“Care for some noodles, sister? I know you can eat anywhere you want, but if you chose my place, it would be a big favor to me!”. The thing that I remember most clearly about Can Tho is the friendly and sweet greetings a breakfast vendor offered me at Cai Rang floating market. Once you’ve arrived, you’ll never forget the place. Weird, isn’t it?
Save your appetite for Can Tho
For backpackers, it is clear that a bowl to eat in is more important than a bed to sleep on. Living quarters are basically alike anywhere in the world; thus, the cuisine is the thing that separates countries and regions. If you want to know what people in Can Tho usually fill their stomachs with, just take a jog around markets. Chicken salad noodle, fish paste noodle, grilled meat pie, grilled snakehead fish are only a few among hundreds of exotic dishes you can find inside those simple traditional markets of the Mekong Delta. You don’t have to worry about their prices while also be able to sit with them to listen to their stories, feel their happiness, and enjoy the hospitable and friendly aura that they spread into the atmosphere.
If your budget isn’t that narrow, you can try famous dishes in restaurants that have been praised by experienced tourists. There are Thanh Giao’s duck braised in soy cheese, Bay Toi’s rice pancake, "cong" cake on Nguyen Trai St., fish paste noodle on Ly Tu Trong St., snails grilled with pepper on Tran Van Kheo St., crab simmered in tamarind sauce. In the night, sitting near Ninh Kieu port enjoying delicious food, feeling the fresh breeze from the river, listening to some traditional harmony from nearby local people is the simple experience that makes tourists unable to forget Can Tho.
Walking around Can Tho
You shouldn’t prepare an over-detailed plan before visiting Can Tho. If you’re an adventurer, just ask local people, and they will show you tons of exciting places to explore. Or, you can hire a motorbike and go to pay a visit to Binh Thuy old house, the Truc Lam Zen monastery of Phuong Lam, Bang Lang stork garden, the Bridge of Love and Ninh Kieu port before taking a walk around to feel the relaxed atmosphere of the city in the evening. Don’t forget to go to bed early since you have a date with Cai Rang floating market early in the morning!
A morning in Cai Rang floating market
To be able to feel the happy atmosphere of Cai Rang floating market, you will have to wake up very early, then take a canoe going from Ninh Kieu port to arrive at the market at 5AM.
“A long time ago, a giant crocodile was occupying this land. A tooth of that crocodile was stuck in the bank of the river; thus, our ancestors call this place Cai Rang (A Tooth). Nothing complicated”. It was the story about the origin of the name of this land as told by a humorous shipowner.
At the market, all of your senses will be awaken as they are exposed to many different sounds and images of an exciting daily life. There, you can hear the crispy music of engines of boats that are constantly going back and forth the river to deliver goods. You can hear the friendly and sweet greetings from a noodle vendor who uses one arm to paddle her boat while the other is waving at potential customers. As we nodded as a sign of acceptance, she skillfully prepared everything for our bowls, including noodles, toppings, vegetables, and the broth, as well as a touch of shrimp paste. I didn’t have a spoon, so she took one out of her pocket and rinsed it down in the river, then hand over to me with a bright smile on her face to use the spoon. I was hesitating at first, but since my friend kept teasing me, so screw it then! I’ll try it!
In this region, the river is everything. People bathe in the river, wash their dishes in the river, and even cook with water from the river. They grow up with the river and thanks to the river that protects them all year round, they become strong and generous people.
The floating market is not only a trading place, but it is also home for a lot of people. Some families live on a boat and make a living by selling tropical fruits like banana and mango. Every ship has a paddling rod called “beo”. Sellers sell what they “beo”, buyers only have to navigate their boats towards the seller’s spot. The market is bustling, but everyone is honest with others. They never try to rip off their customers since they only want to earn money enough to make a living, to feed their kids and support their education. It’s best for the kids to go to school. You cannot live on the river forever, can you!
Some people have been living most of their life on the river. They brought life to the water with their laugh, their innocent life stories. How lovely are the shipowners, the noodle vendors, or the kids trying to help their parents by serving refreshments to their buyers who are living here!
You will see the harmony of Cai Rang floating market in the morning as the most beautiful event in Can Tho if you ever have a chance to observe once, just like I do many times in my life.
Story: Thuy Trang; Pictures: Thuy Trang, MinC