Floating markets are kind of a thing across much of Southeast Asia. Some functioning, some totally manufactured for tourist consumption, either way floating markets are emblematic of the region where water byways were the main routes of communication, travel, and what have you until just about 60 years ago (!) And in fact, when serious road construction began, at least in Thailand, there was much concern that floating markets would be replaced by trucks and mega malls.
Luckily for us, everyone got their wits about them fairly quickly when it became clear that trading off a boat might be endangered. Today, floating markets – either reconstituted for tourist visitors, or preserved for local business, or both – remain a vibrant part of the region’s identity.
The most touristy are probably the floating markets around Bangkok, Thailand. You’ll see package tour offers in most guesthouses advertising half -and day-long trips out to these recreated markets. We passed, mostly because of price point, and to a degree because it seemed a bit too artificial. At the other end of the spectrum was completely non-touristic water village life on the Mekong river in Cambodia, and on Inle Lake in Myanmar. These were great experiences, but photos sometimes seemed obtrusive, and some moments were just too elusive to capture.
Enter the Cai Rang floating market in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, still actively used by locals for trading and at the same time frequented by tourists for the experience and the photo ops. When our fantastic couchsurfing host in Can Tho offered to arrange a tour to the Cai Rang floating market we were all for it.
We ended up having a great day. Sure, we shared this experience with a couple dozen (hundred?) other tourists, who were nevertheless outnumbered by the local traders. And of course, there was nothing “off the beaten track” or unique about our visit to Can Tho floating market. But, we bonded with a fellow traveler from Hong Kong, got great pictures, and enjoyed boating along the Mekong Delta at sunrise. I mean, on any of your average travel days can you ask for more?
So should you do it? In our opinion Cai Rang floating market is totally worth it. It is exotic. And it is cool. You get to watch a slice of local life in the most relaxing way possible – from a boat. It’s incredibly picturesque and thoroughly enjoyable. (Just don’t forget sun protection).
* A small tip for Can Tho: if you are stopping in town for a night or more – visit the Kim Tho hotel. Take elevator to the top floor for a cool cafe lounge with splendid views over the water and golden statue of Ho Chi Minh. We had drinks in the evening, and enjoyed very much.