The Mekong River starts all the way in the Himalayas, passes through China and a number of other SE Asian countries, all the way down to Vietnam. Once it reaches the south of Vietnam, the river splits into many different distributaries, which is named the Mekong Delta, famous in this region is the Mekong Delta Floating Market.
Shaun and I knew we were able to take a 1 day tour to the Mekong Delta Floating Market from Ho Chi Minh. However, we were keen to explore the area as much as we could, so we decided to stay in Can Tho, the biggest city in the region, which would serve as a good base for us to explore the surrounding areas.
Shaun and I stayed at the Mekong Delta Inn, now called Mekong Hostel. The staff at the hostel were amazing, after arriving on our first evening, we were invited to take part in a cooking class where we made tofu spring rolls and fried taro in fish sauce. I had never heard of taro before but it’s a starchy root vegetable so it’s closest comparison I can think of would be a potato. Either way, it was delicious! I don’t really like the smell of fish sauce so I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the food whilst cooking the taro, but I was pleasantly surprised!
The staff helped us book our Mekong Delta Floating Market Tour, which was fantastic (more on that below). They also helped us plan a whole itinerary for our second day, arranged for a bike to be dropped to us for 8am and even made us egg rolls for breakfast which were waiting for us when we came downstairs that morning. On top of this, they were generous enough to book our return bus to Ho Chi Minh and let us relax and charge our phones in the dorm room after the check out time.
The rooms are basic, but clean and comfortable and the staff really went above and beyond to make our time in Can Tho as easy and fun as possible, to top it off they also had a super cute dog! (see video below) I would definitely recommend staying here.
Mekong Delta Floating Market
As I mentioned, we booked our Mekong Delta Floating Market tour through our hostel, we were collected by our lovely guide Nam at the extremely early time of 4.30 am, I was barely awake when we arrived at our first stop on the tour.
Cai Rang Market
Cai Rang floating market, is the biggest on the Mekong Delta and whilst the market operates all day, the best time to visit is between 6am – 7am. So, although a little bleary eyed we were grateful for the early wake up call.
The market is open all year and depending what time of year you visit you will have quite a different experience. Visiting during the dry season will likely be busier and well, a lot drier and hotter! Shaun and I were visiting in the middle of July (rainy season), so we had on and off rain for the majority of the morning. However, the market did have considerably fewer tourists and the temperature was very comfortable – so pros and cons to both!
The market was packed with boats selling wholesale products, the locals had hundreds of different types of fruit and vegetables piled high ready for sale, they used tall poles on the end of the boat with fruit or veg hung at the top to indicate to others what they were selling.
Sau Hoai’s Rice Noodle Factory
A short distance from Cai Rang Floating Market is Sau Hoai’s Rice Noodle Factory. Rice noodles are obviously a significant part of Vietnamese Cuisine, so Shaun and I were really excited to learn a little more about this staple ingredient.
We were able to observe the whole rice noodle making process from start to finish, and were even invited to participate in making some. We watched the workers grind the noodle mixture and then spread the mixture out into a pancake shape, afterwards we were shown the drying process, whereby rows and rows of the the white ‘rice paper pancakes’ are left out to dry in the sun (they are left to dry for a couple of hours before the next step), once dried the ‘rice paper pancakes’ are then fed through a machine which splits them into small individual noodles. Shaun and I had a go at threading the paper through, which I must admit was a very aesthetically pleasing process.
Afterwards, we had noodle soup on the boat for breakfast, with noodles from the factory! I was sat on the boat, slurping my noodle soup as we floated down the Mekong Delta and it was one of those perfect moments which reminded me why I love travel so much!
Phong Dien Floating Market
Phong Dien Floating Market was much smaller than Cai Rang, the boats here tended to be row boats as opposed to the motorised boats at Cai Rang, and it appeared to be a market more for local people than geared towards tourists, it was really interesting to see the differences between Phong Dien and Cai Rang.
We were arriving just as the market was winding down and I honestly think if we were not informed by Nam that it was there, we could have easily floated past and not realised it was a market at all. I would be really interested to know if people who have visited in the drier months, or earlier in the morning had a different experience?
