an individually organized tour, you’ll need much more time. And since you’ll probably have to haggle for each and every little thing, you can as well pay a bit more, save yourself the hassle and go on an organized trip.

For solo travellers like myself, this also bears the advantage of temporary company.

Hence, I did an organized two-day tour, but if I had more time, I would have stayed at least one or two days longer and just enjoyed the rural life and serenity.

Mekong Delta

The Mekong river shapes the rural region southwest of Hồ Chí Minh City into a delta. Here, the Mekong flows into the South China Sea in a network of river arms. The river delta emerged from sedimentation instead of a sea bay and is still growing annually by about 80 meters.

In the delta’s water landscape, most of the inhabitants work and even live basically on the water. Every hut, no matter how small, has access to a waterway. On the flip side, there are only few connections to drivable roads.

Vendor on the floating market of Cai Rang
Young man on the floating market of Cai Rang.

The fertile alluvial soil makes intensive agriculture easy. This region is called the southern rice chamber of Vietnam for a reason: In three annual harvests, there is a production of 16 million tons of rice. But also fruits, vegetables, sugarcane, and coconuts are making the Mekong Delta a fertile garden Eden.

Disputes

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the delta was only sparsely populated, mainly due to epidemics. The region initially belonged to the Khmer Kingdom and was later annexed by the Vietnamese Lê and Nguyễn dynasties.

However, to this date, Cambodians call it Lower Cambodia. Consequently, the Khmer Rouge claimed the Mekong Delta and repeatedly attacked the Vietnamese border area. Also, they often murdered Vietnamese at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. This finally led to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and the defeat of the Khmer Rouge in 1978. Yes, many people aren’t aware of the fact that it was the Vietnamese troops who liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror.

During the Vietnam War, some of the major combats between the guerrillas and the US troops took place in the Mekong Delta.

Cần Thơ

With around 250,000 inhabitants, Cần Thơ is the largest city in the Mekong Delta region and the fourth largest city in Vietnam.

Various stores, hotels, and restaurants are lining the Hai Bà Trưng promenade. Restaurant ships are along the Ninh Kiều-Quay. Here, you can also charter boats to the Cái Khế Canal and the floating markets.

Touring the Mekong Delta

Those markets are actually the main reason for most of the touristy visits to the region. Yet, if you book an organized tour from Hồ Chí Minh City, you get to see much more than this. The way they rush you from one spot to the other can be a bit stressful and unsatisfactory at the very moment. Nevertheless, getting to know all those different aspects of life in the delta leaves you with a comprehensive image and wonderful memories.

Vendors on the floating market of Cai Rang
Refreshments delivered to the boat: Coconuts, soft drinks, and snacks.

You can visit all those places on your own. However, this will take much longer and moneywise, it probably won’t make such a big difference. Also, you’ll have to haggle with each and every driver and boatman individually. Phew!

From My Tho to the Mekong Islands

On an organized tour, the coach leaves Hồ Chí Minh City in the early morning. As you get to the town of My Tho, you’ll board a boat that tours through the delta to the different islands.

Mekong river
The mighty mekong.

On a stop at the so-called Unicorn Island you’ll get to see some of the orchards. During a tea break at a honey-farm, you get to listen to traditional Vietnamese music played on quite unique instruments.

Rowing on the Thoi Son Canal

Eventually, some local ladies rowed us down the Thoi Son Canal crossing a lush jungle.

Boat on a creek at the Mekong Delta
Row row row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily….

Coming back ashore, we visited some coconut manufactories – of course, including the obligatory shopping opportunities.

Can Tho Morning Fish Market

Apart from the cycling in the afternoon of the second day, the visit to this fish market in the wee hours was probably the most authentic activity of my trip to the Mekong Delta.

Fish market in Can Tho
Not for the faint-hearted: piles of all sort of fish – mostly still alive.

The market opens about 4 a. m. and sells, obviously, mainly fish, but also meats and some veggies. Nevertheless, for our wimpy westerners’ eyes, there is a lot of animal cruelty going on.

Fish market in Can Tho
Vegetarian’s idea of hell: Can Tho market at 5 o’clock in the morning. We were literally wading through puddles of blood.

If you want to see beauty, stay in bed until you can go the the floating market. If you want to have a truly Vietnamese shopping experience, get up on time to wade in fish’n’frog blood.

This visit, by the way, was not officially on the agenda. A walk across this fish market was a facultative offer by our guide.

