Can Tho is the biggest city of the Mekong Delta, in Vietnam with an estimated population of 1,5 million as of 2012. The name comes from “cầm thi giang” – river of poems. It is also referred to as “Tay Do” meaning “Western capital”. The city is famous for its floating markets, Buddhist pagodas, delicious food and fresh fruits and the beauty of the Mekong girls.
Can Tho is located on the south bank of the Hậu River, the bigger branch of the Mekong River. It is in vicinity to Sóc Trăng, 1.5 hours from Long Xuyen, 3 hours from Châu Đốc and Rạch Giá, about 6 hours from Cà Mau, and 169 km (3 hours) from Ho Chi Minh City.
The climate is tropical and monsoonal with two seasons: rainy, from May to November; and dry, from December to April. Average annual humidity is 83%, rainfall 1,635 mm and temperature 27 °C.
How to get there
By Express Bus
Many operators serve Can Tho from cities in the Mekong Delta up to the center and north of Vietnam. You may have a short stop in Ho Chi Minh City. Most travelers arrive in Can Tho from Ho Chi Minh City.
From Ho Chi Minh City bus operators servicing Can Tho are leaving every one to two hours around the clock from the Western Bus Station (Bến Xe Miền Tây). Prices are US$4-7. Smaller more local buses from Saigon to Can Tho leave in the morning. There are three main operators servicing routes from Ho Chi Minh City as well as other destinations – “Thanh Buoi”, “Phuong Trang” and “Mailinh”. The big operators also have a departure point in the center of the city at Le Hong Phong street, from where shuttle buses will bring you to Bến Xe Miền Tây. You can take a taxi to Le Hong Phong street in district 10. Look out for the office of “Thanh Buoi” (white background logo with a flower), “Phuong Trang” (red signs) or “Mailinh” (all green) or go straight to Mien Tay bus station in district 6. The taxi from district 1 costs around US$12 in May 2012. With most operators you will get a small bottle of water included in your ticket price. Bigger buses offer AC, but also entertainment program of Vietnamese films and music shows, which are usually perceived as too loud for “Western ears”.
Major Bus Operators
Thanh Buoi is providing the fastest service to Can Tho as the bus only stops for a 10 minutes on the way from Ho Chi Minh city. The ride takes about 3 hours. The company provides a small bun as a free snack and free water for customers. At the arrival in Can Tho shuttle buses bring you to your final destination inside the city. Have the address of your hotel ready. The shuttle buses are paid for as part of your ticket. Cost from HCMC (May 2012): 110,000VND
Mai Linh has a good reputation as an operator of buses and taxis. The service to Can Tho will stop for a food break for half an hour on the way. The ride takes 4 hours. The company provides free water. Mailinh has stopped to provide shuttle services for customers. Cost from HCMC (May 2012): 80,0000VND Please note: as of this writing it seems like there is no Mai Linh Bus anymore. – Though they are still operating taxis within the city. Update: Mai Linh offers express bus service between Can Tho from Ho Chi Minh City, departing regularly from the western bus station in HCMC and the main Can Tho bus station. Costs vary by departure date, but are approximately 100,000 VND. (Updated Feb. 2013)
Phuong Trang has the largest number of services to Can Tho daily. There is a stop for 30 minutes in the large Phuong Trang highway service and restaurant point. The ride takes 4 hours. The operator provides free water in the bus. In Can Tho a shuttle bus will bring you to your final destination, if you have the address of your hotel ready. This is included in the price of your ticket. Cost from HCMC (May 2012): 100,000VND
By motorbike, car and taxi
By car, allow about 1.5 hours from Sóc Trăng, about 3 hours from Châu Đốc, about 3.5 hours from Rạch Giá (85,000 Dong in april 2012), less than 4 hours from Ho Chi Minh City (169 km, 100,000 dong), about 6 hours from Cà Mau and about 1.5 hours from Long Xuyen. It is possible to rent a car for US$120-150 for a one-way trip (or return trip in the same day) for 2-3 passengers from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho. A driver is included in the price. In case you want to drive yourself, you should check well in advance about the conditions.
