New direct flights from Bangkok mean there's never been a better time to visit.
There are many things that make the Mekhong Delta’s largest city unique. Boats stacked high with giant piles of fruit and veg. A land ripe with orchards. Street stalls selling rustic delicacies. But perhaps what we like most is the fact that tourists here are as rare as they are ubiquitous in Vietnam’s UNESCO-protected poster cities. Don’t think it’s for lack of things to see and explore. This working, water-shrouded city matches tradition with the breakneck pace of modern Vietnam, yet the noise and bustle fades away when you take to the water and explore the tranquil, time-worn trading byways.
Kick off your day at the bustling, mega floating market of Cai Rang (Cai Rang River, near Cai Rang Bridge), where a parade of boats sells vibrant tropical fruits in wholesale quantities (don’t start haggling for just a head of pineapple, they want to sell you a few kilos). The market usually dies down by 9am. We recommend getting there by boat to witness the charms of water life en route.
Blessed with rich soils, the city has made an attraction of its bountiful agriculture thanks to walk-through orchards and cocoa plantations. We recommend visiting Ba Cong Orchard (166 Long Tuyn Rd. www.fb.com/BaCongOrchard), which grows a huge variety of fruits and vegetables from jackfruits to black peppers. The owner is in his 70s yet always makes it to the front gate to greet his visitors. A fruit buffet for B30 a person marks the perfect end to the walk.
The tour at Vuon Cacao plantation (My Khanh Rd., Phong Dien. www.fb.com/lamphucchan) takes you through the fascinating yet labor-intensive process of farming the beans and turning them into cocoa products such as cocoa butter, nibs, powder and chocolate bars—at only B40 per person, we say it’s not to be missed.
Tay Do Night Market (Hai Ba Trung St.) makes for a perfect spot to get your souvenir shopping done. If you’re a foodie, then Phan Chu Trinh market (Phan Chu Trinh St.) is your place with street vendors offering a great range of tasty Vietnamese goodies at super affordable prices so you can sample many things in one sitting.
The street feast begins as you cruise to the morning market. You’ll notice tiny boats packed with bottles of colorful beverages, steaming pots and fresh coconuts—locals nickname them “The Mini Bar.” Holler them in and they’ll fix you a hot coffee poured straight into a thin plastic cup. Don’t be put off as the cup starts to go soft in your hand—the coffee inside tastes unique and delicious. If you’re lucky, you might even spot boats serving gin and tonic so be on the lookout. For breakfast, Quan An Cam Ky (37 De Tham St.) is a local joint where you’ll get an excellent but no-frills com ga (chicken and rice). We also recommend the barbecued pork and rice (B45) with a crispy, over-easy egg on the side. For lunch, Mr Cahn’s House is a local favorite where they make soft, thin vermicelli with a distinctive, diagonal twirl pattern. It’ll take you nearly 40 minutes’ drive to get there, but the journey provides an excellent opportunity to see Vietnam at its green and non-touristy best. Don’t forget to order the smoky Vietnamese grilled pork sausage known as nem nuong. Come evening, choose between Sìl My (13 Tan An, Ninh Kieu St.) for Vietnamese-style hot pot and barbecue, or L’Escale (1 Ngo Quyen St.), where they serve a mix of local staples and Western faves along with a small selection of wine. It’s a little fancy but the rooftop river views are worth it.
Gain an insight into the city’s Chinese and Khmer communities at Can Tho Museum (1 Hoa Binh St.), or see where the French colonialists used to imprison Vietnamese revolutionaries and citizens who challenged their regime in 1886 at Can Tho Grand Prison (8 Ngo Gia Tu St.).
The 149 year-old Binh Thuy Ancient House (144 Bui Huu Nghia St.) draws on French and Chinese architectural styles with its vibrant flower-filled front garden and the rainbow motifs.
Hit the town center for a leisurely walk through streets lined with food stalls and markets, vibrant pagodas and temples, like the beautiful Ong Temple (32 Hai Ba Trung St.), a colorful, Chinese-style assembly hall built in the 19th century that sits on the water. For a more peaceful stop, the Khmer-Buddhist temple of Chua Munirensay (36 DL Hoa Binh St.) is a relaxing place to recharge.
Just earlier this year, AirAsia (www.airasia.com) launched direct flights to Can Tho, which run three times a week (Tue, Thu and Sat) starting at roughly B2,663 for a return.
100 VND = 0.13 THB
Azerai Can Tho (www.azerai.com) on the tiny islet of Au in Can Tho, Vietnam, is the latest installment from Aman founder Adrian Zecha's follow-up "affordable" boutique hotel brand (affordable in Zecha's rarified world still means rooms from B7,500/night). The tasteful hideaway stands perched on over 80,000-sq-meters of land on the Hau River, offering 60 rooms decorated in light, natural tones, with outdoor terraces and loungers overlooking either the tropical garden or river. From Can Tho Airport, take a 25-minute drive followed by a five-minute boat ride to the resort, which offers two onsite restaurants, a fully-equipped gym with Pilates and yoga studios, a spa and pool.