There’s a feeling of deja vu as I lie stretched out on a bench with my jacket rolled up as my pillow trying to catch 40 winks at a bus station in the middle of nowhere in South Vietnam as I await my connecting bus to Can Tho. The last time I was in this exact position was at Charles De Gaulle Airport on an 18 hour layover in Paris awaiting a connecting flight to Singapore when I was 19 years old.
Not many people I know are willing to travel the way I do and with age I’m beginning to wonder how much longer I can keep this up myself. Just moments earlier I was dropped off at this station after a bumpy 12 hour journey from Nha Trang in a sleeper bus. It’s got to be said, these sleeper busses are great if you’re a regular sized person but for a 6 footer, I had to do Houdini like contortions to get comfortable and felt like the Hunchback of Notre Dame when I tried to stand up straight after so many hours curled up like a snake.
It’s 2am in the morning, shaken awake, still half asleep, I barely understand what the bus driver is trying to say to me in Vietnamese. All I can make out is that another bus will get me to my final destination. A stout animated guy rattling off something in Vietnamese runs up to me as I alight from the bus and drags me to the waiting area and gestures to me that he’ll be back for me when the connecting bus arrives.
I finally get to Can Tho at 4am and catch a motodop to the Cai Rang jetty. Upon arriving the place is clearly still closed as I’m greeted by an elderly gent who is the caretaker there. Our Viet-English conversation is going nowhere but my take away from it all is that the boat will take me out to the market at 5am. A super friendly guy, we sit under the clear night skies and share a hot coffee from a nearby stall the likes of which could make hair grow on your chest in an instant. It was that strong. I’m instantly awake and ready to bounce off the walls so to speak.
A quick visit to the WC as it’s known here in Vietnam to brush my teeth and freshen up and I’m ready to take on the adventure that awaits. A little after 5am the boatman arrives with a few other tourists and we all get into the boat and head off to the floating market. It’s still pitch dark so the first stop is the restaurant for breakfast. I’ve been here in Vietnam some 12 days and if I see another bowl of Pho, I’ll break something. And guess what was for breakfast?
As dawn begins to break, the skies get lighter and the market comes alive. Boats and boats and boats. As far as the eye can see. Quite a sight to see. Traders with their boats laden with everything from fruit and vegetables to drinks and coffee ply the Can Tho river looking for customers. They pull up along side and anchor a hook onto your boat and make their deals before speeding off to the next tourist boat. It’s helter-skelter, boats criss crossing each other and lots of activity along the way.
Cai Rang (Cho Noi Cai Rang) is often described as the largest and busiest floating market in the Mekong Delta. I was neither impressed nor disappointed with it as I’ve visited the Chong Kneas Floating Village on the Tonle Sap in Siem Reap and felt it all looked a little too familiar. That been there, done that feeling. For first timers though, I can assure you its nothing like you have ever experienced before.
The cruise around the market takes a little over an hour and costs only 100,000 Dong (approx. 5 US Dollars). I did not do one of those swanky tours you can book online as they can run up to $25 bucks per pax. They may take you a little farther up river and throw in a free meal but I don’t believe these tours are value for money.
All said and done, the 14 hour back breaking bus ride from Nha Trang to experience Cai Rang at dawn was totally worth it. I’d certainly do it again.
The Roving Photographer
March 20, 2016
PS. From Saigon, Can Tho is but a short 3-4 hour bus ride but you will need to stay overnight and catch the market the following morning at 5am.