What is so interesting about floating markets in Vietnam? How is it different from floating markets in Thailand or Cambodia? When is the best time to visit floating markets in Mekong Delta? Those are common questions about this unique part of culture along the mighty Mekong. This article will help you resolve those questions, and plus a guide on the best floating markets to visit based on each one’s pros and cons.
1. Floating markets are crowded early in the morning
Floating markets open up very early. Since about 3-4AM, the boats have started to come to the market and gradually ease off around 8-9 AM. Therefore, try to reach the market before 6AM as you don’t want to miss its busiest time. You will see the vibrant life and culture of people from the Mekong Delta.
2. Everyday life on the water
How is floating market in Vietnam different from floating markets in Thailand or Cambodia? Floating market in Thailand was totally touristy and not many goods boats on water. It’s more like a place where tourists go and shop on the boats not like in other floating Markets in Vietnam where the residents take their products on the boat and sell their products to shoppers and travelers and all happen in the river.
The life of Mekong residents is deeply connected to the river. Previously, traders creatively innovated their boats to be their house and live a nomadic life afloat. However, cramped houseboats mean lack of facilities, education for children and healthcare. You would see floating markets as diverse in goods, crowded and frenetic just as any normal wholesale markets. Hundreds of boats and sampans come to anchor along the riverbanks, forming a line stretching for up to two kilometers. Owners of large boats bring in whatever they want to sell –from handicrafts, pottery, and ceramics, to tropical fruits, domestic animals, poultry, snakes, and bonsais — from villages as far as tens of kilometers away. In particular, boat drivers are mainly women with traditional Mekong Delta costumes such as Non La, Ba Ba shirts,…and often embarrassed when meeting tourists.
3. An unique way of advertising
Each boat has a wooden stick called a “cây bẹo”. The meaning of this wooden stick is to tell other people or traders that are the product that is offered by the owner of the boat. While the general rule is “sell whatever you want”. However, some products are hung but not for sale. Residents of the floating market have summarized three exceptions as follows:
- “What’s hanging without selling?” It is the clothes. Floating market residents often live on boats, so their clothes are often dried on boats, so they don’t sell these items.
- “What sells without hanging?” It is the boats that sell food and drinks. These things cannot be hung up.
- “What’s that hanging one, selling another?” It is hanging coconut leaves but selling boats. People who want to sell their boats often hang a piece of coconut leaf on a pole.
4. The friendliness of floating market residents
Despite the precarious life day by day on the boats, the people in the floating market always warm all visitors’ hearts with their smiles. Visitors to the floating market can not only enjoy the fruits, but also can talk to locals and get to know about their life.
5. Cuisine on the automatic boat
The sellers here are extremely hospitable because they are willing to peel fruits and let visitors taste the specialties which they grow.
Come here, tourists do not forget to enjoy the bowl Hu tieu of Mekong Delta and meet Tu aunt – a woman dubbed the “queen of broth” of the river, whom the famous chef Gordon Ramsay once gave all the praise for her cooking. You can imagine a boat filled with 2, 3 pots of broth with noodles, vegetables, bean sprouts, tomatoes, a whole cabinet of meat, spices,… Meanwhile, the seller sits in the middle of the food and just needs to turn left and turn right to get you a hot and delicious bowl of noodle soup. Super fast food!
If you think that going to a market on the river will have nothing to quench your thirst, that’s a mistake. Because sitting on a boat floating on the river but you can still find a boat selling drinks such as milk cafe, coca, coconut water, …
Lottery tickets, phone cards and decorative items,… also contribute to the scene of buying and selling at the market more lively.
That is the reason that tourists, especially foreign tourists come here to enjoy the delicious food model on the floating market. Because the feeling of enjoying the food on the boat will definitely be different than you sitting on the land.
6. Four best floating markets in Mekong Delta
To help you choose which floating market to visit, here are 4 most interesting Mekong Delta floating markets and also pros, cons of each one:
Cai Rang floating market: Cai Rang is the biggest floating market in Mekong Delta. You can go from Ninh Kieu wharf which is right in the center of Can Tho city. Cai Rang floating market starts to be crowded from 5:00 AM and trails off around 9:00 AM. The sooner you should go, the more beautiful Cai Rang floating market will be. It takes only about 30 minutes by car to travel from Ninh Kieu wharf to Cai Rang Floating Market. In Can Tho, tourists often choose Cai Rang as the top tourist destination and it is suitable for family travel. Besides, there will be an amateur boat travel along the river to perform to serve the people, and tourists on the weekends (Saturday, Sunday).
- Pros: Since Cai Rang floating market is the most popular floating market in the Mekong Delta, you can find group tours with good prices here.
- Cons: This is the most touristy floating market, and the risks of evils are highest.
Phong Dien floating market: Phong Dien Floating Market is 17 km from the center of Can Tho, so it will take you 20-30 minutes to get there. Unlike Cai Rang floating market, Phong Dien floating market not only sells agricultural products but also sells other products more diversified. The traders in Phong Dien floating market also sell daily life tools, farm tools, fishing tools, labor tools on the water. There are even petrol stations, mobile factories afloat as well.
- Pros: If you get up early, you should come to Phong Dien floating market because Phong Dien is still authentic
- Cons: Phong Dien floating market is not as popular and crowded as the Cai Rang floating market.
Cai Be floating market: If you do not want to move far, Cai Be floating market in Tien Giang province is the best choice for you. As among the floating markets in the Mekong Delta, Cai Be floating market is the closest floating market you can visit on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. Unlike other floating markets, to Cai Be floating market, you not only observe the morning market scene in the West, but also visit the traditional villages and participate in activities. With greener spaces, travelers can cycle around the village, then join the cooking classes.
- Pros: Because of its proximity to the center, you can easily travel in 1 day and combine other tours in the area.
- Cons: Floating market is popular with tourists, so when you move, pay attention to protect yourself and things on you.
Long Xuyen floating market: Not as crowded as other floating markets, Long Xuyen floating market in An Giang province is still maintaining simple and pristine features, rustic atmosphere. Mass tourists have not reached the Long Xuyen floating market yet. Therefore, If you like the quiet but still want to explore the culture of Southwest Vietnam, you can come to Long Xuyen floating market.
- Pros: Authentic floating market. Besides, Long Xuyen floating market sells products such as pineapple, watermelon,… at very cheap prices so the buyers never have to bargain.
- Cons: Not as diverse as other floating markets in the Mekong Delta.
If you are planning to travel to Vietnam, read on A WONDERFUL TRIP ON THE MEKONG DELTA to get a much closer insight into the way of life where the Mekong ends.