The Cai Rang floating market is a unique market in the Mekong Delta that would attract tourists before the pandemic.
A myriad of colors, smells and flavors surround the Cai Rang floating market, the largest such market in the Mekong Delta, with hundreds of wooden boats. At this time of the year, people typically trade all day long as the traditional Vietnamese New Year approaches.
Market for the locals
It’s not uncommon to see people move from boat to boat to complete their sales or purchases – fruits, such as rambutan, mangoes, tangerines, grapefruits, watermelons, bean tubers, mangosteen, durian, and basic necessities – the boats have them all. If you don’t like what you see in one boat, you’re sure to find it in the next.
Most of the sellers are farmers. They have various specialties on offer, the most famous of which is the “Năm Roi” grapefruit from Vinh Long, the clementine from Lai Vung or the durian from Cai Mon.
Visitors are also immersed in the market atmosphere and can discover the river life of the inhabitants in their “mobile homes”, which come equipped with televisions, music players, film players, ornamental plants and motorcycles.
In addition to agricultural products, fresh food and consumer goods, the floating market also offers various services, from boat or ship repairs to gasoline supplies, clothes, cosmetics, salt and fish sauce, medicines, candies and drinks. And even lottery tickets!
There is no lack of floating eateries either, with many popular dishes – noodles such as pho and hu tieu, to meet the needs of sellers, buyers and tourists.
Located on the Can Tho River, the floating markets of Cai Rang and Phong Dien are hubs, with hundreds of boats arriving every day from early morning; people operating these markets usually wake up from 3 to 4 a.m. and trade until 6 or 7 a.m.
With 1001 flavors surrounding the floating market, maybe there is no need to visit the lush orchards!
The Cai Rang floating market is about 6 km from downtown Can Tho City. If you take a boat from the Ninh Kieu pier, you should reach the market in 30 minutes. But the floating market of Phong Dien is further from the city, about 17 km to the southeast, established in the early years of the 20th century.
From the Can Tho old market or a hotel, guests must first hire a motorcycle rider to transport them straight to the Cai Rang market along the road. Then, they need to hire a boat to transport them to the floating market located not far on the river. I did this, leaving my hotel at 5 a.m.
Famous chef passing by
You can see the vendors’ boats from a distance, often with cabbages, tomatoes or garlic hung on the mast of the bow – a very rudimentary advertising method but one that works – indicating what kind of produce the boat offers, making it easier for buyers to choose.
In 2013, world-class chef Gordon Ramsay toured Vietnam in a quest to understand southwestern Vietnamese cuisine. He was impressed with a bowl of noodles – hu tieu – which he ate at the Cai Rang floating market. The aroma of chives and cilantro, blended perfectly with other ingredients, created the most delicious flavor, he said.
In 2016, the Cai Rang floating market was awarded the title of “National Intangible Cultural Heritage” by the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
It is a great place for those seeking to discover the colorful river life of the Mekong Delta region and experience the warmth of the people.
Not just Can Tho, but other provinces and cities in the southwest also boast of lively floating markets, such as the Cai Be floating market in Tien Giang; Phung Hiep, Hau Giang; and Chau Doc, An Giang.
Rivers play a vital role in the lives of the people of the Mekong Delta by connecting villages and cities, allowing people to move around and conduct trade.
However, what really sets the floating markets in southern Vietnam apart is that locals sell and buy items here, unlike other markets such as the Damnoen Saduak market in Thailand, which is exclusively for tourists and not the Thai people.