Planning a trip to the Mekong Delta? You can’t visit and not experience the iconic Cai Rang floating market! This guide shares how we saw it on a budget-friendly private tour.
The sole purpose of our trip to Can Tho was the same as it is for many who visit this city; to take a sunrise boat trip into the bustle of the infamous Cai Rang Floating Market. As the busiest and most accessible floating market in the Mekong Delta, it’s possible to just head to Ninh Kieu wharf and sign up for a group tour. However we were set on taking a private boat tour to explore at our own pace, so we set out to find a budget-friendly way to make it happen. This guide shares how we visited the Cai Rang Floating Market on a private tour without compromising our budget!
What is the Cai Rang Floating Market?
The rivers and canals of the Mekong are the lifeblood of the region, not only as a source of valuable resources but also providing an essential means to trade and transport produce. For the longest time, there was no road infrastructure to connect the different towns of the Mekong, making conventional markets inaccessible for many farmers. This is how the floating markets were born, creating a place where farmers could gather to trade their produce and sell on to distributors that would take the stock to all corners of the Mekong.
While the roads have definitely improved, the tradition remains and every morning between 6 and 7:30am boats gather at Cai Rang to trade.
Alongside the wholesale sellers, floating coffee shops and noodle vendors have popped up, keeping the farmers well-fed and hydrated during trading hours. It’s also really cool to see the floating gas stations, where boats top up their fuel.
Where is the Cai Rang Floating Market?
Cai Rang floating market is not in the city of the centre of Can Tho, it’s actually in one of the suburban districts of the city, meaning you will need to travel about 45 minutes downriver from the city to reach it. The bustle of the market dies down around 8am so get ready for an early rise to see the action.
Planning a Trip to Can Tho
Can Tho is not the most beautiful or interesting place in the Mekong Delta, but I do recommend an overnight stay to allow you experience the atmosphere of the traditional floating market. If you’re planning a trip to see the Cai Rang Floating Market in Can Tho, be sure to include other stops in the Delta, such as the pottery village of Vinh Long, the floating forest in Chau Doc and the paradise islands of southern Vietnam.
How to get to Can Tho
While Can Tho does have an airport, it’s cheaper and often simpler to take the bus from Ho Chi Minh City. The route is only 165km and the reputable Futa bus has departures at all hours of the day (and night).
Where to stay in Can Tho
With only 24 hours in Can Tho, we picked a random hostel for the night. That hostel is no longer open, but there are lots of options for accommodation in Can Tho*.
Somewhere nearby Ninh Kieu Wharf is a good idea if you are planning to book a group tour of the floating market, but if you decide to follow our suggestion for a private tour, the neighbourhood doesn’t matter as you’ll be picked up.
Take a Budget-Friendly Private Tour
After some sleuthing on the internet we stumbled across the contact of a local tour guide called Viet, and following a quick phone call (he speaks English) we were set to meet him outside our hotel at 5am the next morning to take a trip to the floating market on his private boat.
Viet ☎️ +84 946162148
Alongside the floating market, we had heard of other traditional experiences that could be added to the trip, such as a visit to a rice noodle factory, a fruit orchard and a coconut candy factory.
Unfortunately due to COVID, the candy factory was not comfortable having foreign visitors so we couldn’t explore the coconut factory on this trip, but Viet was able to arrange to take us to the rice noodle factory and orchard before returning to Can Tho city.
Exploring the Cai Rang Floating Market
Groggy and bundled up against the morning chill, we hurried out of our hotel and were met by a very much alive and bubbly Viet. He’s clearly more used to the 5am start than we are. We hopped onto the motorbikes and headed to his neighbourhood where his boat was waiting for us to jump aboard and start the journey downriver.
While we motored along in the pitch black, Viet explained all about how the market came to be. By the time we arrived at Cai Rang, the sky was brightening and we could see a muddle of boats ahead.
I was surprised to see that most of the boats were big, piled high with produce like potatoes, jackfruit, pineapples, and pumpkins. Viet reminded us that the Can Tho floating market is predominantly a place for wholesalers to trade, not locals to shop. He pointed out the bamboo sticks standing tall above each boat, with produce hanging off of them and compared them to a shop sign – signalling to buyers what the boat sells.
The majority of boats specialised in one or two types of produce, presumably from their personal farms, whereas others boasted a whole selection of items to pick from; aptly named the floating superstores by Viet.
Eating boat noodles at Cai Rang Floating Market
We spent the morning watching locals bartering and passing mounds of produce between one another, before spotting some smaller boats weaving through the action. On closer inspection, these smaller boats were set up as cafes making our stomachs grumble, so we beelined to grab some tea and a bowl of steaming hu tieu for brekkie.
We slurped up the noodles, quite a challenge amid the bobbing of the boat, and said farewell to the Cai Rang Floating Market, heading away from the Mekong river and down a small canal to the rice noodle factory.
Making rice noodles in Can Tho
The rice noodle factory was called Sau Hoai’s rice noodle house and boasts a 40-year-old traditional method of making noodles. The family talked us through the process, from mixing the rice flour into the batter to steaming the mixture into round rice paper and then shredding the dried rounds into the noodles that we’d just eaten in our morning hu tieu.
After a quick tour, we were given the opportunity to try making it ourselves; first steaming the rice paper and laying it out to dry, then shredding the noodles. As with the pottery factory we visited in Vinh Long, the rice husk is used to cook the rice paper, another full circle example of every part of the produce is used. The different colours of noodles are created by mixing in the juice from different fruits and flowers, such as dragon fruit (pink), pandan (green) and butterfly-pea flower (blue).
Visiting a Fruit Orchard
Another short ride down the river took us to a fruit orchard, where Viet showed us around pointing at all the different types of fruit grown there. This part was less interesting to me than the market and the rice noodle factory, but might be more intriguing if you’re new to Asia and don’t know much about the local fruits, such as jackfruit, milk apples and longans. At the end of the short tour, we were given a platter of fruit, fresh from the farm to try.
By now it was around 9am and time for us to head back to the city centre and bid farewell to Viet.
The Lowdown: Visiting Cai Rang Floating Market in Can Tho
I highly recommend contacting Viet to organise a private tour; being able to go at our own pace and add on other places we wanted to see was a luxury.
Surprisingly, taking a private boat to see the Cai Rang Floating Market turned out to be cheaper than booking one of the busy group tours, at only 150k per person (plus a tip for Viet).
📍 Spend the night in Can Tho (you can book accommodation here*)
☎️ Give Viet a call to set up a tour (he has Zalo/Whatsapp) (+84)946162148
💰 150k per person plus a 100k tip, though his prices may vary based on the time of year. You’ll want to bring some extra cash to buy things like noodles, drinks and maybe some fresh produce along the way.
⏰ Be prepared to wake up at 5am (the trip runs until around 9am)
Honestly, I’m so glad we found Viet and took a private tour with him! We got learnt so much and had the flexibility to explore at our own pace – the perfect budget-friendly way to visit Cai Rang Floating Market in Can Tho.
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Planning a Trip to the Mekong Delta?
For more information on planning a trip to the Mekong Delta, and other destinations in Vietnam, be sure to check out my Ultimate Vietnam Travel Guide which includes everything you need to know for travelling around the country.