Navigating Can Tho, Jewel of the Mekong Delta

The drive was quite loud and long from Ben Tre to Can Tho. There was lots of honking to swerve around other vehicles, and we ended up taking a crazy route whereby we had to even take a ferry with the car. We did eventually make it to our accommodation, Mekong Delta Ricefield. We walked through and were greeted by a lovely Vietnamese lady. She then called for the owner, Martin. A jolly little fellow with round glasses appeared.


After checking in and getting to know each other a little bit, Martin advised us to take bikes and do a little loop around the area, totalling about an hour, so that’s exactly what we did. It was amazing to see the village life and bike along the river (not sure which channel, but it all leads to the Mekong Delta anyway!). Along the way, there were lots of schoolchildren heading back home on bikes. Each one of them excitedly said hello.

We arrived back to the accommodation dripping in sweat. The bike ride is easy, but the sheer humidity of the air just makes it feel like you’re swimming in soup. That said, when the breeze is blowing in your face while bike riding, you don’t really notice! We took a shower and then headed to the main area for dinner. We then met the other guests, all being (unsurprisingly) German!


We met all the animals of the accommodation, including three cats and three dogs. We ended up becoming close with two of the dogs, Bamboo and Macho. Macho is pretty much the scruffiest dog I’ve ever met. Martin explained that the week before Macho had been attacked by a swarm of mosquitos, which is why he was losing his hair and his skin was all red and inflamed. Poor Macho! He seemed to take a liking to Victor, so he was always around. 

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We went to bed fairly early because we had to wake up at 4:30am to take a boat tour with Martin. However, it was not just any boat tour, but a bespoke, small and incredibly local adventure through the waterways and canals of the area. It was dark for the first hour or so of the tour, which was really neat.

We first stopped at a small, local floating market. We ordered breakfast from the noodle lady and got coffee from the coffee lady. It was so much fun to be slurping noodles on a boat at 5:30am! The noodle lady’s friend sold coffee, so of course we supported her as well. After our fun breakfast, we continued down the canals as the sun started to rise above the horizon. Martin also handed us each a huge bag of banana chips that he had bought at the local market as well. It felt good to support his community. 

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Our next stop was the Cái Răng Floating Market. Unlike the smaller, quaint floating market we visited early in the morning, this floating market is vibrant but also very commercial. Large boats carry produce and hold up a pole with what they sell hung on it to signify to boats further away. 

We stopped at a pineapple boat, where a lovely lady cut and carved pineapples and offered us chilli sugar with it. The pineapple was so sweet and juicy, so even if it was touristy it was definitely the best pineapple of the whole trip.


We also stopped at an orange juice boat. Again, amazing fruit. 

We left the floating market and made a slightly impromptu stop at a market in Can Tho called Trung Tâm Thương Mại Cái Khế or the Cái Khế Market. It’s a real, local market that the owner likes to visit and also shop at. Walking around the vegetables and fruits, we also ran into meat, seafood and fish sellers. While the chopping of live fish was a little more graphic than what I’m used to, the only moment that horrified me was seeing skinned frogs jumping around in a bucket. Quite interesting to say the least!


Upon returning to the boat, we discovered that Martin had bought us some wonderful treats from the market, which were absolutely delicious. Although I always want to buy something from a market, I usually get overwhelmed by all the choices and also a bit scared as I’m not sure what is safe to eat for me, and what will be yummy! I can’t really tell you what each treat is, but one was some sort of banana cake, another a rice sesame roll, and the other was almost like a rice taco with sweet and salty little bits inside. 


Martin then drove us out to the Hậu River. Once the Mekong River enters Cambodia and reaches Phnom Penh, the river is joined on the right bank by the river and lake system of the Tonlé Sap. Immediately after the Sap River joins the Mekong by Phnom Penh, the Bassac River branches off to the right (west) bank. The Bassac River is the first and main distributary of the Mekong. This is the beginning of the Mekong Delta. The two rivers, the Bassac to the west and the Mekong to the east, enter Vietnam shortly after this. In Vietnam, the Bassac is called the Hậu River, being the river the owner drove us to. He took us out here basically to see how massive and impressive the river is, which it most certainly is! 

Once we got back to the accommodation, we were pretty tired from our early wake-up call but snuck in a quick dip in the pool before lunch. For lunch, we had tofu and green beans, fish with a delicious tomato sauce, and another type of fish covered in a gooey sweet sauce. 


Around 4pm Martin took us on a tour of his farm. He was quite proud of all that he’s accomplished, and it is impressive. We looked around and there were tall fruit trees of every kind. All of the trees were much taller than us, and Martin asked us to guess how old the trees were. Many of us guessed 10-15 years, but we were all incorrect. Most of the trees are just 5-6 years old! This just shows how fast produce grows in this part of the country, meaning the fruit is bountiful. The rice harvest takes place three times a year, whereas up north it’s only once a year, which just shows how fertile the area is.

