2013 Travels: #10 Mekong Floating Market

Enjoying a Bowl of Hu Tieu on the Mekong Delta... Priceless.
Enjoying a Bowl of Hu Tieu on the Mekong Delta… Priceless.

One interesting aspect of the Mekong Delta is that they have wholesale markets on the river. The easiest way to get to the market is through a boat. It’s not too hard to arrange a boat tour. There are plenty of tour agencies and hotels that offer decent tours. I decided to stroll along the main stretch of river instead. One of the boat operators, a lady called out to me and asked if I was interested in visiting the floating markets. I made a deal with her, paid her a sum of deposit and took a photo of her, just in case I fail to recognize her later. She gave me her card, her name was Mdm.Phuong.

Wholesale Trading Taking Place on the River

I woke up 5.30 in the following morning and met with Mdm.Phuong at a designated meeting spot. Most of the activity in the markets take place before sunrise and by 9am, most merchants would have dispersed. Thus, it was important that we arrive there on time.

Mdm.Phuong was delighted to see me. In fact, she made me some accessories from palm fronds – a Kamen Rider-like crown, bracelets and rings. Well, look at te top photo, I was all blinged up, was I? =D

We first visited Cai Rang floating market which although was the closest to town, took about an hour to get to. From distance, I could see heaps of boats gathering at the centre. The Sun was just rising when we arrived, the atmosphere was perfect.

Being a wholesale market, the larger boats on the market act as wholesalers. Goods traded here are mostly agriculture – cabbages, gingers, watermelons, pineapples and whatever was seasonal at the time. Merchants then, with their smaller boats would transfer these goods from the larger boats. Once done, they would leave, presumably to their local markets to sell the goods.

It was interesting to note that such a wholesale market still prevails considering there are networks of roads available even in Southern Vietnam. Perhaps it’s because the Mekong Deltas connect the market to remote areas where roads do not serve or where conditions are poor. Or perhaps delivery on the road is more time consuming than on the river. Or perhaps it’s because it’s an age-old practice that locals continue to do it. Nevertheless, I reckon this practice will slowly die out as land infrastructures are improved and locals have better incentive to trade on land. Quite a pity, should that happen.

"Want Chilli?"
“Lime?” “Fish Paste?” “Chili?”

After going around the market, Mdm.Phuong made a stop and suggested we have some breakfast. A boat that sells noodles stopped next to us. You would think that a noodler seller on the boat would skimp on ingredients considering the nature of their selling space, but no. She had all the ingredients you would expect from a regular noodle stall on the land – fresh noodles, a boiling pot of broth, pork slices, pork ribs, pork blood, limes, chilis, fish paste and the herbs garnish mandatory in every Vietnamese dish.

She made 2 bowls for us. It was delicious. When asked what it was, Mdm.Phuong said, “Hu Tieu”.

Another boat that sells drinks stopped next to us. I had a cup of Vietnamese coffee, must needed to keep the adrenaline going.

“Jeez… Move Aside, Will You?” At Phuong Dien Floating Market

We visited Phuong Dien market next. It was further down the river and took some hour plus to get there. When we arrived, the market was noticeable smaller than Cai Rang. It might be because we were late and missed the action. Still, there was a cluster of smaller boats gathered around haphazardly. There wasn’t much trading going on when we joined the already crowded market. After a few photos, we left.

On the way back, we made a detour into some narrow canals. Turned out it was low tide and at some point, Mdm.Phuong had some difficulties maneuvering through the canals. The rubbish dumped by the locals didn’t help. Mdm.Phuong had to stop the engine a few times to remove raffia strings that were stuck to the engine’s fan. We made a stop at a restaurant and orchard but didn’t linger long as I had to catch a bus to Ho Chi Minh City in the noon.

Where She Got All Her Fruits, I Have No Idea but You will Never Go Hungry on Ms.Phuong's Boat!
Where She Got All Her Fruits From, I Have No Idea but You Will Never Go Hungry on Mdm.Phuong’s Boat!

By the time I got back to Can Tho, it was almost noon. It was a long, long boat ride but despite having to wake up early in the morning, it was worth it especially from a photographer’s perspective. Although the markets aren’t as big or packed as I thought it would be, there was still a lot to see. While going through the photos I’ve taken on this trip, the ones taken at the floating markets really stood out.



On March 2013, I bought a one-way ticket to Siem Reap and travelled to various places for 5 months. I returned home in September and decided to blog all the memorable stories and photos. I believe it’s the best way to conserve these memories and also to share them with my friends. All posts are tagged to the category 2013 Travels, should you need to browse the entire series. 

I was in Vietnam from March 20 to April 9. Most of the shots were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5, with either the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens or the original Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens. They were shot in RAW and processed, edited in Adobe Lightroom. Others shots were taken with my HTC Desire HD smartphone. 

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