Floating Markets of the Mekong Delta
Before the modern roads and bridges were built, land travel here was difficult, and virtually impossible during the annual flooding season. This reliance on riverine life continues, with waterborne commerce, including several lively floating markets, an everyday occurrence.
Flying the Flag of Commerce
The unique feature of the Mekong Delta's floating produce markets is how the vendors advertise their wares—by running a sample up the flagpole. This means buyers aren't forced to waste time peering into the dark hulls of boats; if they're in search of pineapples, they just row or chug over to a vessel that's raised one of these fruits aloft. The abundance of the Mekong Delta is most apparent at these floating markets, where boats large and small are laden with coconuts, pineapples, pomelos, flowers, bananas, longans, onions, leafy greens, mangoes, and dragonfruit. Narrow boats, mostly rowed by women, wend their way through the market looking for good deals or offering coffee or food to those boat-bound. In the background, goods are transferred from seller to buyer in the time-honored tradition of throwing things from boat to boat. These markets provide a fascinating glimpse into lives lived aboard relatively small boats.
Visiting a Market
A visit to a floating market requires a certain amount of dedication. Their predawn start and early morning finish makes a day trip impossible to do from Ho Chi Minh City, although many travel agents will happily sell you such a tour and ignore your disappointment when you arrive at a virtually deserted stretch of river. The exception is the Cai Be floating market, which, because it's a wholesale market, operates for longer during the day, so it can be worth taking a trip here with one of the Ho Chi Minh City operators. Sadly, though, this market is a shadow of its former self because it's become easier to transport goods from here to Ho Chi Minh City by road. It's still better to access the Cai Be floating market from Vinh Long or Cai Be itself than from Ho Chi Minh City.
Most floating markets are best viewed at sunrise, so an overnight stop in Can Tho is advised. Can Tho–based tour companies usually set out on floating market tours between 5 and 7 am. Two of the bigger, livelier markets are close to Can Tho—the Phong Dien and Cai Rang floating markets. Cai Rang is just 6 km (4 miles) from Can Tho's main pier and Phong Dien is 20 km (12 miles) away. It's possible to visit both markets during one morning tour.
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