A great way to get a taste of authentic Mekong Delta culture is by visiting one of the best floating markets in Vietnam. The southern part of the country is where the Mekong River is, and the delta region has many unique customs and traditions. Floating markets have been an important way to shop for decades, and for the most part, have remained unchanged all these years.
One thing that all these water-based markets have in common is that they are early morning venues. Most markets are shut down by mid-morning and won’t open again until pre-dawn hours. A couple of places stay open a little later to accommodate tourists, but the majority of them wrap things up by 8 am or so. Most locations are open between 4 and 6 am.
To experience the novelty of shopping via boat, add one or more of these top Vietnamese floating markets to your itinerary.
Cai Rang Floating Market – Can Tho
Located on the Can Tho River, Cai Rang is the largest and most famous floating market in the Mekong Delta region. It was first formed at the beginning of the 20th century and has since become a global icon with its induction as a UNESCO National Intangible Cultural Heritage site as of 2016.
This market is one of the most frequented by tourists and even has been visited by food enthusiast and well-known chef Gordon Ramsay. Every morning starting around 4 am, the water is bustling with hundreds of local merchants in various sized boats. For very low prices, sellers have everything from produce, cigarettes, dried goods, and even hot meals like pho.
One of the ways vendors advertise what they’re selling is by hanging it on a stick or pole at the front of the boat, a smart way to stand out in the masses. The market is most active until about 9 or 10 am. Getting to the market is accomplished by traveling to Can Tho’s Ninh Kieu Wharf, buying a boat ticket, or booking an organized tour.
Southern Vietnam has two distinct seasons: rainy and dry. Tourists can have a different type of experience visiting the market during both. More tropical fruits and products are available during the dry season, while the rainy weather brings cooler mornings.
Cai Rang Floating Market is 168 km/104 miles south of Ho Chi Minh City and takes about 3.5 hours to get there by car or motorbike. If travelers don’t want to navigate independently, organized day tours from Saigon are available.
Long Xuyen Floating Market – An Giang Province
Based in the Ang Giang Province, the Long Xuyen Floating Market is about 2 km/1.2 miles long and set on the Hau River. Not as big as other markets and boasting small crowds, it’s the place to go for a genuine experience. Best explored by boat and free to browse, hundreds of vendors are open from 5 am to 9 am.
Produce, tropical fruits, and local specialties are sold at this market; look for the bamboo poles on each boat to see what’s being sold there. When an item runs out, the rod comes down. If you’re looking for something specific, show up very early in the morning to get the best selection. There’s also a “food court” section of boats that cook up local dishes and serves them hot to shoppers.
Visitors from Ho Chi Minh City first need to travel to the town of Long Xuen, where the port is straightforward to walk to. Travelers choose to rent their own two-person boat or book a tour. Some organized tours can be arranged with a starting point in Saigon and include travel.
Tra On Floating Market – Vinh Long Province
The Tran On Floating Market is located in a prime spot at the Hau and Mang Thit rivers junction. The primary goods sold here are similar to other markets, mostly seasonal fruits and agricultural items. However, what’s unique about the Tra On marketplace is that it’s trending towards having a wholesale status and selling supplies to people from nearby areas in addition to locals.
This floating market in Vinh Long Province has very early hours, and passerbyers in the area will see the vendor boats setting everything up at about 2 or 3 am. The busiest time is between 5, and 6 am when boats are restocked with the best goods and options for first-come, first-served shoppers. Items for sale are advertised on their “beo” bamboo wooden sticks.
Phong Dien Floating Market – Can Tho
Set 20 km/ 12.4 miles southwest of Can Tho, the Phong Dien Floating Market is one of the Mekong Delta’s watery shopping areas. While this floating market isn’t as famous as the city’s other one, it’s attractive for its genuine representation of the region’s culture. Phong Dien is also much smaller than Cai Rang, with only about 45 boats showing up in the mornings for selling and buying.
Because this floating market is so tiny, it’s best to show up as early as possible. The sunrises on the river are indeed photo-worthy. Many people arrive as soon as 4 or 5 am, and it’s dispersed mainly by 7:30 am. Aside from tropical fruits like durian, mangoes, and fresh produce, Phong Dien also sells household items and prepared breakfast foods to snack on as people shop.
There is no fee to go to the market itself. While making a solo trip to see the floating vendors is possible, booking an excursion with a local guide is probably easier.
