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Floating markets in the South of Vietnam
April 9th, 2012

There are hundreds of floating markets all over the Mekong Delta and the tradition of selling agriculture products from one boat to another one lies back for over 100 years. Small boats of farmers with bamboo poles, on which they are displaying their products, sell their goods to traders, who will sell them again. That´s the whole story in a few words. But how to make the best of your floating market trip and how to be sure to find the expected pitoresque and colourful sights which are brightening up the folders and websites of the tour operators and agencies ?

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The video of Cai Be floating market and village, you will find on the bottom of this post, is a good example for visiting one of the three most famous vietnamese floating markets with a maybe disappointing outcome. Don´t get me wrong, it´s fascinating to watch the busy and noisy scenery of all this hard working people in the early morning. As well it´s great to to stroll around the village and to view the daily life of the friendly residents. So what´s wrong about this market ? Definitely nothing, it´s simply a real floating market of these days and unfortunately not the romantic floating market that will default your expectation.

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So why are nearly 70.000 tourists visiting Cai Be floating market every year, which is located in the wider surrounding of Vinh Long ? The distance between HCMC and Cai Be is only 95 Km and therefore it´s the only large floating market that can be reached within a daily tour. But no company will pick you up at 3.30 am to be in time for the main and busiest hours after sunrise. As a matter of fact you will arrive much too late for a real floating market experience.

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If you have only one day for your Mekong tour, the most tour operators offer you a trip to My Tho or a combined one to Vinh Long and Cai Be. Give them a miss and book a tour to Ben Tre and get a beautiful one day glimpse of the Mekong Delta. The experience of cruising on a network of natural canals and cycling on small paths is much better than to be a part of the crowds of My Tho visitors. If you are additional interested in visiting a beautiful and famous pagoda of Vietnam, Vinh Trang pagoda close to My Tho is on your way home to HCMC.

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For a better floating market experience you have to travel to Can Tho, the largest city of the delta. The distance from HCMC is 170 km and it´s a need to stay there overnight. If you are prepared to get out of your bed at 4.30 am you are ready to visit Phung Dien Floating market, which is located nearly 30 km in the wider surrounding of Can Tho. By boat it needs two hours to reach the market and it´s a good idea to ask the hotel stuff to prepare a takeaway breakfast and to take a sweater against the cool morning air along.

Phung Hiep Floating Market ( Nga bay Floating Market – seven rivers Floating Market) is located at the meeting point of seven small rivers and the best place to watch the trading activities of all the farmers coming from the surrounding areas. The real fun is cruising on a small boat ( sampan) between the traders and to bargain for some fruits or just a coffee. As well it´s the best way to make beautiful wide-angle pictures. Please have in mind that the most of the amazing pictures of flower sellers are made in the early new year (Tet -Vietnamese new year) and shortly before the celebrations of important festivals in the country.

After visiting the floating market it´s worth to visit the Phung Hiep village snake market ( part of the main market) which is located close to the floating market. Selling endangered animals is forbidden by the government and therefore the traders don´t display many snakes in the cages. most snakes are hidden at their homes. Additional wild birds of all species, turtles, geckos and much more animals are sold. Around 70 % of the the animals are endangered ones and on the governments forbidden list. But be aware that you will see a kind of market that is different of your western understanding of an adequate animal market and might spoil your day.

A riskless and more relaxing venture is to visit My Khanh, Phong Dien tourist garden. Strolling around the 7 hectares large garden,listening traditional music and having lunch, is quite likely a better entertainment, all the more if you are travelling with your kids. Crocodiles watching is included.

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Cai Rang Floating market is only 6 km from Can Tho and easy to reach. Your alarm should be set on 5.00 am to leave your hotel right in time. Cruising to the market from Ninh Kieu wharf by boat will last 45 minutes. If you are a long sleeper take the short way to the market by making use of a taxi or enjoy an early bicyle ride. It´s easy to rent a sampan at the floating market. Cai Rang Floating market is a big and noisy market and a bit similar to Cai Be market, but you will find much more small boats, floating restaurants and floating gas stations than in Cai Be.

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The referenced floating markets are the most wellknown ones, but there are hundreds of markets all over the Mekong Delta. Some of the smaller ones are Phong Dieng Floating Market (Can Tho), Tra On Floating Market (Vinh Long Province),Nga Nam Floating market in Soc Trang (Soc Trang Province), Long Xuyen Floating Market (An Giang Province), Cho Gao Floating Market (My Tho), Ca Mau Floating Market (Ca Mau province – 360 km south-west of HCMC ) or the floating market of Chau Doc (An Giang Province) located close to the border of Cambodia.

At last if you stay in HCMC and you don´t have the time or chance to visit a floating market in the delta go by taxi to the unknown Tran Van Kieu market on Tau Hu-Ben Nghe canal in District 6. The main hours are from 4.00 am to 7.00 am and you will meet the traders of the traditional markets and many street vendors of Saigon, who are buying their daily range of goods.

Enjoy the video “Heartbeats of Cai Be”. It shows impressions of the floating market early in the morning and typical streetlife scenes of the wonderful people of Cai Be town.

The wistful song “Earth” is composed by David Schombert His album “Quiet Life Vol.1” is published on jamendo.com under the creative commons licence.

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