Can Tho highlights and travel guide

Can Tho Overview

Can Tho is the largest city of the magnificent Mekong Delta in the south of Vietnam. Situated on the banks of the Hau River, it serves as the political and commercial centre of the Mekong. Famous for it's captivating floating markets, beautiful temples and delicious food, Can Tho is a great starting point for discovering the maze of waterways that makes up the Mekong Delta.

Can Tho city and Cai Rang floating market
Can Tho city and Cai Rang floating market

Despite changes of name and rule, Can Tho has managed to retain its unique culture and heritage. Its population of over 1 million combined with the flocks of tourists that venture there every year create a buzz of energy that can be felt in the streets of the town and the flow of the river. Although the city sprawls over a large area, there is an easily accessible centre which has everything you could need. The main attraction of the area has to be the lively, colourful floating markets which take place at the break of each day, however, Can Tho has some other charms which make this city well worth a visit.

Much like many areas in the south of Vietnam, Can Tho has two distinct seasons. The rainy season lasts from May to November and the dry season from December to April. The average temperature throughout the year is between 29-33 degrees Celsius with April being the hottest month. During the wet season, especially in October and November, monsoon rains cause the mighty Mekong to swell sometimes causing flooding to the area. The prime time to appreciate the spirit of Can Tho is in either April, May or June when the temperatures are comfortable and the rainy season is not yet in full swing.  

See and Do

When visiting Can Tho, it is a great idea to take a walk through the town to get a feel for the area's unique culture. The charm of Can Tho is best discovered in the local markets and on the banks of the river. Ninh Kieu Park sits at the confluence of the River Hau and the Can Tho River. Previously a wharf, the park is now a picturesque spot to sit and watch the colourful boats passing by on the flat, glassy water. The edge of the park is lined with well-kept plants and features an impressive 7.2-meter sculpture of the national treasure, Ho Chi Minh.

Minh Thuy ancient house
Binh Thuy Ancient House. Can Tho city

Hai Ba Trung Street follows the river south of the park and has a large ion of cafe's, restaurants and hotels. This area really comes to life at night with the beautiful lights reflecting off the river. The Can Tho Bridge casts some particularly beautiful light shows on the water with the colours rippling and merging with the gentle waves.

Binh Thuy Ancient House is a grand affair with colourful, ornate architecture on the outside and a period furniture and antiques crowding the rooms. The building combines elements of Vietnamese and European elements to create a lavish and elegant building. The house was built in 1870 by the Duong family, and it has been passed down through 6 generations of the family, some of whom still live in the rear part of the property. Often there will be a member of the Duong family on hand to give guided tours and show visitors points of interest around the house.  

Culture and Arts

The floating markets are unarguably the biggest attraction of Can Tho with their unique charm atmosphere attracting hoards of visitors each year. With Can Tho being the largest city in the Mekong Delta, there are a number of different markets to choose from. Daily tours run from the main town to the trading flotillas, picking passengers up at the break of day to catch the main action. The markets are a great place to sample the fresh local produce or watch the friendly to and fro of the vendors as they bob down the river.

Cai Rang floating market, Can Tho
Cai Rang floating market, Can Tho

Cai Rang Floating Market is the biggest in the Mekong Delta and sees hundreds of boats take to the river each day. Larger boats puntuate the water with the smaller boats filtering around them like swarms of fish. Each boat has a tall pole with a sample of their product on the end indicating what they have for sale. The boats are laden with fresh fruit and vegetables, their colours painting an amazing picture across the green murky waters. As well as the fresh produce, there are many boats selling sweet, rich Vietnamese coffee or delicious local dishes prepared onboard. The best time to catch this market is from sunrise to early morning when the sun is just rising over the Mekong Delta.

Phong Dien Market is a little further away from Can Tho but offers a more intimate, local style market. Unlike the busy wholesale market at Cai Rang, this floating market is made up of mainly smaller boats and has more leisurely pace to it. As with most markets, Phong Dien, is best seen as early as possible, between 5 am-8 am. The vibrant colours of the fresh fruit and vegetables add excitement to the green surroundings, signalling the start of another day. Most boat companies offer tours which allow passengers to see both Cai Rang and Phong Dien in a single trip.

