Local Insight: Can Tho

attractions - Saigon/HCMC: May 27, 2016

by Benoit Perdu & Aleksandr Smechov

"Can Tho has white rice and pure water,

of those who go there, their hearts won't leave”

Can Tho, comfortably sitting at the heart of the rice bowl of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta, is the most developed city in the region. You will need a minimum of a two-night stay to experience authentic Can Tho while avoiding the tourist traps, so that you have at least a full day to explore the site and beyond.

The new highway recently built makes this journey a smooth and scenic one.

Hit the road on Friday afternoon from Ho Chi Minh City, crossing the mighty Can Tho bridge by evening.

For accommodation, you may want to head to a side street off Tran Van Kheo if you’re in for a cheap hotel. A street like Tran Dai Nghia has plenty of affordable accommodations, and great late-night street eats along Tran Van Kheo. The second option would be getting a hotel right at the centre of Can Tho, by Ninh Kieu Pier. The Nam Bo Boutique Hotel is a well-kept and upper end boutique hotel right by the pier.

Of course, visiting Cai Rang, the largest floating market in Can Tho, and one of the most popular in the world, is a must. It is a colourful patch of commerce in the middle of a large spread of river.

A more genuine and less restricted way to see the floating market is avoiding a standard tour you might take from the pier. For about VND50,000 per person (negotiable), you can jump on a stray boat at the side of the Cai Rang floating market, and join the locals as they buy fruit and vegetables for their shop or restaurant.

After the floating market, forget the centre’s pagodas for now and head over to the countryside around Can Tho where you will find fascinating Khmer pagodas. A day cruise through the delta will allow you visit these sanctuaries without strain. We’d recommend 9Dragons, as besides the usual visit to an outlying Khmer pagoda, their day cruises tend to go off the beaten path, and include brief stops for cycling, as well as visiting farms and orchards. You should be back in Can Tho by evening.

Forget the centre’s pagodas for now and head over to the countryside around Can Tho where you will find fascinating Khmer pagodas.

On Sunday, you can dedicate your second day to the city centre. After sunrise and before the afternoon heat sets in is a great time to see some of the city’s history-rooted pagodas. Within the centre itself, there is the Chua Phat Hoc, or Phat Hoc Pagoda, at 11 Dai Lo, one of the city’s busiest intersections. In the afternoons and evenings monks perform a musical ritual on the top floor. Located about 30 minutes from the city centre, there is the Phuoc Hau Pagoda, the birthplace of the first reform of Buddhism, where original Chinese texts were translated to Quoc Ngu to make them accessible to the public, diminishing the temptation for some monks to abuse the power of knowledge.

The museums are nothing too spectacular, and are not too much different from the usual fare around Vietnam. We’d skip these and continue exploring Can Tho. Ninh Kieu Pier is an uproarious affair on certain nights, with waves of families, teenagers, couples and tourists shifting and flowing in droves.

Although the waterfront has a number of good food joints, there are a few gems frequented almost exclusively by locals. For banh xeo, go for Banh Xeo Tan Dinh on the Cai Khe roundabout. On De Tham street not too far off from the pier, Tan Phat is a local favourite. If you are weary of Vietnamese dishes, try L’Escale, a French restaurant on the top floor at 1 Ngo Quyen, overlooking the pier. A drink here in the evening is quite refreshing.