A Guide To Vietnam's Floating Markets
Floating markets have become a way of life and trade for Mekong Delta dwellers for over a 100 years, thanks to the complex and extensive river system of the region. Here is a guide to the major (and minor) floating markets of the Mekong Delta.
Nga Bay Floating Market (Hau Giang province)
Nga Bay, also referred to as Phung Hiep floating market, has been open since 1915 – for over a hundred years, it has been a key trading port for the locals in Nga Bay town. Boats stacked with all sorts of vegetables and fruits paint the market in various bright colors. Usually each boat here will only sell one type of good, as displayed on the lateral bar erected out front. Other than fruit, you will also find animals being sold, such as lizards, turtles, iguanas, snakes and birds. If that scares you, don’t worry, they are contained well and won’t go crawling/swimming from one boat to the other.
Nga Bay also starts a little later than most markets and is most vibrant around 07.00 a.m. To get here, you will need to get to Can Tho first from Ho Chi Minh City, which is around a five-hour bus ride. Once you are in Can Tho, it is best to hire a private car through a travel agency or take a taxi to Nga Bay, which is about 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Can Tho city center. Once you reach the bay, you can easily hire a boat to take you around the market and any other interesting sites nearby.
Nga Nam Floating Market (Soc Trang province)
Nga Nam market is the convergent point of five canals, hence the name (nam means five). The Nga Nam river flows in five directions from here:
- Nga Nam – My Long, Hau Giang province
- Nga Nam – Vinh Quoi, Soc Trang province
- Nga Nam – Phung Hiep, Hau Giang province
- Nga Nam – Phuoc Long, Bac Lieu Province
- Nga Nam – Phu Loc, Soc Trang province
The hustle and bustle found in this market is unmatched by any other floating market found in Vietnam. Being the most central market of the region, you can find most of the Mekong specialties being sold here—boats full of rice, vegetables, fresh fruit from orchards, shrimp, fish, crabs, frogs, and the like. You will even come across the rare boat selling household goods and electronics. The market wakes up around 03:00 a.m. and reaches its peak around 05:00 a.m. so you will need to stay overnight in the town. To reach the market, you will need to take a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Cau Mau city which takes around eight hours. From here you will take another shuttle bus to Nga Nam town. A boat to explore the market will cost you a mere dollar.
Cai Rang Floating Market (Can Tho)
Cai Rang is a big wholesale market, and the most popular floating market of the region because of its location and accessibility. It is in fact, the largest floating market in the Delta. You can find all sorts of fruits being sold here, specializing in exotic ones from the region such as Nam Roi grapefruit, Vinh Long pink kiwi kumquat and the Cai Mon durian.
The easiest way to get here is by taking a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho. Then walk your way over (or take a xe om or a taxi) to Ninh Kieu Wharf and then board a boat here, which will take you around 30 minutes to get to the market. It will cost you around USD$15.00 for a private boat. Go early in the morning as the market is best during this time, and plus you can enjoy beautiful views of the sunrise on your way. You can also have breakfast here, you’ll see many boats with plastic chairs available, turning it into a makeshift restaurant. Try some bun ca (fish noodle soup) or hu tieu Sa Dec (dry noodle).
Located on the giant Tien river, the Cai Be floating market is a hub for transporting agricultural goods and seafood from the Mekong to the rest of Vietnam. It is another convenient choice for travelers because of its location, as it’s the closest to Ho Chi Minh City. The floating market is open later than most, so you can visit late in the day and still experience a bustling atmosphere. The best way to get here is to join a private/group tour or take a taxi from Ho Chi Minh City. Or board a bus to My Tho and then another to Cai Be.
This floating market is a hidden gem. It is one of the less popular floating markets in Vietnam, so head over here if you would like to immerse yourself in an authentic, easy and genuine market atmosphere. The locals here are extremely curious and will try to communicate with you and show you their country (and food!) as much as they can because tourists are not a familiar sight here. You can find a lot of veggies being sold, and fruits, and of course freshly cooked food. Enjoy a meal with a local and you will make their day when they see you slurp like a local as you finish a whole bowl of noodle soup. Don’t be afraid to ask for more.
You can take a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Long Xuyen, or head to Can Tho first, spend the night and take a taxi/bus/tour early in the morning from there. It will take around one and a half hours.
Tra On is located on the intersection of the Hau and Mang Thit river, and is the final floating market on the Hau river. The market wakes up really early, even as early as 02:00 a.m. and it is very interesting to see the morning rituals of the vendors as they prepare their boats for the day. Just like other floating markets, the main goods sold here are fruits and seasonal agricultural products. Your eyes will feast on colorful boats full of mango, longan, rambutan, dragon fruit, durian, etc, and of course plenty of familiar vegetables. Make sure you try some—they are fresh from the orchards!
You can take a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Vinh Long. It’ll take you around 3 hours, and from there you can take a xe om (motorbike taxi) to the Tra On floating market.
This market is 12 miles (20 kilometers) southwest of Can Tho city, and is another popular tourist spot. Definitely less crowded than its big sister, Cai Rang. There are a few motorized boats here, and more stand-up rowing boats, which create a more intimate, quieter atmosphere, more full of the talk and laughter of the vendors exchanging gossip and singing their sale songs. 05:00 a.m. to 07:00 a.m. is when the market is best visited, as there is little to see later.
You can get here by road from Cai Rang, however it’s better to opt for a half-day tour that combines Cai Rang and Phong Dien, returning to Can Tho city through quieter backwater canals, offering the true Mekong experience.