Can Tho is the fifth largest city in Vietnam, and is noted for its floating market and picturesque canals snaking along the Mekong Delta.
After a 3 hour uneventful bus journey from Ho Chi Minh we arrived in Can Tho and ordered a Grab taxi to our hotel which turned out to be in the middle of absolutely nowhere – even the taxi driver couldn’t find it and he had to call the hotel for directions.
Our intention had been to book a tour via our hotel but it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to be possible. Instead, using Google Translate, the hotel receptionist told us to just walk 1km to the river at 5am the next morning.
We were shown to a small room with no window and only a bed and table. To be fair, what do you expect for £3.25 each a night? It was now quite late and we needed to get some food, but we hadn’t driven past anywhere that looked remotely like a restaurant and even the guy on reception looked confused when we asked where we could go. We walked for 15 minutes and, still struggling to find anywhere serving food or speaking English, we were pointed in the direction of a neon-lit shack across the road.
We took a seat at a table, garnering several stares from all the Vietnamese men eating seafood, drinking beer and smoking. Thankfully there was a young waiter here who spoke pretty good English and we managed to order some beef and vegetable noodles and two beers. The food was actually really nice and we delayed going back to the hotel, instead having some more beers and watching the football with the locals. This was actually a nice break from being surrounded by tourists and for the first time on our trip we really felt like we were ‘properly travelling’ and fending for ourselves.
Our alarms went off at 4.45am the next morning and, after having to wake the receptionist who was asleep in a hammock to unlock the front door for us, we set off for the river. The walk took around 45 minutes and it was nice to be up so early and see the locals already having their morning coffees and going about their daily routines. As soon as we neared the river we started being approached for boat trips as we’d read would happen. We ended up agreeing a price of £5 each with a rather persistent but friendly man who rode alongside us on his moped when we turned down a lift on the back. Pulling over, he pointed to a thin slab of concrete held up by wooden posts (the jetty) and we carefully shuffled down it and climbed aboard his long boat. He placed two children’s plastic chairs at the back and set off in the direction of the market.
As the market came into view we sailed past boats of all shapes and sizes, filled to the brim with produce including pineapples, watermelons, onions, pumpkins and cabbages. Smaller vessels darted through the chaos serving coffee and traditional Vietnamese stews. Each boat hung the product they were selling from a rod as a form of advertising to make it more visible from afar. We circled through the market a few times before our guide forced his way between other boats to get near a mooring and signalled for us to get off. Climbing onto other boats to get to the literal wooden plank to get onto land, we gingerly made our way across and were shown to a rice noodle factory and more dry-land markets which we browsed for half an hour.
Back aboard, our guy had picked up two more tourists and brought us back to the floating market one last time before dropping us off where we originally boarded. Now only 9am, we thanked the nice man and wondered what to do with the rest of our day.
We came across a house selling pineapples so watched as a lady sliced two up for us, waving at her cute children while we waited, then walked back towards the busier end of town dribbling pineapple juice down us.
Coming across a food market, we dropped in but were overwhelmed by the stench of rancid meat and fish so made a hasty retreat. It was here that Tom, feeling a little unwell, made his first visit to a squat toilet after some brief instructions from myself.
We stumbled across a poster for boat trips and a lady who spoke fluent English asked if she could help us. We explained we wanted to sail along the Mekong Delta through smaller riverways and she very kindly asked around for us and hailed a taxi, explaining to the driver where to take us. The driver took us nearer to the centre of Can Tho and arranged with an elderly lady for us to go on a Mekong tour. The lady showed us a photo album of western tourists smiling from a boat along with handwritten notes saying how great it was, so we agreed a price of £13 for a two hour ride and with that, she made a phone call and a boat jetted round. She pointed down some stairs and we climbed aboard the small wooden boat, sailed by her sister. We had seats under a roof and she stood at the back controlling a small motorised propeller.
Setting off, we headed straight back in the direction of the floating market we’d come from and I was getting ready to show the lady photos of what I wanted to see until she turned off down a side passage and we started to see what we were after – narrow riverways covered by a lush canopy of trees. This would’ve been amazing had it not been for the shocking amount of rubbish in the water, so much so that we had to stop multiple times for the lady to cut tangled plastic bags from the propeller blades, only to throw them back in. We sailed past family homes, watching as they threw their used bottles into the river, even seeing someone walk down the bank with a bag full of rubbish to dispose of. So infuriating.
Back on dry land, we went to Café English and treated ourselves to a full English (or an attempt at one) and killed time here watching Legally Blonde and The Pacifier on their TV. Tom then dropped into a stationery shop (I can’t escape the stationery industry) to buy a sketchpad and pencils and then we took a long walk back to our hotel.
Knowing our options were limited, we went back to the same place as the night before for dinner and had exactly the same food. Just before we left, there was a commotion outside and a man was laid out in the road – a moped rider who’d been knocked off by a car and was unconscious – further adding to our reluctance to hire a moped in South East Asia.
We checked out the next morning at 7am and got a taxi to the coach station.
Next stop… Phu Quoc island!
See ya later, Sophie x