Vietnam’s floating markets are such unique experiences that many of the tourists visiting them don’t really know what they’re in for. These are the ancient river markets of the Mekong Delta, located in the deep south of Vietnam where tradition and waterways share a beautiful longevity, and where locals and vendors gather every morning on wooden boats to buy and sell goods. Over time, these markets have become wonderful snapshots of Mekong Delta life and are a great way for tourists to see how laidback everything is down south. So, how to act, what to do and what to bring to Vietnam’s floating markets? Find out with our Vietnam floating market tips for visiting below.
Can Tho Ecolodge, standing on the banks of the peaceful Ba Lang River, understands the tradition of the floating markets. We offer private tours to Cai Rang, the main market in the delta and a highlight of any trip to wonderful Can Tho. Check out our tailored tour of Cai Rang here (link to tour page) and our luxury Mekong Delta eco-accommodation here
#1 - Go Hungry
This might not sound like a tip you’d consciously want to follow, but you’ll re-evaluate your stance when you take you first slurp of hủ tiếu noodles on a boat. Many come to the floating markets thinking that food won’t be available, but the Vietnamese entrepreneurial spirit dictates that any free space, on land or otherwise, is the perfect place to sell a noodle soup.
If you’re on a private sampan boat, you and your guide can glide between the markets’ food boats that smell the most alluring of them, meaning you can make your own food tour of some outstanding breakfast dishes. Along with hủ tiếu, visitors can try classic southern dishes like crispy shrimp pancakes, grilled pork skewers and crab noodle soup – a real treat for the taste buds and an absolute favourite of TV chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain!
#2 - Go Early
There’s nothing worse than turning up a market and finding the vendors packing up their stalls and taking down their advertisement poles. “But it’s only 9am!” you cry; well, that’s actually pretty late in the day by Vietnamese standards. One of our most important tips for Vietnam’s floating markets is to try and arrive between 5am and 7am.
Starting times vary between markets, but most see their busiest activity between 6am and 7am. Some, like Nga Nam floating market, get busy around 4am and are pretty much done by 7, and these times are the best to see the true, authentic nature of the daily markets. If you’re wondering how you’re going to get to the Mekong Delta this early, check out our Vietnam floating market tip number 3…
# 3 - Stay Overnight in Can Tho
It’s worth making your way down to Can Tho the night before your floating market experience, as this vibrant city sits right in the centre of the Mekong Delta. From here, you can easily reach most floating markets around the delta and will be situated right beside two of its most fabulous – Cai Rang and Phong Dien.
Staying in Can Tho not only means that you can beat the crowds, but also that you can enjoy the sights and sounds of this historic city. If you plan to make the most of Can Tho, consider a stay at Can Tho Ecolodge, an eco-friendly accommodation that offers nature-based peace and serenity right beside Cai Rang floating market. Check us out here
to find your perfect room today.
# 4 - Bargain, but be Respectful
The rules of the street are very much the rules of the river when it comes to bargaining. Number 4 is really a Mekong Delta floating market tip that extends throughout the whole of Vietnam, as bargaining is a nationwide phenomenon that takes places daily between vendor and buyer.
Be sure to haggle your way down from the price first suggested to you for an item, but make sure you don’t take it too far. Bargaining helps to keep prices at a stable rate for locals, but too much of it can be insulting to the seller and may be seen as an attempt to deprive them of $1 that means very little to you, but quite a lot to the vendor. Find the right balance, utilise the help from your guide and have fun with it!
# 5 - Bring Appropriate Weather Gear
The unpredictable nature of south Vietnamese weather means that you should be prepared in the clothes department. One definite is that you will be hot, so definitely don’t overpack, but when it comes to the rain, it can even be a lucky dip during the ‘dry’ season.
The wet season runs from April to September and the Mekong Delta sees an obscene amount of rain in this time. If you’re travelling during these months, remember to bring waterproof clothing, and an umbrella or a poncho, seeing as there are very few places to hide from the elements on a wooden sampan boat.
#6 - Bring a Camera
If you’re making a list of what to bring to a floating market in Vietnam, a camera should be right near the top. There are so many exciting things that happen on the surrounding boats, as these markets are usually a flurry of activity and an absolute rainbow of colours in the vibrant products and exotic backdrops. Bringing a camera really helps to commit these special tours to memory, no matter the quality.
#7 – Take a Private Tour
There are a few different ways to experience a floating market in Vietnam, accommodating for all budgets and travel styles. While going solo is possible, the small additional cost for booking a private boat will quickly become worth every penny.
Not only will you get a guide who will explain the workings of the market, but you’ll have a private translator who will help you get closer to the action and the history by talking with the locals. As well as this, you’ll have a boatman who can steer you in whichever way you’d like, taking you to any floating stall that takes your interest and showing you the more serene parts of the river where the tourists boats tend not to go.
Can Tho Ecolodge runs its own Cai Rang floating market tours
via private sampan boat for our guests. Our luxury Can Tho eco-accommodation is located amongst the jungle, about 2km from Vietnam’s number 1 floating market, where nature and Mekong tradition come to the fore. Click here
to book your place at Can Tho’s top eco-accommodation to enjoy the serenity of the delta first-hand. Thanks for reading our top tips for the floating markets of Vietnam!