You might be slightly faster by motorbike than by car depending on your way of driving. It is quite easy to rent a motorbike in the tourist area in Ho Chi Minh City district 1. Most rental stores will rent a motorbike to you, if you can show a driving license of any country or will even not ask for a license at all. Beware that you are only covered by your insurance in case of an accident, if your driving license is valid in Vietnam. Most European licenses are not automatically accepted. You might need to take an additional test with Vietnamese authorities in order to comply with the local rules.
It is also possible to rent a taxi for about almost the same price as a car for 1 way from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho. Try hiring a Vinasun Taxi or Mailinh taxi.
Apart from overnight boat cruises for tourists, there are not anymore regular boat transportation services to Can Tho. This is due to the fact that the time for driving to Can Tho has been reduced to less than 4 hours with the opening of the Can Tho bridge in 2011 and the finalization of the motorway around HCMC.
Trà Nóc Airport now has a vast international terminal with convenient facilities. As of 2011, the airport is connected to Hanoi, Phu Quoc with flights on Vietnam Airlines and Con Dao with flights on Mekong Air.
What to see
Pagodas and Temples
Quang Duc Pagoda, Mau Than Street, one of the biggest and most active Buddhist Temples with monks living in the premises. Visitors are welcome at any time of the day. There are fewer people during the afternoon, when it is rather hot, but it gets very lively often in the evenings.
- Tham Tướng Church on Mau Than Street, nice little church build by the French
- Tin Lanh Baptist Church close to Can Tho University in Mau Than
Xuan Khanh Quarter
The Xuan Khanh quarter is the geological center of the city and part of the Ninh Kieu district. In the 18th century the quarter was originally named Tham Tướng after the general Tham Tướng who fought the Siamese troops in 1772 that were advancing from Ha Tien. As with so many places the name of the area was changed after the Vietnamese war to reflect the ideology of the new regime in power.
Mau Than Street is the central street of Xuan Khan and famous as the longest street in the Mekong Delta stretching over 30 kilometres. The street is named after the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, that was launched on the Vietnamese New Year on January 30, 1968 by forces of the People’s Army of Vietnam against South Vietnam. In Vietnamese, the offensive is called Tết Mậu Thân (Tet, year of the monkey). So in fact “Mau Than” actually means “year of the monkey”. Xuan Khanh Market at the beginning of the street is a daily stop for many citizens who get their food and other supplies here. Mau Than is also center for the local community as there are two churches and the Quang Duc Pagoda in just a few hundred metres distance. Depending on the day of your visit you may see many traditionally dressed monks and Buddhist citizens or a celebration service of one of the churches that often reach into the street in the evening (usually between 6pm and 8.30pm).
Xuan Khanh Student Quarter: Many students from the nearby Can Tho University live in Xuan Khanh or do their daily shopping in one of the local shops. There are small eateries in the street and alleys as well as cafe’s catering for the growing student population. As this quarter is less frequented by tourists, visiting Xuan Khanh you will find more local experience than in the upmarket Ninh Kieu pier. The best time to visit is in the afternoon and early evening. After visiting one of the churches or a temple, you could eat out in one of the street restaurants if you are up for an experience like a local student. There is also a famous alley with a dozen of hot pot restaurants here dubbed by locals Hot Pot Alley or in Vietnamese Hẻm Vit Nau Chao (refer to food section for more info). In the small streets and alleys coming from Mau Than you often find low budget snack bars or restaurants. In Nguyen Cu Trinh Street (side street of Mau Than) for example you can eat fresh mussels and sit on those plastic chairs they set up quickly and serve customers in the evening. If you dare also try one of the local sweets in the small corner alley at Hem 95 (Alley 95). After that you can visit one of the bars or cafes in Mau Than or relax on the roof top bar of the yellow mango colored Hotel Xoai, which means “Hotel Mango” as there used to be a mango orchard at this place.
Hai Bà Trưng area
Hai Bà Trưng street: This area is one of the main areas and attractions of Can Tho. Located directly at the Mekong river. It offers a park at the riverside with the Ho Chi Minh statue. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants around here and from here you can book boat trips, for example to the floating markets. Just look for some friendly tour guides, who speak English pretty well. They’ll also help you make the tour of your choice which offers a greater experience than the standard tours offered by the tourist office.
Cái Khế Market or the longer form Trung Tâm Thương Mại Cái Khế (Cái Khế Commercial Center) is a big market on Trần Văn Khéo street catering for businesses including restaurants and hotels as well as end consumers. The market stretches over two sides of the street, with the area facing the river offering products for daily use, fish and other fresh food products that arrive on the river. On the other side of the market, you will find many wholesalers for textiles and home products.
