It’s no surprise that Vietnam, one of our favorite destinations in Southeast Asia, made its way onto our 2021 travel wishlist. With its dramatic landscapes, stunning temples, picturesque beaches, vibrant cities like Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City, and of course floating markets, which are always worth traveling for.
When visiting the floating markets in Vietnam, your journey will most likely start in Ho Chi Minh City in the Southwest region. All of the markets on this list are located in the Mekong Delta. The process of getting to the markets often involves a combination of taxis, vans, buses, and motorbikes through rural parts of the country. In this case, the journey is often as interesting and rewarding as the destination. And you can always visit UNESCO World Heritage sites like Halong Bay and Hoi, which bring a nice serene balance after all the energy of exploring the best floating markets in Vietnam.
What is a floating market?
Floating markets have been a way of life in the Mekong Delta Region for over 100 years. The elaborate river system is used to transport goods of all types throughout the region and is responsible for most of the products distributed throughout the country. The floating markets are busy, loud, and energetic, each filled with bright colors and the delicious smells of grilled meat. They are everything that adventure travelers have come to love about markets in SouthEast Asia, only in the floating versions market stalls have been replaced by small, skinny wooden boats called sampons.
Tips for visiting the floating markets in Vietnam
In all cases, the earlier you go the better, to see the market in full swing, many of them on this list have died down by 9-10 am. Arrange your taxi, schedule your tour, or book a hotel in the closest town. Bring cash for everything from hiring a motorbike to deliver you to the wharf, hiring a boat, and making purchases at the market (there are no ATMs along the river). Keep in mind the haggling is expected and very much a part of the experience of visiting a market in Vietnam.
Cai Rang Floating Market
Location: Can Tho City
Cai Rang Floating Market is an iconic tourist destination in southern Vietnam. Located in Can Tho, Vietnam’s fifth-largest city, its popularity is due to its easy accessibility just 3 hours from Ho Chi Minh City. Cai Rang is best experienced on the water. Large boats anchor early in the morning creating lanes for the smaller boats to weave through. Visitors can find anything from clothes to sim cards here but the market specializes in local tropical fruits like durian, grapefruit, and papayas. The real adventure of the floating market is less about the actual shopping experience and more about immersing yourself in the ancient tradition of another culture. Stay and observe the local dishes, customs, and handicrafts.
Curated Experience: Take a tour of Cai Rang Floating Market. The tour includes a full day of activities; a knowledgeable guide, roundtrip transportation, visiting the market by boat, and the experience of seeing local artisans and chefs making their dishes and handicrafts to be sold at the market.
Cai Be Floating Market
Location: Tien Giang Province
The Cai Be Floating market was established during the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19th century. Located on the Tien River, Cai Be stays open later than other markets if you like the slower pace and want to brave the midday sun. But if you’d like the most authentic experience, the market is at its peak between 4 AM-6 AM where you’ll experience the hustle and bustle of the market’s patrons juxtaposed against the rising sun. A popular choice amongst photographers is to park your boat alongside the large Catholic cathedral on the riverside for an Instagram-worthy travel pic against the most stunning background.
Curated Experience: Enjoy a custom tour of Cai Be Floating Market that includes round-trip transportation. After arrival in Cai Be, board a boat and view the Mekong Delta. While onboard bargain for wares with local vendors. At the end of the boat ride, you’ll explore a maze of shaded canals to arrive at a local orchard. Once there, learn about the tropical local fruits and witness the handicrafts and daily activities of the local people in the village.
Chau Doc Floating Market
Location: An Giang Province
Nestled along the Vietnam and Cambodia border, Chau Doc Floating market is a multicultural experience filled with goods from multiple regions of southeast Asia. Experience breathtaking views of local temples, fruit plantations, and typical stilt houses. Situated along the Hau River the market is close to dozens of nearby attractions such as the SAM Mountains and Ba Chua Xu Nui Temple. From the SAM mountains, you can see the canals below and even glimpse at neighboring Cambodia. Chau Doc is the religious center of Southern Vietnam with access to lots of religious shrines and numerous opportunities to learn about Vietnamese Buddhism. One major difference between Chau Doc market and the others on the list is that this market is busy and hectic but local in a commercial ‘everyone is busy’ not catering to tourists type of way.
Curated Experience: If you’re looking for a unique way to transit between southern Vietnam and Phnom Penh take this 3-day guided boat tour through the Mekong Delta.
Tra On Floating Market
Destination: Vinh Long Province
Located at the junction of the Mang Thit and Hau rivers, the Tra On floating market is for early risers. Starting at 2-3 am with the busiest time being between 5-6 AM. A unique feature at this market is the use of the Beo – a bamboo pole fixed above the boat and shows off what produce is being sold onboard. At Tra On, many of the merchants also live on the boats, so you’ll see their floating homes anchored here at the market.
Curated Experience: Because the market starts so early and it is quite a long trip spending the night in Vinh Long is highly recommended. Head over to Chùa Ông Thất Phủ Miếu also known as Ong Pagoda and That Phu Temple built by the Nguyen dynasty in the late 1800s.
Nga Bay Floating Market (also known as Phung Hiep Floating Market)
Location: Hau Giang Province
With hundreds of boats coming and going each day, Nga Bay floating market, also known as Phung Hiep, is one of the most famous floating markets in Vietnam. The market opened in 1915 and has served as a hub for trade ever since. The market starts significantly later in the day with peak activity happening somewhere between 7-8 am. One of the most unique and visually stunning features of this market is that each boat only sells one thing. If it’s mangosteen, it’s a whole boat filled with the deep purple fruit. If it’s durian it’s a boat filled to the brim with the bright green spiky fruit. Hiring a private boat to weave you through the traffic is by far the best way to experience it.
Curated experiences: The area surrounding the market is filled with handicraft villages including the ones that make the boats. Speak with the guide that you hire to see if you can extend your time on the boat to include a tour of these villages.
Long Xuyen Floating Market
Location: An Giang Province
Of all the markets on this list, Long Xuyen has been least impacted by tourism. So if a hidden gem is what you seek, then this is it. Similar to other floating markets in Vietnam, produce is mainly what is sold and traded here. What’s different about Long Xuyen is that vegetables like bitter melon, cabbage, and water spinach are most common. The smaller quieter market lends itself to more direct interaction with local people. The best part is without all the noise of the other more hectic markets, you can often hear the sound of traditional Vietnamese folk music playing as you shop. The extra two hours spent in the car after Can Tho into the rural village community is worth it to experience one of the most authentic floating markets in Vietnam.
Curated Experience: Enjoy a meal on one of the restaurant boats serving bowls of vermicelli noodles and a rich flavorful broth. With fewer motorboats, the water is calm and perfect for enjoying a floating lunch while taking in your spectacular surroundings.