In the photo below to the left, I bet you can spot Macho. Because of Macho’s condition, he has to be bathed often and a medical ointment is applied to his entire body. This means he’s not allowed out of the accommodation area, as once he’s freed he’ll go immediately to the farm and roll in the mud. Martin had locked the main gate, leaving Macho inside (with a sad look on his face). About 10 minutes later we all of a sudden saw Macho running to us into the farm. What a little devil! He absolutely loves the farm and obviously found a way to escape and join us. 


It was then time for another lovely dinner, this time with spring rolls, fried tofu, fish balls with green beans and vegetable soup. 

The next day we woke up relatively early as we had a big adventurous day ahead. After breakfast, we grabbed a couple of bikes and made our way to the village of Mỹ Khánh. We cycled 14 kilometres to Muoi Cuong Cocoa Farm. We then met with the current owner and manager of the cocoa farm who explained the farm’s life story. His father started growing cocoa in the 1960s. At that time, cocoa had just appeared in Vietnam. The owner is in his 70s, but he’s still very passionate about his work. He showed us how they make chocolate, cocoa butter and cocoa cider from scratch.


We then cycled to the Trúc Lâm Phương Nam Zen Monastery. It’s one of the largest Buddhist temples in the Mekong Delta, and is the largest in Can Tho. It’s a fairly new monastery as it was inaugurated in 2014. The layout of the monastery is beautifully done, and the covered walkways are lined with beautiful Buddhist statues. 

While it’s called a monastery, it’s really a large complex of buildings. Besides the main hall, the campus has an ancestral house, a hall for teaching and studying for about 500 monks, a 9-storey stupa, drum tower, bronze bell tower, monks’ quarters and guest houses, libraries and medicine rooms.


Being the first religious site visit of our trip to Vietnam, I quickly realised that the buildings looked nothing like the Buddhist temples of Thailand. I thought, Buddhism is Buddhism. It’s just like how Catholic cathedrals look pretty similar wherever you go in the world. But, I discovered many Vietnamese people are, in fact, followers of Caodaism, a monotheistic faith founded in Vietnam in the 1920s. It blends beliefs and symbolism primarily from Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and Roman Catholicism. There are of course Buddhists, and this monastery is a Buddhist temple, but certain symbols and practices, blend with Buddhism and I think it must be because of the influence of Caodaism, or at least Vietnamese folk religion.


We finished exploring the complex and then went for lunch at the restaurant onsite at the monastery, Cơm chay Thiền viện. Buddhist monks and nuns usually fully abstain from eating meat and seafood, so it’s not surprising that their restaurant is 100% vegetarian! It was great to try traditional Mekong dishes, just altered to leave the meat out. We also got some passionfruit juice, a wonderful treat. 

We picked up our bikes and made our way to our final stop of the day, Du lịch sinh thái vườn trái cây Phi Yến. At this point in the day, it was getting pretty hot, but we’re really happy we stopped by here. It’s basically a large garden, filled with fruit trees, waterways, and little huts for private picnics. There’s a restaurant on-site that can provide the food, but you can also bring your own food. The huts even have ways to cook food, and each has a little sink for washing your hands or cleaning plates. 

It was lovely to walk around and rest here for a while, especially in a shady spot. It was also really interesting to see all the groups of young people having a picnic. A little insight into what it’s like to be a local here on the weekend. 


As part of our entry ticket, we got access to a dessert buffet. What a concept! One part of the buffet was full of various jellies and syrups to make your own chè. Varieties of Chè can be made with mung beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, tapioca, jelly (clear or grass), fruit (longan, mango, durian, lychee or jackfruit), and coconut cream. It was absolutely delicious, so much so that I went back for another concoction! Another part of the buffet was various fruits, and the final part was Vietnamese biscuits and rice treats. Everything was amazing, an awesome way to end our day out. 


We cycled back in the glaring heat. It was tough, I’m not going to lie, but we felt so accomplished when we arrived at our accommodation. We quickly got in the pool to cool off. We then promptly asked for a coconut and sat on a terrace, revelling in the excitement of our day. For dinner, we had another amazing spread, this time with gooey noodles, braised fish, green papaya salad and fried rice rolls. We couldn’t believe it was our last night already. 


The next morning we went on one last bike ride because the area around the accommodation is incredibly beautiful you can’t really get tired of it. The road was quiet and serene, and we got to see the fruit farms and rice fields one last time. 


Once we had breakfast, our driver arrived soon after and then we were on our way to the Can Tho airport. At the airport, we had some instant noodles and I also bought some coconut candy as I didn’t get a chance to in Ben Tre (the coconut kingdom of Vietnam). We said goodbye to the Mekong Delta, a truly magical, humbling and beautiful part of the world. Next stop: Da Nang!

What do you think of the Can Tho area?

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