Can Tho, Vietnam and Beyond.
The Story -- Can Tho, Vietnam
A bus from Vinh Long (1.5 hours, 50,000d/$2.50) took us to Can Tho, our last stop in the Mekong Delta. It is the fifth largest city in Vietnam so it’s nothing to be balked at and isn’t exactly a sleepy little Mekong town.
Sample Budget (for 2)
Bus to Can Tho from Vinh Long: 100,000 VND + 80,000 VND taxi = 180,000 VND ($8)
Accommodations: 2 nights for 670,000 VND ($30)
Meals: 2 lunches, 2 dinners -- 350,000 ($15.55)
Attractions: Floating market tour 300,000 VND + 100,000 VND tip = 400,000 dong ($17.75)
Coffee/Booze/Snacks: 60,000 VND ($2.70)
Bus to Saigon: FUTA Bus -- 220,000 VND ($10)
Total: 1,880,000 ($83.50) – $20.87 each per day
When we arrived we were accosted by a taxi man who assured us that he was security at the bus station and was here to make sure that we got a proper price for our taxi. How much to downtown? “150,000 dong flat rate, no meter. It’s a good price,” he assured us. We walked across the station to the Mai Linh taxis who were waiting like arch enemies. The first guy we talked to barely spoke English but the word “meter” did come out of his mouth. The “security” guy cut him off though and told us that the driver would rip us off by driving around in circles while watching the meter go up. This scared us enough to decide that we’d get a set price, despite suspecting that Mr. Security was full of crap. Making the companies barter against each other we quickly reached a price that we thought seemed reasonable, 80,000d/$4 from the Mai Linh driver. Turns out, if we would have used the meter it would have cost us 62,000d/$3.10. The 90 cents difference is worth it just to have this valuable information for our kind and generous readers.
We arrived at Tay Ho Hotel to find that all the rooms were booked except for a superior room which was out of our budget. As we were leaving the owner stopped us and asked how much we were willing to spend. “300,000 dong.” He took us to his sister hotel; Hotel 31B, not a creative name but it was quite decent and had a nice view of the river (AC, fridge, cable, 300,000d/$15).
We opted against doing one of the over-priced and touristy floating market tours (EDIT: See below for information on the floating market tours, which are worth doing) and instead spent the day acquainting ourselves with the plethora of tropical fruits available in the area. We wandered the various fruit stalls, practicing our Vietnamese a little, and wrote this amazing Vietnamese fruits review.
Later that evening we ate at a restaurant that featured rat on the menu.
It was only a quick stop in Can Tho as we had to get back to Saigon for our flight to the Philippines. The flight didn’t leave until 1:00AM so we had some time to kill. After taking a bus back to Saigon (100,00d/$5), we jumped on a public bus (bus #2, 4000d/$0.20 each plus 4000d/$0.20 for all our baggage) to Ben Thanh market. We spent most of the day sitting in a bar on Bien Thu, getting a little tipsy, and eating pizza. Unfortunately, the city bus to the airport finishes at 6PM so we had to take a taxi for 160,000d/$8.
As the plane started to take off the exhaustion of the day kicked in hard but the view of Ho Chi Minh City from the sky at night gave us a bit of a recharge. The next seven and a half hours were spent in transit (flight to Manila, 3 hour layover, 1 hour flight delay, flight to Puerto Princesa) and in a semi-concious state. Thank goodness we were landing on a tropical island in the Philippines where we could slow things down a bit and have a vacation from our vacation.
Floating Market Tour in Can Tho: Cai Rang
My first visit to Can Tho, I skipped the floating market tour after hearing some negative things about them. I’ve since returned to Can Tho, and this time I was sure to check out a floating market tour. To avoid a bad time, I suggest skipping the organized tours are often packed with people, leave too late, and are overpriced. For 300,000 VND (about $13) you can arrange your own boat for two with a local boat lady on a small wooden boat. Book it a day ahead of time by going along Hai Ba Trung around Ngo Duc Ke (see map below). Someone will surely approach you. Have them show you the boat, which might be down a scary looking alley. Don’t worry, there are many people doing these tours everyday and I have never heard of anyone robbed. If it looks good, ask her how much it is. Negotiate the price to at least 400,000 VND. It’s probably possible to pay less, but if you want to pay more than 400,000, do so after the tour in the form of a tip. Make sure to arrange to leave early in the morning — like mega early. 5:30AM is the standard start time for a tour. If you leave later than that, you’ll miss the market at its most vibrant. You’ll probably have to pay half of the fee upfront. This was a bit difficult for me to hand over, but it really is only fair… assuming the person is actually a boat lady. I’ve never heard of anyone being scammed like this, but if you get bad vibes, consider finding another person, or ask them if you can take a quick photo of them so you can recognize them in the morning. Then you’ll have their image captured and you can use it to track them down Taken style.
The next morning, drag yourself to your meeting point and away you go. You’ll wake up pretty quick when you get out on the water and the sun is rising over the shoulder of your boat lady.
