Markets are natural attractions for tourists and locals alike. The rich and exciting experience reflects local culture, lifestyle, and cuisine. While some of the more popular markets have become such an attraction that you find your interactions are mostly with other tourists, the floating markets in the Mekong Delta still somewhat retain their original function as places for local vendors and farmers to trade:
Cai Be, Tien Giang
Cai Be floating market (Source: Internet)
Living up to its title as the Mekong Delta’s fruit hub, Cai Be pulls in travelers with its generous heaps of tropical fleshy products, piles of vegetables, and arresting aroma of local noodle soup. This vibrant market is set amid one of the most stunning backdrops in the region: small local houses are strung out along the riverbanks and patches of orchards seem to extend infinitely.
Dusk and dawn are when Cai Be is at its most lively state. If you are accustomed to intense market delights, early in the morning is a better choice. Stall holders arrive in laden boats at the crack of dawn tossing fruits from one boat to another. Sampans offering local fares for breakfast and soft drinks weave through the throng to approach their diners who wake up even earlier to load boats with fruit and vegetables. These floating stalls cater to traditional Vietnamese flavors such as hu tieu (Chinese noodle soup), banh uot (Vietnamese thin pancake with dipping sauce), and the local coffee that most Vietnamese are addicted to.
Nothing can beat watching Mekong Delta’s residents steering boats and going about their business in providing travelers a slice of authentic local life. If you are in search of this bucolic experience, Cai Be after 4 p.m. hits the spot. Without the hustle and bustle of the morning market, travelers can be more focused on how people’s daily lives revolve around a river. For sunset hunters, you will love the fact that Cai Be is an ideal spot to catch this precious moment of dusk.
The most popular way to explore Cai Be is to going on a floating market tour, and if you would like to do the tour yourself, there are boats for rent that offer round trips to the market, nearby craft villages, and orchards.
- When to visit: 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. is the best time to visit Cai Be floating market.
- How to get there: From Mien Tay bus station in Saigon, catch a coach to Tien Giang, tickets range from 60.000 VND to 70.000 VND. From there hire a taxi to Cai Be hamlet and spend a night at a hostel there.
- How to get around: For a group of 10 to 15, head to Cai Be wharf and rent a boat at about 500.000 VND to 800.000 VND. For a smaller group of 3 to 5, make your way to Tan Phong Dune and rent a sampan from 150.000 VND to 200.000 VND for a round trip.
Cai Rang, Can Tho
Cai Rang floating market (Source: Internet)
Cai Rang is the oldest and has the most potential to become the central market of the Mekong Delta region. This trading hub is a tangle of colors, sounds, smells, and flavors. While there are undoubtedly less touristy and more authentic green markets, if you want a quick floating market tour and have limited time to search, Cai Rang is the best option. Held every morning except on Lunar New Year, it is everything one may expect a floating market to be: sounds of boat engines, colorful arrays of fruits, a lot of shouting, and gesticulating. What it sells is authentic produce; much of it is locally-sourced: herbs and vegetables, bunches of longan, and intensely pink pitaya. All are fresh and cut up for you while you are waiting. Cai Rang is also a wholesale market where traders arrive in larger boats and buy from small sampans run by the people who grew the fruit and vegetables. From here, traders bring Mekong Delta’s produce all the way to Cambodia and China.
Cai Rang can offer chaotic floating market tours of local cuisine and culture. Residents of the Mekong Delta have an innate hospitality and openness, so there is plenty of room for interaction with them while you are waiting for the fruit you just bought to be peeled or for your fresh and cheap breakfast to be ready. The boats here can sometimes double as a floating apartment that accommodates a whole multi-generation family. For such limited space, they are not short of amenities that cater to family life such as flowerpots, pets, and TVs.
- When to visit: Cai Rang floating is best visited at 5 to 6 a.m.
- How to get there: From Mien Tay station in Saigon, catch a coach to Can Tho for about 100.000 VND (including the trip to Can Tho bus station and a transfer bus to the city center). A decent and clean room with a double bed is about 200.000 VND. The next morning, catch a taxi to An Binh market and rent a boat at Cai Rang wharf nearby.
- How to get around: Boats are available for rent at about 100.000 VND for up to 12 passengers. The trip includes Cai Rang floating market and orchards.
Nga Nam, Soc Trang
Nga Nam floating market (Source: Internet)
Nga Nam is a living embodiment of what an authentic Vietnam Mekong Delta market is. It is not the first destination that comes to mind when directing travelers, yet surprisingly, it boasts a loyal following from all corners of Nga Nam hamlet.
Giant pyramids of water melon, rambutan, bell fruit, garlic, and sweet potato presented in huge baskets, and pigs butchered on the spot, floating market tours to Nga Nam beat a trip to even the most glamorous supermarket, and are a delicious way to mark the changing of the seasons. There are giant mushrooms, fat mangoes, and huge durian when the air turns a little cooler by the rain; and sapodilla and coconut in the heat of the dry season.
Since the market is set up on the water’s surface and the stalls are boats and sampans, the usual way of signs and advertising don’t work, which has led to the birth of beo, a long bamboo pole to hang small merchandise on so they are visible from afar. Large goods such as pumpkin or coconut are piled up in high mounds, as well as very small goods. There are also locals who steer small sampans with homegrown produce from their vegetable patches, orchards, and eggs from the chickens in their gardens, so don’t hold back from joining swarms of smiling shoppers to grab yourself a steaming hot bowl of noodle soup or a dirt cheap plate of grilled pork rib rice.
- When to visit: Nga Nam floating market rises and sets before the sun and is the most vibrant at 5 a.m.
- How to get there: From Mien Tay station in Saigon, hop on a coach to Nga Nam hamlet, tickets are about 150.000 VND. Spend a night in a local hotel and rise early the next morning. A decent accommodation with air-con and Wifi costs about 100.000 VND.
- How to get around: Sampans are available for rent at 50.000 VND for a round trip. Bring your own breakfast or dine with the locals at the market. A bowl of noodle soup is 15.000 VND and a cup of coffee is 7.000 VND.
Learn more about Mekong Delta here: