The canals and floating markets of the Mekong Delta made a scenic—and delicious—first stop in Vietnam. After crossing over by land from Cambodia, we decided to bypass Ha Tien on the border and go directly to Can Tho.
Sights and Activities
Though larger than we expected, with over 1.5 million people, Can Tho made a nice first stop on our Vietnam journey. People were nice, and highly entertained by our attempts at Vietnamese, so we were encouraged to do one of our favorite things: explore the local street food!
We spent the entirety of our first day in Can Tho walking around and trying different snacks, all for less than 20,000D, or $1. From delicious waffle "tacos" packed with black and white sticky rice and coconut meat, to deep-fried shrimp, scallion and meat crepes, and banana grilled in rice, we found the food to be deeee-licious, and super cheap!
Our only other to-do our first day was book our boat tour for the following morning. The main reason for visiting Can Tho is to do this boat tour through the floating markets and canals. We booked directly with a boat driver (well, her sister) for 400,000D, which was about $15 cheaper than the price at our hotel.
The tour starts at 5:30am and goes through two floating markets, which are essentially wholesale produce markets full of watermelons, potatoes, onions, and everything else that the Vietnamese need. It was wild to see boats packed full of one type of fruit and vegetable bartering for a good trade with another boat also packed full with another type of fruit and vegetable. Once a deal was reached, fruit and vegetables would be chucked from one boat to the other until the trade was complete!
After the markets, we headed into the canals that make up so much of the Delta. All of sudden, we were away from the concrete of Can Tho and the bustle of the morning markets and in a rainforest connected by water.
The ride was extremely scenic, with a stop at a fruit orchard where we got to sample milk apples (like persimmons but white), jackfruit, and rose apples. Yum!
Our boat driver also treated us to a beautifully carved pineapple and some bracelets that she weaved from the leaves of palm trees. All of the boat drivers seemed really talented in the palm tree leaf weaving art, and some made some pretty cool vases, flowers, and headdresses out of the leaves. Overall, we really enjoyed the 7-hour tour and thought Can Tho was a worthwhile stop for those with some extra time in the south of Vietnam.
We were lucky enough to meet some travelers on the bus who'd done their research, so we followed them to the Kim Long Hotel. Our $15 room had AC and was a few steps from all the action on the waterfront. It was a tad small, but had everything we needed and the owner organized our bus tickets to Saigon at no extra cost.
Food and Drink
As I said, we basically ate our way through Can Tho. In addition to the street food, we tried tons of coffee at the cafes (ca phe) that line the streets and also had delicious vegetarian food (com chay) at a few of the food stalls. Our favorite veggie snack was this soup that consisted of a bunch of boiled root vegetables, taro, and peanuts. The slightly purple concoction was sold in a small baggie, that you bought and poured out into a bowl. It cost $0.25.
We also really liked the bahn xeo (Vietnamese pancake) at Mekong Restaurant on the waterfront. The dish was huge, delicious, and cost less than $2. We shared one and were stuffed, though we did have lots of other snacks before it.
Our border crossing from Cambodia was pretty uneventful and easy, except for a fake $1 charge for a health check. After we decided to move on from Ha Tien without stopping, we booked a bus to Can Tho. It was 120,000D and took almost six hours, which is nuts considering how few kilometers we went.
The bus to Saigon (110,000D) from Can Tho took under four hours but dropped us off on the outskirts of town. From there, take a free shuttle into town and then either do a cheap cab or walk to your hotel.
More Mekong Delta
Interested in seeing the floating markets without paying for a plane ticket? Check out our Mekong Delta photo tour.
Have any tips for backpacking in the Mekong Delta? Let us know in the comments!