It takes about a half hour to get to the market. Have your camera ready in ‘sports’ mode so you can shoot the action as you float by it. To get a sense of what you’ll see, watch the video below. If you want to get a coffee, ask the driver and she’ll track one down for you. After a few passes of the market, you’ll probably be taken down a canal and dropped off at a place that makes rice noodles. It’s interesting and fun, as you’ll get to try out various stages of the process. After a bit of a tour, you’ll get back on the boat and, once more, drive through the market, which will now be closing up. Our lady made a couple stops to get some fruit that she carved, as she drove, and gave to us as a snack. You should be back to the dock at around 9:30 — just in time for your hotel breakfast!
The Facts -- Can Tho, Vietnam
Getting in and out of Can Tho, Vietnam
Can Tho’s International Airport includes locations in Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, China, and more… but you might struggle to actually find one. At any rate, you’ll save a lot of money (and possibly time) if you bus it to Ho Chi Minh City and fly out there instead. For budget airline options, Can Tho is limited to Hanoi and Da Nang (with Vietjet), and Phu Quoc (with Vietnam Airlines). Although, Vietnam Airlines isn’t a budget airline, their flights from Can Tho to Phu Quoc are usually very cheap (about 550,000 VND or $26).
Buses are your best option for cheap and easy travel around the Mekong Delta. From the bus station (see map below) you can get to Rach Gia (for ferries to Phu Quoc), Vinh Long, My Tho, and Ben Tre. These are usually smaller local buses that leave fairly frequently in the mornings. Arrive early so you don’t miss out. Of course there are frequent buses to Ho Chi Minh City that will drop you off at Mien Tay Bus Station. Mien Tay is in the west part of Saigon, but you can get there via the #2 bus from the bus station in front of Ben Thanh market (or get back to Ben Thanh if you’re coming from Can Tho).
Getting to and from Can Tho’s bus station is done either by taxi (which you’ll want to demand a meter for) for around 65,000 dong, or via free shuttle bus. If you book your bus to Can Tho with Thanh Buoi, Futa, or Phuong Trang you can go into the office at the bus station and get a free shuttle bus to your hotel. Alternatively, if you are leaving Can Tho and headed to Ho Chi Minh City, have your hotel call one of the bus companies to reserve a seat and arrange a hotel pickup to the bus station. The price of the buses between Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho are all around 110,000 VND.
Best Budget Hotel in Can Tho, Vietnam
You have a couple options when deciding the area to stay in. You can go down by the river, where most of the tourists are. Or you can stay downtown, where the locals hangout. I think it’s worth seeing both areas, so it doesn’t really matter which you choose. Kim Lan Hotel is a good option that’s situated within walking distance to both areas. You can get a double room here for around $15-20. They serve breakfast on the 8th floor, which offers a nice view while you eat.
For something closer to the river, we had a great stay at Hotel 31B. On Agoda there are some negative reviews, but we found it rather nice, with a large corner room that had views of the river. I guess, as one person points out in the reviews of the hotel, “it is simply a matter of which room you are allocated”. We didn’t book ahead, so perhaps a pop-in, complete with room check, would be a good option. That way, if the room isn’t nice you can go to the next hotel (which is one minute away), or the next one (which is two minutes away).
If you want to splurge, I highly recommend West Hotel. It’s a castle in the sky. The hotel is actually located in Tan An market, but from an upper floor room it certainly doesn’t feel like it. It’s high quality, but the you can usually get a room for about $30/night which includes a big breakfast buffet, and a bicycle to use while visiting Can Tho. The best part of the hotel is probably the pool on the 8th floor. The pool itself is small, but the views of the market and the river, are big.
Best Budget Restaurant
The restaurants by the river are slightly overpriced, and often not that authentic. Fortunately, there is a large University in Can Tho. That means a lot of hungry broke students. Korean or Japanese food is pretty popular with young Vietnamese kids. Mì Cay Omega is a good Korean-style spicy noodle soup place. You can get a Korean stone bowl filled with noodles, meat, and a spicy broth. It packs with young adults, so you may have to wait for a table. GONY (Glory of New York) is one option that’s close to the tourist area. Their food is pretty good and the menu varies from noodle soups to pizza. For an authentic Vietnamese atmosphere (ie. one that’s kind of crazy) go to hotpot alley (see map below). After watching the sunset over Xang Thoi Lake, take the short walk to the alley where you’ll have your choice of hotpot restaurants. My reco: choose a busy one. The options are usually limited to: duck (vit), seafood (hai san), goby fih (ca keo), or the sweet and sour one (chua) which also has a river fish in it. Not sure you want to deal with cooking a soup your table? Here’s a video that might help.
The Video -- Can Tho, Vietnam
The Map -- Can Tho, Vietnam
Next Stop Recommendation: Vinh Long, Vietnam
There are plenty of buses that go by Vinh Long, but the trick is to find one that actually goes into town (and doesn’t just drop you off on the highway outside of town). You’ll have to go to the bus station in Can Tho to find this. There are actually 2 bus stations in Vinh Long, if you can get to the one that’s right downtown you’ll be a superstar. The other one is only about a 10 minute taxi drive, but that’s like the price of a couple beers. At any rate, ask for Bến Xe Thành Phố Vĩnh Long and see if you’re put on the right bus. Or, look for a bus that says BX. Vinh Long. It will be rickety looking, and inexpensive.