Touring a floating market in the Mekong Delta is a box that many travellers to Vietnam wish to check, and none are bigger, or more popular than Can Tho’s Cai Rang Market. When we visited the Mekong Delta area 3 years ago, we went to stay at Mike’s family home in Vinh Long, which lies along the Mekong River. We made it to the Cai Be floating market, but we went much later in the day and missed the majority of the market. However our visit to the south then was enough to inspire another visit back to the Mekong Delta. This time, we opted to make our way to Can Tho to see the most talked about floating market. Although we decided to forgo visiting family this go around, we still wanted a more authentic experience, and for that reason we found a great home stay. Luck would have it, it was called the Nguyen Shack!
The Nguyen Shack is owned by a Canadian/ Vietnamese husband and wife team who not only run the Nguyen Shack in the Delta, but another similar homestay much further north (closer to Hanoi) in Ninh Binh. We found this place by chance but with its idyllic setting and bungalows overlooking the Mekong, not to mention the name, we knew we had to visit. We were also struck by the fact that the Nguyen Shack invites its guests in Ninh Binh to help the locals practice their English, with classes they offer each week, and by sponsoring 6 abandoned children who live at the pagoda down in Can Tho. Visiting an orphanage during our last trip to VN was a higlight of our travel and were were fortunate enough to visit the pagoda and meet the children that the Nguyen Shack sponsors. Its always nice as travellers if you can stay somewhere culturally and socially responsible, such as the Nguyen Shack. Planning only to stay 2 nights, upon arrival, we quickly booked another night as this place offered some much needed relaxiton time after the hectic pace of Saigon.
Our first night we went with a local guide on a boat ride to Can Tho and did a walking food tour. The sunset boat tour took us up and down the Mekong to see how people on the Mekong live. The waters in the River were low, as its dry season now, but it was clearly evident that when the river rises, the homes get flooded, easily and quickly. An hour and a half boat ride( these boats aren’t built for speed..or safety..or weather, or..well you see where I’m going with this) we made it to Can Tho, where Lilly took us to several local food stops to try some thing we have and haven’t eaten before. Most notably: cobra and crocodile. The old adage ‘ tastes like chicken’
applies to both. Lilly just got her degree in English and see enjoyed practicing her skills on us. Mike was ready for interpretation when needed. We were eager to get back to our bungalow, to get some shut eye after a long day of travel and knowing that we’d have to be up by 5am if we were going to make it to the floating markets.
The market starts at 5am and is usually finished by 9am, thus its imperative to get an early start if you want to see the market in all its glory. We caught sunrise on the boat and made the 30 minute trip to Cai Rang floating market, all the while passing vibrantly painted boats along the shore, merchant vessels carrying loads down the shore and houses built on stilits over the water. Arriving at the market is an inpressive sight. Stretches of boats selling all variety of goods line the river. Locals come here to by large quantites of items,mainly foodstuffs, that will be used in restaurants or sold off at local markets later on in the day. While this is not the place for souvenir shopping., it does give you a good idea of what water commerce in the Delta is like. Want to know what the boats are selling? Look for the long wooden pole with a
sample of what they are selling hanging off the back of the boat. We interacted with some of the floating merchants, who anchor themselves to your boat when you want to by something. In our case: coffee! As it was the weekend, the water was jammed packed with vendor and tourist boats alike, which led to us having to play bumper boats in some areas. Nevertheless, it was a great morning on the water. We were back to the Nguyen Shack around 8am, just as the other guests were getting up. We made for our hammocks and dozed for a bit before hopping on a bicycle and making our way to the pagoda.
We were invited by the monks to eat lunch with them and we spent some time with the kids, who were more interested in playing with our sunglasses and our bracelets than they were with us. All in all, it was a great day, and a great time spent down in the Mekong Delta.