Can Tho gao trang nuoc trong,
Ai di den do long khong muon ve…
(Can Tho is famous for its white rice and pure water. No one visiting the region wants to leave).
Water is the soul of the southern city of Can Tho. It is combined into a network of streams and canals feeding the sweetest rice and the most varied fruit crops in Viet Nam. Epitomising the water element are its famous floating markets, which draw gasps of joy visitors from around the world.
Located only a few kilometres from the city’s centre, the Cai Rang floating market stretches nearly a kilometre down the Can Tho River. It is one of the three biggest in the Mekong River Delta.
The soil in the delta, fed by nutrient-rich waters from the Mekong, produces some of the biggest varieties of fruit and vegetables in Asia. This has led to the development of Cai Rang and other floating markets over the centuries. It can be said that the floating markets are the soul of the delta region and reflect the local culture and lifestyle.
To get to the market, tourists can catch one of the dozens of narrow craft at Ninh Kieu Wharf in the city. The trip takes about half an hour. A round trip for one costs from VND180,000 to 200,000 (US$9-10). Visitors can also reach the main market by motorbike, bus or taxi. However, they will still have to rent a boat to see all the action.
Although the market is open all day, the best time to visit is in the early morning when all the boats gather to start the hustle and bustle of wholesaling. Visitors can also contemplate the purity of the sunrise over the river, enjoy the wind and the fresh smell of the water, vegetables, fruits and flowers.
Being the biggest fruit and agricultural wholesale market in the region, Cai Rang is at its peak from sunrise to about 9am. During this period, large boats anchor and create lanes for smaller retailers to weave in and out.
The waterway becomes a maze of hundreds of boats loaded with different kinds of tropical fruit or seasonal farm products, including water melons, mangoes, oranges, pineapples, dragon fruit, pomelos, durians, pumpkins, cucumbers – by the tonne!
Under the sunlight, the boats look like huge trays of fruits offered up to the sky. They create a colourful scene. From the market, boats transport fruits and farm products to all parts of Viet Nam – and even to Cambodia and China.
It’s wonderful to see buyers and sellers throwing their produce to and from boats. Nothing ever seems to drop into the water. “They’re like circus jugglers,” said Ha Noi tourist Linh Nham.
At Cai Rang Market, sellers do not shout out about their goods because their cries would be lost on the vastness of the river. Instead, they tie some of their goods to cay beo, a tall pole on the deck, so that buyers can see from a distance what they are selling.
However, not all boats offer the things hanging on cay beo. If you see a cay beo with a coconut leaf, that means the boat itself is for sale.
The vivid river life also resounds to the noise of paddles hitting the water, of throbbing boat engines, of waves beating onto the sides of boats, from the voices of traders – and from noisy, playful children.
Passing by the big boats packed with produce are small boats offering a variety of goods available at land markets. This includes food stuffs, petrol, mobile phones – and even engine repair services.
Visitors can also drew alongside a kitchen boat to try a bowl of hu tieu (southern-style noodles) or have a cup of coffee while bobbing around on the water.
“Although the menu is limited, the most memorable breakfast in my life was at Cai Rang floating market,” said Tran Hung, another Ha Noi visitor. “The prices are very reasonable. I just paid VND10,000 for a big bowl of noodles.”
Visitors can also catch a glimpse of the river from the market. Many boats are not only shops, but floating mobile homes. Like any house on land, they have been equipped with televisions, DVD players and audio systems. Some boats are decorated with urns of flowering plants.
Children play with their pets on tiny decks or playfully swim around their boats. They wave and smile at visitors as they pass by. On the river banks, local women wash their clothes by hand.
No one can resist capturing the vibrant beauty of the markets through their lens. “After receiving some photos I took in the floating market, my foreign friends decided to add Cai Rang to their list of must-visit places,” Quoc Anh, an RMIT student in HCM City said. He said he had taken hundreds of photos and expected to take hundreds more.
Several tourist companies in Can Tho offer tours to the floating market and a local fruit farm for about VND250,000 per head.
The director of Can Tho City’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Tran Viet Phuong, said Cai Rang Market, large floating restaurants and river tours up and down the river as far as Cambodia played a vital role in the city’s tourism development. — VNS by Thuy Hang
On display: At Cai Rang Market, sellers tie some of their goods to cay beo, a tall pole on the deck, so that buyers can see from a distance what they are selling.
A fruity start: The best time to visit is in the early morning when all the boats gather to start the hustle and bustle of wholesaling. — VNS Photos