Can Tho

Cai Rang floating market

  • Accommodation: Hung Family Homestay – Mr. Hung and his extended family run a cute homestay along the banks of the Mekong river outside of Can Tho. There are probably about 12 rooms in total. They have a row of thatched-roof private rooms set up along the river and then some more rooms behind their main house. We were set up on the river, which was very relaxing and peaceful. The accommodations are rustic, but it’s perfectly fine for one or two nights. At night we ate dinner with the family and the other guests, and the next morning Mr. Hung took us for a boat ride on the Mekong to see the floating markets and other local artisan factories. If you’re looking for a completely authentic homestay experience where you’re the only person staying with a village family, then this is not for you (and good luck finding something like that). However, we had a wonderful experience and it was definitely not a tourist trap by any means. Plus we were happy to support a family-run business. The best way to book with Mr. Hung is to just send him an email: hunghomestay@yahoo.com.vn

We took an 8am ferry from Phu Quoc to Rach Gia (320,000 dong/person, quite expensive for here). The ferry, named “Superdong III” (I’m not kidding), was actually quite nice and had assigned seats etc. However, like all Southeast Asian public transportation, the boat also insisted on blasting Vietnamese pop music throughout the cabin at 8am. The same song was on repeat for 2.5 hours. There was also a large flat screen TV that played animated avatars dancing along to the music. Again I had to wonder, “Is anybody actually enjoying this???” Rosie also happened to have a pulsing migraine that morning, so this was the last thing she needed, especially since our seats just happened to be right in front of the massive speakers.

When we finally made it to the pier in Rach Gia we walked across the street to the bus ticket counters and bought tickets to Can Tho for 80,000/dong person. Of course we chose the wrong bus company to take to Can Tho. We went with Mailinh, which we heard was good, but it ended up being a mini-van instead of a coach bus. So far we’ve had pretty bad luck with mini-vans and this was no exception. At this point Rosie was really not feeling well and we were sitting in the back of the van with hardly any A/C on terribly bumpy roads. Fortunately it wasn’t a long ride – 2.5 hours later and we were at the bus station in Can Tho.

When we arrived at the bus station in Can Tho we were hoping we’d find Mr. Hung, the owner of the homestay we were staying at. He told us he’d be waiting for us at the bus station, but we didn’t know where to meet him exactly. Unfortunately it turned out that he was in a bad motorcycle accident the day before so he sent his nephew and friend to pick us up. After a bit of confusion with the language barrier we each got on the back of their motorbikes along with our huge packs. I’m always amazed at the things people carry on their bikes. I’ve seen people riding along with construction materials, mattresses, live chickens and pigs, firewood and even an entire family of six on one motorbike.

Hung Homestay

We arrived at Hung Homestay in the late afternoon (it’s only a 15-20 minute drive from the Can Tho bus station). We napped for a couple of hours and then we met up with the rest of the guests at 6:30pm for dinner with the family. There were about 15 other people staying there and we sat with 2 fun German girls, an Australian couple, and a Swedish guy. The family taught us how to roll our own spring rolls and fry them. Then we had elephant fish (a white fish) with rice and some other veggies. Everything was really good. At the end of the meal they brought out some “happy water”, a mysterious alcoholic beverage served from a plastic bag where normally one might keep a goldfish. It was basically just really, really bad rice wine, but we all got a kick out of the name “happy water”. It was a very fun evening spent talking with great people from all over the world. We also got some good travel advice going forward, which is always helpful coming from like-minded travelers.

We woke up at 5:30am the next morning so Mr. Hung could take us on an early morning tour of the Mekong to see the floating market of Cai Rang, which is the biggest market in the Mekong Delta, and one of the largest floating markets in the world. It was an amazing sight; I felt like we stepped back in time to another era. All of the farmers set up shop on their boats, which were filled with different kinds of produce – watermelon, pineapple, tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, pumpkin, turnips and many more. They came from all over the delta, some hailing from over 200km away to sell their produce as wholesalers to other “distributors”. A single small wooden boat could fit over 8,000 pineapples! The distributors filled their boats with produce and then sold their goods to the local people in the backwaters and to other smaller markets. The reason the market continues to take place on boats is because the delta’s numerous rivers and canals are the easiest way to transport goods. Even today the road network remains very poor, so the rivers are still the most efficient way to transport goods.

Watermelon boat

One of the pineapple boats cut up a pineapple for us on a stick. I’ve never seen it cut like that before; it looked similar to how you’d eat cotton candy. It was absolutely delicious and I couldn’t help myself from having 2 full pineapples (although my mouth was stinging like crazy afterwards). After we visited the floating market we went to see the various cottage industries of the local people. We saw how they make rice paper, noodles, knives, weaved mats and a small rice factory. This part of the tour went on for a little too long in my opinion, but it wasn’t a tourist trap, in fact I don’t think you could buy anything even if you wanted to. Mr. Hung just genuinely wanted to share his culture with you and help you learn about various aspects of Vietnamese life.

Fresh pineapple

After our “tour” we packed up our stuff and Mr. Hung’s nephews dropped us off at one of the bus stops. We took a bus to Saigon with the bus company Phuong Trang for 90,000 dong/person. This is definitely the best bus company in these parts, but of course given our luck with buses ours just happened to break down half-way through our trip. Luckily we were at a rest area so we were able to take a different bus and didn’t have to wait too long at all.