This was actually one of the few nice things he did. I’ve described in my post on Ho Chi Minh City how he scolded me in front of the entire group for not calling the city by its former name Saigon. Obviously, a political statement.

Cai Rang Floating Market

Cai Rang is the largest floating marketing in Can Tho. The market is about 8 kilometers south of the city. Business starts at around 4 a. m., and usually, by 10 a. m., the show is over. Therefore, it’s really worth it to make it there at the break of dawn, hence around 6 a. m.

Vendors on the floating market of Cai Rang
The floating vendors are advertising their goods by tying them to a high stick – here it’s melons….
Vendors on the floating market of Cai Rang
….and here cabbage and cucumbers.

Although the market is a major tourist magnet, it still is a place for agricultural goods.

Vendor on the floating market of Cai Rang
Did you have breakfast? If not, you can get some at this mobile restaurant.

The Cai Rang bridge over the Can Tho rivers offers great views of the spectacle below. Still, exploring the market by boat is a far more authentic experience.

Cycling the Village of Tan Thach

Before we swapped paddling for pedaling, a visit to another manufacture was due – we visited a typical noodle factory.

The main reason why I kinda hate visiting those manufacturies is that I don’t trust them to be real. After I’ve visited dozens of those places around the globe – as well as a couple of ‘traditional’ villages – that were clearly set up for touristy visits, to me, it’s like visiting some kind of open-air museum. Not my trips’ favorite parts.

Trail at the Mekong Delta
Riding the bike across a Garden Eden.

This being said, it won’t surprise you that the next activity was one of my favorite. We just cycled through the lush sceneries of the canals and rice paddies and through the village of Tan Thach.

If I ever go back on my own, this is what I’ll do during an entire day.

Vĩnh Tràng Chùa

Our last stop before heading back to Hồ Chí Minh City took us to the town of Mỹ Phong.

Vĩnh Tràng Chùa is one of the region’s best-known Buddhist temples on the banks of the Bảo Định canal.

Vĩnh Tràng Temple in the Mekong Delta
Snow white reclining Buddha.

Between 1859 and 1862, French colonial forces battled the Nguyễn Dynasty. Emperor Tự Đức ceded three southern provinces. They became part of the French colony of Cochinchina. In the combat, Vĩnh Tràng was seriously damaged.

Vĩnh Tràng Temple in the Mekong Delta
Rushing through the Vĩnh Tràng Temple

Actually, visiting was Vĩnh Tràng Chùa gave me second thoughts about this organized trip. We had spent so much time at the rather pointless manufactories and then had so little time for this historic treasure. Well. since I had only three weeks for the entire trip to Vietnam and therefore only two days for the Mekong Delta, there wasn’t any real alternative.

Practical Information

How to Get There

There are buses going from Hồ Chí Minh City to Can Tho is to travel by tourist bus or van. Normally, the trip takes about between 3.5 and 5 hours, depending on the traffic. While you can buy a bus ticket for about 145,000 VND one way, a private car will charge at least 90 US$ for a day.

Organized tours from Hồ Chí Minh City can be booked for one to three days. Usually, visit to all attractions as well as lodging is included.

How to Get Around

The center of Can Tho is not teeny tiny, however, still walkable. Obviously, you can also rent a bike. Since especially the surroundings are really alluring, this actually makes sense.

To visit the market, you need to go from the Can Tho bus terminal to the Ninh Kiều-Quay by cab. This should cost about 80,000 VND. You can also wait for the free Futa transfer service to the quay. However, don’t forget that especially when you are travelling, time is also of great value. Sometimes it’s not worth it saving on the wrong things.

A sampan on the Can Tho river.
A sampan – only for the adventurous folks.

Anyway, to explore the market, you will rent a sampan, one of the narrow Vietnamese boats for about 250,000 VND – for up to three people. An alternative is a boat with a roof and life jackets that normally seats up to 7 people and costs 660,000 VND.

Where to Stay

Initially, I had planned to do the tour on my own. Therefore, I had booked a room at the West Hotel* in Can Tho. As I mentioned a couple of times, accommodation in Vietnam is very reasonably priced. So I took the opportunity to splurge a bit.

Hotel pool in Can Tho
Hotel pool with a view – in the regular tour not included, but absolutely worth the extra money.