Can Tho has an interesting ion of temples and pagodas throughout the city. Quang Duc Pagoda is just a short walk from the main downtown area and is a beautiful example of a Buddhist Pagoda. The ornate architecture and grand sculpted wooden doors house a statue of the Buddha who sits atop a lotus, surrounded by flowers.

A short walk through town, opposite Ninh Kieu Park, is the beautifully designed Ong Temple. The exterior is painted with intricate decorations and its roof laden with tiny sculptures. Inside the temple is decorated with exquisite artwork and statues of religious deities. Huge incense coils hang from the ceilings, blowing gently and capturing the light in their wafting smoke. The temple was built in the late 19th century by the Chinese, and it has been perfectly preserved.

Munirangsyaram sits like a glimmering vision of gold adorned with colourful flags. It is one Vietnams Khmer Buddhist temples and is worth a visit even just to see its ornate golden decoration. As well as the temple, there is a monastery housing many monks who are often keen to converse with any interested visitors.

Food and Drink

When it comes to food, Can Tho has many advantages, from being situated on some of the most fertile lands to being surrounded by rivers. The city showcases some of the signature dishes of the South using freshly grown, local produce.

De Tham is known as food street and offers many different Vietnamese dishes from street vendors, cafes and restaurants. The scent of freshly cooking food rises up from the steaming pots and grills, tempting all those that pass by to stop for a tasty treat.

Banh Xeo (pancakes), Chuoi Nep Nuong. Can Tho food and drink
Banh Xeo (pancakes), Chuoi Nep Nuong. Can Tho food and drink

Banh Cong makes a tasty snack to keep you going until the next delicious meal. A combination of pork, shrimp, taro and mung bean is mixed with a batter and deep fried into small balls which are then dipped in the classic fish sauce.

The Mekong region also has its own take on the Vietnamese dish Banh Xeo, sizzling pancake. Here the pancakes are much larger than those in other regions with the sizzling hot, yellow pancake filling the whole pan. The mixture is allowed to sizzle and cook before it is filled with pork, shrimp and vegetables. The best thing about this dish is that is meant to be hands-on, eaten fresh from the pan, held in a lettuce leaf.

Chuoi Nep Nuong is a sweet dish that can be enjoyed as a snack or as dessert. Bananas are covered in a layer of glutinous sticky rice which has been cooked in coconut milk. A banana leaf is wrapped around the centre of the banana and rice package and it is placed on the grill. The sticky parcels are often served with coconut milk and tapioca.

Another great area for tasting some great local food is known as Hot Pot Alley. Located in Xuan Khanh Quarter, this street is popular with locals and students looking for a satisfying, steaming bowl of hot pot. Small burners are placed on the table with a large saucepan on top to which diners can add their choice of meat and vegetables. Because of its location, Can Tho has some unusual hot pot options including duck and different types of fish. The joy of being this dish is that you can completely personalise it to your own tastes.  

Festivals and Events

The Lunar New Year, which usually falls in late January or early February, is welcomed with the Tet celebrations in Can Tho, as it is across the whole of Vietnam. The preparations for Tet see the local people busy with preparations and many makeshift stalls appear selling packages of shiny Tet gifts or peach and kumquat trees. Can Tho City celebrates the festival with parades and fireworks bringing the town to life with music and colour. Locals and tourists alike will enjoy the community spirit and cultural events in the days leading up to the Lunar New Near.

Tet festival, Chol Chnam Thmay Festival. Can Tho
Tet festival, Chol Chnam Thmay Festival. Can Tho

The new year is also celebrated by the Khmer community in Can Tho. Usually falling the middle of April, Chol Chnam Thmay Festival takes place over three days. Each day has a different name and different rituals but throughout the whole holiday people enjoy gathering with their families and enjoying feasts of delicious food.

Lang Ca Ong, a festival to give thanks to the whales, is an important festival throughout Vietnam but even more so in fishing areas such as the Mekong Delta. The festival is held in the third lunar month and people give peace offerings and pray to whale gods to show their gratification for keeping them safe at on the waters.

Labour Day, held in early March, is another vibrant time in Can Tho City. Lively parades bring excitement to streets while the explosive firework show lights up the night’s sky.

Tet Trung Nguyen, on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, is one of the busiest days for the temples and pagodas of Can Tho. Known as the Hungry Ghost Festival or Ghost Day, this celebration is an opportunity for people to pay their respects to the deceased. The festival involves making offerings of food and clothes the ancestors and the burning of incense.
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