Xuan Khanh Market, is a market predominantly for fresh food, fish, vegetables and fruits. Other products for all daily needs are also available. It is located at the beginning of Mau Than Street. Many locals still use the name Tham Tuong Market, according to the old name of the area, but it is officially called Xuan Khanh Market now.
Ninh Kieu Pier Tourist Market, The main market of Can Tho used to be an open market located on Ninh Kiều pier. Today, the only original building left is the beautiful old market hall, now surrounded with a garden along the river. Now Cái Khế markets further upstream the Can Tho river and Xuan Khanh Market host the increasing activity.
The floating markets are a very lively scene, accommodating much of the goods exchange throughout the area, and can be quite freely visited on board smaller boats for about US$5/hour per boat. You may take a tour from the Ninh Kiều pier, where the “boat ladies” are charmingly eager to welcome you aboard. On January 2013, starting prices are about 15$/25$ for 3h/7h tour with either one market + canal, either multiples markets + canal. It could be bargained down. Pay attention as there is an old pushy lady haunting tourists at the riverside to sell boat tours. Best to get your tour directly from a boat driver.
Cai Rang (Cái Răng) floating market is the main wholesale floating market near Can Tho. Go there early in the morning (as early as 5:30am), and come back through the small tributaries to Can Tho river; about 3-4 hours. The Mystic sampans offer higher-end breakfast cruises to Cai Rang floating market.
Phong Dien (Phong Điền) is further upstream the Can Tho river, and worth seeing as it is a retail market. It is very active at dawn, but slows down early too, so you may want to go there by land. The arroyos back to Can Tho are also very much worth a ride on a small boat.
Phung Hiep (Phụng Hiệp) is much farther away, in the neighboring Hậu Giang province, but deserves a trip if you are going to stay more than a few days, as it is always bustling with activity.
Tra On (Trà Ôn), in Vinh Long province, is just over an hour downstream the Bassac (the lower Mekong branch, also called Hậu Giang or Sông Hậu). It is a small floating village’s market anchored near the clouds’ island (Cù Lao Mây).
There are many bridges with beautiful views.
- Locals like to spend the evening at Nguyen Trai bridge, where a cool air is breezing from the river.
- A nice spot with a picturesque view is Ho Xang Thoi, a small man-made pond surrounded by the typical “skinny” apartments that you see in Vietnam. Makes for a very nice photo during sunset.
The canal system around Can Tho is a fascinating travel network, much more relaxed than the bustling roads. Hire a small row boat (probably with a small diesel motor as well) that can take you through the small canals that the larger tour boats can’t navigate. Tours from 6am to 2pm, including two floating markets and various sites along the canals, can be found for under 250,000 dong per person. Talk to Can Tho Tourist (on the corner near the Ho Chi Minh statue) to get an idea of the prices, but it is a bit more expensive than making your own arrangements. Ask around at the river front and make sure to negotiate the price. Beware of some boat drivers asking for more money to visit the canals. The original price should already include them.
What to do
Visit the floating market and enjoy a cruise on the river
In order to catch the most lively scene at the markets, tours start early in the morning, usually between 5-6am or according to appointment. The floating market tours are a highlight of every visit to Can Tho. There are several river markets in the area, the closest about 20-30mins by boat from Ninh Kieu pier.
Bassac cruises (discovery overnight cruises through the Mekong delta on board classic wooden boats). The Bassac wooden cruisers run regular overnight trips between Can Tho and Cái Bè, but also to Châu Đốc and the frontier, and provide high-end services including non-stop air-con and all meals cooked on board. $200+.
The Mekong Eyes combines regional boat-building traditions with modern comforts. Cruising Cai Be- Can Tho 100km, 9 hours
The Mystic sampans offer breakfast cruises on the floating markets; meals and sunset cruises on the river, and combine very well with cycling tours. $35+
Can Tho by night. Can Tho by night Can Tho looks much different at night than in day time from colorful street lights to Can Tho bridge lights. Want to see the difference? Can Tho by night tour will be show you the real Can Tho. It takes you on a journey to some local areas that most visitors do not get to see without guiding. You will get a full view of Can Tho city’s nightlife, and learn things that are not found in any guide book. You will enjoy the view over the riverside and Can Tho bridge from the high view, go over it, try some special local foods, go around the city, night market, Ong pagoda. 16$.
