Can Tho is the biggest city in the chaotic Mekong Delta located on the south bank of the Hậu River and is 169km from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). This journey takes 3 hours each way, and it’s always best to stay a night or two in Can Tho before going back to Saigon – if indeed you are planning to go back. There are bus operators from all big cities in central and southern Vietnam, plus a daily bus service operating to and from Phnom Penh in Cambodia, if you fancied a quick visa-hop.
The city is famous for its floating markets, Buddhist pagodas, delicious food and fresh fruits, as well as the beauty of the Mekong River itself (which is probably my favourite river in the world). What I found most fascinating here was the sheer palaver that ensued on the riverbanks. I have never seen busy waterways elsewhere in the world, but here in Can Tho there seemed to be no rules or etiquette! It makes the roads of Dhaka in Bangladesh seem almost civilised in comparison! The floating markets, which are undoubtedly the beating heart of the city, were chaotic and teeming with activity – not exactly the kind of place a solo backpacker would want to hang out for long!
Along the larger and wider stretches of river in the Mekong Delta, there are chances to enjoy a Bassac cruise. A Bassac is a medium sized local-style vessel, with the modern comforts onboard. I didn’t get the chance to experience a cruise like this, as I was messed around by a tour operator in Can Tho and eventually lost interest. However, for considerably less time and Vietnamese Dong, you can hop aboard a smaller wooden boat and let the skilled Vietnamese boaters transport you through the tropical reeds – and they needed to be skilled, for around every meandering of the river’s course there would be a need to somewhat helter skelter around another boat coming right at us!
If truth be told, I didn’t feel totally safe in these boats, but the locals who accompanied me were very friendly (though they couldn’t speak a word of English!) and understanding to my choices. My impromptu cruise took less than an hour, although it seemed much longer than that (in a good way). There were a few occasions when we hit other boats gently in a moment of mayhem, but I got the impression that this was a daily event in the lives of the Vietnamese in Can Tho, so I tried not to show my worrying too much. After all, it was amazing to be amidst such beautiful riverine scenery!