Every morning an armada of boats takes to the web of waterways spun across Can Tho Province and makes for one of its floating markets. Everything your average villager could ever need is on sale, from haircuts to coffins, though predictably fruit and vegetables make up most of what’s on offer. Each boat’s produce is identifiable by a sample hanging off a bamboo mast in its bow, but it’s difficult to get colourful pictures as the produce is stored below.
Of the two major nearby markets, the most commonly visited, 7km out of Can Tho, is Cai Rang, but you’ll have to be prepared to queue up with all the other tourist boats before you can weave among the fervent waterborne activity, with drinks vendors clamouring to make a sale. Nevertheless it’s a fun experience, especially if you can get there between 7–8am. This market is particularly active on Sundays.
Another 10km west and you’re at modest Phong Dien, whose appeal is that it sees relatively few tourists and so the locals are correspondingly friendly. If you wish to stay longer here, the purpose-built My Khanh Village (t 0710 384 6260, w mykhanh.com; $30), is nearby at 335 Lo Vong Cung, with wooden bungalows in a shady setting and a good-sized pool. Its attractions (geared mostly to domestic visitors) include an ancient house, a pond full of crocodiles, caged monkeys and a pig-racing track, plus a pony and trap to take visitors round the site. Animal-rights activists might not enjoy it, but conditions here are better than at most such places in Vietnam. There are also demonstrations on making rice cakes and brewing wine, and traditional musicians perform in the evenings. Few Western visitors stay here so it’s a good way to meet some Vietnamese.
Visiting the markets
Most organized tours take you to Cai Rang or Phong Dien early in the morning, then make a leisurely return to the city, via the maze of picturesque canals and orchards that surround it, usually stopping to sample star fruit and sapodilla, longan and rambutan along the way. Can Tho Tourist charges between 200,000 and 250,000đ per person for such a tour, depending on the itinerary and type of boat. As usual, unofficial boat operators are cheaper, charging about 80,000đ per hour for a simple sampan: women prowl for customers along Hai Ba Trung, and some can be friendly and informative, but be on the lookout for scams, and check out the boat as some have no shelter from sun or rain. Phong Dien is more easily reached by hiring a xe om (about 60,000đ), then renting a sampan for an hour’s rowing (about 60,000–80,000đ) among the buyers and sellers.