All About Vietnam’s Floating Food Market
Image Credit: Vendors selling pho and fresh vegetables at the Cai Rang Floating Market in Vietnam.

The Cai Rang Floating Market in Can Tho, Vietnam, is one of a kind. It is the largest ‘floating market’ in the Mekong Delta. Boats of different sizes selling fresh produce serve as shops within this ‘floating market’. During the early hours of the morning, the larger boats anchor to form lanes that the smaller boats float through. This forms a maze of multiple boats that, if seen from an aerial view, looks spectacular. 

This market was established in the early 20th century, before other floating markets came into existence. Legend has it that the name ‘Cai Rang’ was derived from the story of a giant crocodile that washed up at the shores. Some people believe that the name has been derived from a Khmer word—’karan’—instead. 

Unlike at other markets, vendors do not yell or sing about the goods they are selling because their voices would be drowned out by the vastness of the river and also the running boat engines. Moreover, the produce can be seen from a distance. Vendors tie whatever they are selling to tall poles so that customers are able to see it even if they are far away. There are no signboards. Small boats selling drinks like wine and beer float around the other boats to serve customers. 

Fresh, seasonal produce dominate the goods sold on these boats. The buying and selling of goods at the market is an opportunity for tourists to take in the culture of Vietnam. Produce sold at the market mainly includes fruit, vegetables, dried fish, fish sauce, milk and coconut candy. Besides these, vendors also sell ready-to-eat Vietnamese street food like pho (noodle soup), hu tieu (a traditional breakfast of pork bones and noodles), bun rieu (a tomato broth with rice vermicelli and freshwater crab) and com tam (a dish made with broken rice grains). The prices are reasonable and the portions generous. Some boats also sell household goods and ceramic. 

The busiest hours at the market are from sunrise until 9am. It is recommended that visitors arrive by 6 or 6.30am to make the most of what the market has to offer. Since the market is found in Southern Vietnam, it is considered okay to visit at any time of the year as the weather is quite mild all year round. Both the rainy season and the dry season have their own appeal and result in different varieties of produce. However, if you prefer to avoid the rain, visit between December and April. 

The market is located downstream of the Can Tho River, which is a branch of the Hau River. It takes about 45 minutes by boat to get to the market From Can Tho. If you’re travelling from Ninh Kieu Wharf, the boat ticket to Cai Rang is between 2 USD to 4 USD per person and takes 30 minutes. Group tours to the market are also available. 

The buzzing and colourful Cai Rang Floating Market forms a significant scene depicting Vietnamese customs and culture, and is an inextricable part of Vietnam’s identity.