Nga Nam Floating Market – Soc Trang Province
Located in the Soc Trang Province, about 40 km/25 miles from the city center, Nga Nam Floating Market is another one of the Mekong Delta’s gems. Originated in the early 19th century when the surrounding land was primarily primitive, today’s market is a bustling area of activity in the early morning hours.
This lively shopping area has just about anything you can think of for sale, including meat, seafood, home goods, dried foods, fruits, and even electronics. Numerous boats of all sizes take part in this daily market, decorating themselves in bright colors to catch shoppers’ eyes.
Not designed for tourists and nestled in a quiet area, this locals’ market to best explored by sampan boat, which can take you to each of the 5 nearby canals. It’s a smart idea to rent your boat the day before you plan to visit as it’s harder to sort out in the early morning darkness.
Eating street food on the floating market is an incredible way to taste the local cuisine. At Nga Nam, you’ll be able to find delicacies like pork and rice noodle soup, crab paste vermicelli, grilled pork, and sweet and sour fish. Eating a fresh meal as the sun rises is an unforgettable experience.
Cai Be Floating Market – Tien Giang Province
Located an hour from the city of Vinh Long and 112 km/70 miles from Ho Chi Minh City, Cai Be Floating Market is one of the most frequented in the Mekong Delta. It’s set on the Tien River in an area that borders the Tien Gang, Vinh Long, and Ben Tre provinces, so it has a lot of diversity in its products.
Everything from seasonal fruit, seafood, flowers, poultry, candy, veggies, and more can be purchased from the hundreds of weaving boats in the water. Cai Be closes later, around mid-day, unlike many other floating markets, but it’s most active around 6 am. Even though it’s part of the way of life for many locals, tourists like to take boat tours to see the bargaining in action.
Bright colored products, the sound of paddles and engines in the water, and vibrant boats create a genuinely unique Vietnamese shopping experience. The best way to see the market is by taking a local tour guide or renting a private boat with a driver. It takes about two hours to visit Cai Be Floating Market.
Some organized tours can be arranged from HCMC, just ask your hotel’s front desk or visit a travel agency. This is the closest floating market to Saigon.
Phung Hiep Floating Market – Hau Giang Province
Also known as the “Nga Bay Floating Market,” Phung Hiep is one of the largest fairs on the water in the Mekong region. Located at the intersection of seven canals, Xeo Dong, Bung Tau, Mang Sao, Soc Trang, Xeo Mon, Lai Hieu, and Cai Con, and being one of the most bustling spots in
Tay Do Ecological Area
, the market serves as a functioning trade and shopping area for locals and a sightseeing attraction for tourists.
Formed in 1915, this market continues to be highly active and sells everything from electronics, fresh fruit, vegetables, appliances, and handicrafts to pretty much everything you can think of, including live turtles and snakes. Operating from very early in the morning until early afternoon, but it’s best to arrive before 8 am. Skip breakfast at the hotel and dine on a hot meal served fresh from a boat.
Getting to Phung Hiep Floating Market takes about two hours by boat leaving from Can Tho City. Driving a car, bus, or motorbike to the area is possible too, but visitors will have to rent a boat after arrival to go into the market. Additionally, travelers with a passion for photography can capture some incredible views of the floating market from Phung Hiep Bridge.
Chau Doc Floating Market – An Giang Province
Set right in the Chau Doc town, the Chau Doc Floating Market is one of the smallest and most authentic that you’ll find in the delta region. Comprised of only about 30 or 40 boats, this market isn’t as crowded as others since it’s geared more toward locals’ daily living. However, that might be a great reason to see it and witness the culture from an unspoiled setting.
You have to be at the market at the crack of dawn to be a part of it, as everything mostly shuts down by 7 am. It takes about 15 minutes from the riverside park to ride in by sampan or a larger boat for a bigger group. If things are timed right, you’ll get to see an incredible Mekong Delta sunrise.
Even with lesser boats at Chau Doc, a few boats serve delicious meals on the water, and many varieties of fruits and goods are for sale. Purchasing a tour or boat the day before is highly recommended. Even though the boat launch area is central in town, making plans for departure last minute and in the dark can be tricky.
One of the most popular ways to see Chau Doc Floating Market is to arrange a day tour to go through it and the Tra Su Forest at the same time. Ho Chi Minh City is about 140 km/87 miles from Chau Doc. Planning a trip to the floating market would require a very early departure from Saigon or an overnight stay in An Giang Province.
There isn’t a better way to start the day in Vietnam than at a floating market. This is a staple of the country’s culture and an exciting way to sample daily life for residents. Whether you’re into a large touristy or smaller, local-centric one, you’re sure to have an incredibly unique experience.