A visit to Mekong Delta is a popular choice for a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. However, Mekong Delta offers too many insights for just a couple of hours. We decided to spend two nights in Can Tho, the heart of the Delta. Here’s why.
Morning hustle of the floating markets
The vibrant life of the floating markets starts very early. You should already be on Cai Rang market by sunrise. And you just won’t make it in time, if you travel from HCMC in the morning.
We booked our tour with the local company Eco Tours Can Tho. Around 5 am, our guide picked us up at the hotel. We boarded a small wooden boat at the pier of Can Tho. It was only the two of us, our guide and the boat driver. Shortly after we left the quay, the sun began to rise. It was astonishing.
About an hour later we reached the biggest wholesale market in Mekong Delta, Cai Rang, where local vendors get their supplies from the farmers. We got our first coffee of the day from a floating coffee bar there. That was quite an experience.
Mekong Delta side canals
Our tour continued to the less touristy retail market, Phong Dien. It can only be reached by smaller boats. It is busy until around 8 am. There’s not much more to see afterwards.
We bought some delicious fruit there – bananas, mangos, papayas, dragon fruit, pineapple and more fruit we’d never heard of before.
At Phong Dien, we disembarked our boat for a while to get a tasty bowl of Pho for breakfast in one of the stilt houses.
While floating in the side canals of the Delta, we got insight into real life on the Mekong. The river is everything for the people living there.
It was sorrowful to see how the river struggles with pollution. Our propeller broke down twice because plastic bags got twisted in it. Luckily, our driver always knew how to fix it, and we took all the garbage we fished out with us. But plastic litter is not only a problem for the boats. It is also one of the biggest threats to the water systems in the region.
There are not many tourists in Can Tho. It is far from being as hectic as HCMC.
You can spend an afternoon at the riverside promenade and watch the hustle and bustle of a South Vietnamese city. There is also a night market. But it’s one for locals rather than tourists. They sell household odds and ends, clothes and shoes, electronics and fresh fruits of all kinds.
As for the food, try one of the small restaurants on the riverside. We had a delicious fish soup and barbequed snake in Phuong Nam Restaurant. If you like something fancier and a little more touristy, Sao Hom restaurant overlooking the river is the place to be.
Can Tho has a domestic airport. Many travellers, who we met on our trip had never heard of it. In our itinerary, we flew in directly from Hanoi and continued to Con Dao on Vietnam Airlines operated flights.
We stayed at the Anh Dao Mekong Hotel. The hotel is in the city centre, only a few minutes walking to the river. You shouldn’t expect anything fancy or boutique, but it was a great value for the money.
To come straight to the point, don’t ruin your cultural and culinary experience on the Mekong Delta by driving for more than 3 hours from Ho Chi Minh City first. Stay in Can Tho, get up early and explore!