Later, I made my mind up and did go with a group. Still, I kept my reservation and got a teeny discount on the tour since there was lodging included which I didn’t use. Still, I lost some money, but I didn’t regret my decision one second: The West Hotel* is a 4* hotel with a swimming pool on the roof overlooking the mighty Mekong river. Also, I had a fantastic breakfast buffet, and the hotel was located across the street from the famous morning market.

Yet, if you want to check out other convenient lodging options, you can do so on this map*:

Booking.com

By the way, some people from our group had chosen the homestays that sounded fine and very Vietnamese. However, nobody really liked it and the big disadvantage was that they stayed far out somewhere in the countryside so they couldn’t join the visit to the morning market. So if you prefer to be independent and flexible, you better stay in the town center, obviously.

What to Eat

There was lunch included in the tour I had booked.

As we got to the restaurant, we were divided into two groups. Most of us were seated outside at a long wooden table and served some rice and curry.

A small group, however, was led into a dining room. We were seated at a big table, covered with a white table cloth. Then we were served a starter, crayfish, Vietnam’s famous elephant ear fish, and many kinds of side dishes. It was a feast and if you get the chance to enjoy these local delicacies, go for it.

Viet Nam's famous elephant ear fish - and some fixings.
Viet Nam’s famous elephant ear fish – and some fixings.

Funny enough, nobody ever addressed this curious class distinction. Judging from the fact that the Japanese family was dropped off at a fancy hotel and I had booked my hotel myself, I think that those who were eating at that master table had paid far more for the trip than the curry-people. It’s like they say, you get what you pay for. Still, they could have handled this distinction a bit more discretely.

What to See

I’m an avid solo-travelling woman. Since solo-travel doesn’t equal solitude, I love to join organized tours here and there. They allow me to meet fellow travellers – for just a short moment or a lifelong friendship.

Especially if you have only a short time for exploring the Delta, an organized trip will enable you to make the best of it*:

Cash And Cards

Can Tho is not the Mekong Delta’s tourist hotspot, but a bustling middle-sized city. Therefore, there are banks and you can get cash from ATMs.

One US-Dollar equals 23,024 Dong (VND) and one €uro 28,021 Dong (VND) as per January 2021. However, here you can check the current rate.

Can Tho and the Mekong Delta were just two of the amazing stops of my exciting visit to Vietnam. Go to the main post to check out all the other destinations.

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Note: I’m completing, editing, and updating his post regularly – last in January 2021.

19 Replies to “Bustling CAN THO Amidst the Serene MEKONG DELTA”

  1. The floating market would’ve been my utmost favorite! Omg, it’s so amazing to see how people can get so creative. The canal ride must’ve been fun

  2. This place looks like a great place to visit and explore. Vietnam is on my bucket list and I am going to save this post.

  3. I have only heard of Hồ Chí Minh City in name only, and not what is there. But after reading this, there is a lot to do! Thanks for the wonderful information!

  4. Again you find me red in the face and I am always embarrassed about how little I know of Southeast Asia. I mean 250,000 people is a lot yet I have never heard of even the name Cần Thơ! How crazy!
    But I am glad to learn more about it. I have to say that exploring the fish markets, the floating markets and pretty much anything the Mekong Delta has to offer sounds epic. I can only imagine cruising around on a Sampan sounds fun.
    But for land lovers, checking out the temples or even just the ornate gate of the Vinh Trang is a good experience as well.

    1. You don’t think I knew there was a Can Tho before I planned my visit to Vietnam, do you?!? I knew that there is Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi – that was about it 🙂 But travelling, I learn other places’ names 😉

  5. Really enjoyed my read of this post & love the captures shared in this post too. Can Tho mekong delta can potray so much the local communities’ lifestyle which I wanna personally be there. cheers, siennylovesdrawing

  6. Thank you for this detailed and informative guide. You are right with when tourist agencies rush you from one place to another, that’s why I prefer doing my trips alone. I can have my time freely.

    1. If I had more time, I’d also do it individually. But I had only two days – and they packed it to the brim, so that was actually a good thing. Next time I dig deeper 😉

  7. in this age of flashy travel and global hot spots , this post detailing the history and pleasures of Cần Thơin the historically acclaimed Mekong Delta is very much appreciated. you have amplified all the details including what to see , where to go and what to eat in a very lucid manner

  8. vietnam are one of the countries that its on my bucket list the other one is Thailand…love the beaches,,seafoods and their exotic foods….

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