Why You Should Take an Overnight Trip to the Floating Markets of the Mekong Delta

Tour operators in Saigon (Ho Chi Mihn City) offer daily tours to the Mekong Delta.  To book our tour, we simply walked into an ‘upscale looking’ tour operator office in District 1 (the tourist area) of Saigon.  We had just finished a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels and decided that we definitely wanted to experience the Mekong Delta.  It was nearly 10:00pm when we booked our tour and we were put on the roster to leave the following morning. The logistics of these tour operators is amazing!

While all of the tour operators offer day trips into the Mekong Delta, it was important to us to experience the floating market outside of Can Tho, which can only be seen on the overnight tour.  What’s unique about this market is that it is still very ‘local’, by that I meant that tourism has yet to effect the natural activity and set-up of the market or local people that make this their everyday way of life. If you’ve ever been to the floating market outside of Bangkok, you can understand how tourism (and economic development) has changed the scene into a tourist trap.

After a well rested sleep in Can Tho, the largest city on the Mekong Delta, we were up early to board a local boat to the famous floating market. From Can Tho it took us about 45 minutes on the river to get to the market.

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The floating market boats only sells produce. Farm families bring as much produce as their boats can float (literally!) to the market.  The families moor their boats together and stay at the market for as many days as it takes to sell all their inventory.  Along side the large junk boats are the local vendors that come from all over the area in smaller single engine motor boats to purchase the produce to eventually sell in the area towns and cities.  It is truly an amazing experience and one of the best floating markets we have ever seen.

After watching the activity going on around our boat, we were invited to board one of the boats to enjoy fresh pineapple and learn more about their way of life.

The people in these communities live a simple life on their boats, many of which provide only a very small area to sleep and eat.  The kids that are born into this lifestyle typically do not attend school, rather grow into the ‘family business’ of helping out on the boat and learning the trade.

Another aspect of the market that was unique were the small boat vendors moving boat-to-boat to sell coffee and breakfast to the buyers and sellers, as well as the few tourist boats weaving in and around the market activity.  The people watching, photographic opportunities of the interactions between the locals and small businesses were priceless and authentic.  There were other tourist boats there, but we felt submerged into the cultural livelihood of that going on around us.

This was an experience that should not be missed and definitely worth the two-day trip from Saigon.  Where else have you experienced an authentic cultural experience that hasn’t been exploited by tourism?

Insider Tips:

1. This area of the Mekong Delta can’t be reached in a one day trip as it is a five hour drive in one direction.

2. Should you decide to take this trip, ask your tour operator to upgrade your hotel, it only cost a little more, but the difference in hotel quality in Can Tho is undoubtedly noticeable.