Phong Dien Fruit Garden
After Phong Dien Floating market we visited the fruit garden, here we were able to see the variety of different fruits grown in the gardens, such as jack fruits, pineapples, limes etc.
We were so fascinated to see how pineapples grow, as we both realised before visiting, we had no idea! Isn’t it funny how you can eat something your whole life but never really think extensively about how it came to be on your supermarket shelf? This is something I’ve become much more mindful as I’ve gotten older and Shaun and I have moved in together.
Shaun’s Football Debut
I mentioned earlier, that Shaun and I had a fantastic guide called Nam on our Mekong Delta Floating Market Tour, we chatted to Nam throughout the whole tour, both about the tour itself, but also about our personal lives.
Nam had told us he was a huge football fan, and mentioned that he had a 5 a-side football game that evening, for which they were a player short, so he kindly asked Shaun if he would like to go and play for his team that evening.
Shaun confessed that the last time he had played football he was 14 years old. However this did not seem to deter Nam and he collected Shaun from the hostel that evening to go and play a few games.
Despite his lack of confidence, Shaun managed to score a hat trick which prompted Nam and all of his friends to call him Gareth Bale all evening, I hope it didn’t go to his head!
Lam the Cuong’s Cacao farm
On our second day, following a recommendation from our hostel owner we headed to Lam the Cuong’s Cacao farm. We drove ourselves there on the bike and paid a small entry fee, the owner then took us on a tour of the farm, teaching us about how the fruit from the cacao tree is turned into the products sold at the farm (cocoa beans, chocolate blocks, chocolate powders, cacao butter, liqueur etc).
We were able to taste the products throughout the tour and even purchase some at the end, Shaun and I bought a block of chocolate and chocolate powder. After returning home we enjoyed many a hot chocolate with our goods from the farm.
Binh Thuy Ancient House
The house which was built in 1807 and owned by the Duong Family is an amazing insight into the beautiful East meets West architecture which is prominent in this area of the world.
Upon first arriving at the house it looks like a french holiday villa, on closer inspection you can clearly see the eastern influence. The house is lavishly decorated and Shaun and I enjoyed having a walk around the property admiring all the small details of the house.
Tran Phu Night Market
On our first evening in Can Tho, we headed to Tran Phu Night Market. When we arrived it seemed quite empty, however, we did visit fairly early in the evening and it was low season, so perhaps it hadn’t gotten that busy yet.
The market had rows and rows of seafood stalls offering a variety of fish, crustaceans and shellfish, all which could be cooked in front of you.
Shaun and I were still full from out hostel cooking class, so instead opted for two sugar cane drinks and enjoyed walking up and down the market taking in all the sights and smells.
Trúc Lâm Phương Nam Zen Monastery
The Trúc Lâm Phương Nam Zen Monastery was opened in 2014 and is the largest monastery in the southwest region. Shaun and I really enjoyed wandering around here, unfortunately as we drove ourselves here, we did not have a guide and there were no English signs, so we were unable to learn more about the monastery.
Nevertheless, we were able to admire the beautiful architecture, statues of Buddha and the tranquil atmosphere.
Can Tho was our final stop during our time in Vietnam as we were heading to Kuala Lumpur the following day.
I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Can Tho, it was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City. It was a destination that had not been on our list before we had set off on our travels in June, it was only as we made our way through Vietnam and learned more about the country, that Can Tho made it on our list and I’m so pleased that it did!
Reflecting on our entire time in Vietnam, it had far, far, far exceeded our expectations. At the start of our trip we had only intended on spending two weeks in the country and we were anxious that even this would be too long or that we wouldn’t have an enjoyable time. We soon realised we had fallen in love with the country and ended up extending our trip to one month.
We were in awe at the rich variety of experiences we were able to have from the north to the south of the country; from different climates, cuisines, ethnicities, landscapes – Vietnam truly had it all.
We have both agreed that we would love to come back to Vietnam eventually, once we have ticked off a few more of our other bucket list destinations!
But for now, next stop Kuala Lumpur!