This is the epicenter of the Mekong Delta and is the largest city in the region. While in Can Tho, Nick and I spent time exploring the riverfront, night market, floating markets and a rice noddle factory.
At 5 am we boated to the Cai Rang Floating Market (produce) and Phong Dien Floating Market (fish and meat). These two markets sell wholesale products from bus-sized boats in which 3 generations of vendors live. Each boat has a tall bamboo pole in the front with the product they sell attached. A boat that sells mangos has a mango raised 15 feet for customers to see from afar.
While on the river, we floated to a local rice noodle factory where we were able to watch a handful of locals in action. There were two large plastic jugs where rice flour, tapioca flour and water was combined into a liquid. Then a woman poured a scoop of the mixture onto a fixture where it was steamed. This looked like a vat of boiling water with taunt fabric tied to the top. Once steamed, another woman would move the thin white pancake to bamboo trays to dry. After drying in the sun for a few hours the rice paper was placed into a machine (hand cranked) and cut into noodles.
Favorite local restaurant: Nem Nuong Thanh Van- roll your own nem nuong with rice paper, pork, greens, noodles, starfruit, green bananas, cucumber, sprouts, baby corn and dip it in a peanut sauce.
This was our favorite town in the Mekong Delta. There was a bustling street food scene at night, especially because it was the 1st of the month. Aligning with Buddhist precepts most vendors and eateries go vegetarian, on the 1st and 15th of every lunar month. There was also an abundance of sticky rice in the town and we enjoyed eating Chau Doc’s famous sticky rice wrapped bananas for desert.
While in Chau Doc we rented a motorbike and explored the Tra Su Bird Sanctuary Forest and Sam Mountain. The Tra Su Forest turns into wetlands during the raining season and you can take a beautiful boat ride through the forest. Because Nick and I were the first visitors to arrive that day we were able to watch hundreds of exotic birds flee the trees as we paddled by. We floated passed hanging curtains made of vines, blooming lotuses, and peeling cajuput trees. Our boat looked like it was hovering as we glided through water covered with green seeds.
Later, we visited Sam Mountain, which is covered with pagodas and temples. There is a beautiful view of the Mekong Delta from the top as well as a military outpost on the summit. This is a legacy from the days when the Khmer Rouge made cross-border raids and massacred Vietnamese civilians.
This large fishing village is mostly used by tourists to get to Phu Quoc Island. There is a large fish market and night street vendors that sell fish, squid and huge conches by the ocean.
Favorite restaurant: Oasis Bar is run by Ha Tien’s only resident Western expat his Vietnamese wife. This is a great spot for some good eats and travel information.
Phu Quoc Island
Nick and I reached Phu Quoc Island by an hour and forty-five minute ferry. Once we arrived, we met up with our Couch Surfer friend, Dorey. What an amazing Couch Surfing experience! Dorey took us to the night market, Cau Castle, and a birthday party. We celebrated her friends 22nd birthday where we were welcomed by a buffet of home cooked (and caught) fish and squid and cheersed every 15 minutes, Vietnamese style (mot, hi, ba, yo! – which means one, two, three, cheers!). The next morning we went on a jog along the beach and through the jungle, where she pointed out jackfruit, durian, guava, passion fruit, dragon fruit, pomelo, and other tropical fruits growing on nearby trees.
Over the course of 3 days, Nick and I explored Sao Beach, Ong Lan Beach and Dai Beach. Sao Beach is known for it’s perfect white sand beaches and sea of mineral water, however we were underwhelmed. Maybe because we didn’t visit on a beautiful sunny day, or maybe because the amount of trash littered the shores, we decided to move onward. Our favorite beach was Ong Lan, as there was calm water and we got to watch a beautiful sunset. Dai Beach was an adventure to get to on the motorbike, however still retains its remote tropical charm. While on Phu Quoc we had a blast visiting a pepper farm and exploring the port town of Ham Ninh.
Favorite local restaurants: Night market yogurt is a must! On the corner of Le Loi and Nguyen Du there is an unmarked home with a refrigerator full of daily handmade yogurts. They cost 5,000 VND (0.22 USD) each and flavors include pineapple, peppermint, cheese, passion fruit, cocoa, milk, strawberry, blueberry, matcha, aloe vera and many more! Also check out Regina Pizza Shop (the employees here are some of the kindest people and the owner donates the proceeds to those in need. They also help and home street children) Siagonese is also a fantastic hip restaurant with street prices. Finally, the pier in Ham Ninh is a great place for local seafood, although bring the translation app for this one (no english menu or speakers).