Visit a local Pagoda and Church
- Experience the Vietnamese service in a local church. Around 30% of Vietnamese are Catholic. There are two churches in Mau Than Street. Because of the hot weather, services are usually in the evenings. The Sunday service starts at 6:30 pm.
-Light an essence stick and give a prayer for your family in a Buddhist temple. See huge crowds of traditionally dressed Buddhists flocking to the Pagoda temples at weekly Buddhist events. The Quang Duc Pagoda in Mau Than Street is very popular.
Tour and make friends with locals – Can Tho Mau Than Street Tour (For groups of 4 or more after confirmation, starts usually at 5pm for about 45 mins), Start: 93 Mau Than, Xuan Khanh. Make friends with locals and students and join the English language Can Tho Mau Than tour taking place since the beginning of 2012. A group of young locals started to offer the free tours of Mau Than Street and the Xuan Khanh Quarter with the goal to give visitors insights into the local culture and meet people who you cannot usually meet as a tourist. It covers some interesting spots of the quarter like Tham Tuong Catholic Church build by the French, the Quang Duc Pagoda, Tin Lanh Baptist Church, Saigon Bakery, Xuan Khanh Market, surrounding area and streets of Mau Than and Can Tho University. The feature of the tour is that you have the chance to get many tips from local people for your travels around Vietnam – how to deal with motorbike drivers to taxis, shopkeepers and travel agencies. You learn how Vietnamese drink the ice coffee (Cafe da), how to get a good head massage at a barber shop, what to pay for at tailor shops and much more. The tour is done for the fun and making friends only. A donation to the welcome club is welcome.
What to eat
Can Tho is famous for its delicate cuisine and extra-fresh fruit and vegetables, and a good place to try and eat unknown fruits. Among the local produce, you may like to try the different varieties of mangoes, oranges, jackfruit, pomeloes, grapefruit, but also custard apple, corossol, longans or even durian. A place where the locals buy fruits are the markets like Xuan Khanh Market.
Hot Pot Alley
Hem 1 Ly Tu Trong dubbed Hẻm Vit Nau Chao, the Hot Pot Alley, is one of the attractions for locals and students in the Xuan Khanh Quarter that is still a kind of secret tipp in Can Tho even though it recently started to becoming popular with expats as well (especially with those who are not afraid of Vietnamese only menus). The alley hosts about a dozen restaurants all offering the same specialty, Can Tho Hot Pot in different styles with fresh fish from the Mekong river or with Duck (also a local specialty).
Hot Pots are served on a fire cooker on your table. As the soup gets cooking you can add different vegetables, leaves, egg noodles or rice noodles, tofu and eggs. You only pay for the side dishes you use and you can order more of any dish you wish. You also get free refills of the hot pot soup. Ask for “them nuoc” meaning more water. It might seem unusual to put in some of the leaves into the hot pot, but try and you will love it.
Where to eat
Café Hợp Phố (6 Ngô Gia Tự, close to Nink Kiều pier, www.hoppho.com.vn) offers quiet places in a green and nature atmosphere. Lot of drinks and meals available at good prices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other locations are: 124 30/04 Street, and 164 – 166 30/04 Street (this one has a football field, and it is across the street from Can Tho College).
Phuong Nam (Phương Nam), 48 Hai Bà Trưng (left in the middle of the Ninh Kiều pier, near the statue of Uncle Ho), ☎ 0710 3812077 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 10:00 – 23:00. Seated a classic building facing the river, the serves very tasty Vietnamese as well as some Western cuisine such as pizza and spaghetti. The service is nice and efficient, and a surprising variety of languages is spoken there, from English to French.Specially are snake meat and crocodile. Also a great choice of good vegetarian food.
Nam Bo (Nam Bộ), 1 Ngô Quyền (right in the middle of the Ninh Kiều pier, near the statue of Uncle Ho), ☎ 0710 382 3908 (email@example.com). 06:00 – 23:00. Seated a classic building facing the river, the Nam Bộ serves very tasty Vietnamese as well as some Western cuisine such as pizza and spaghetti. The service is nice and efficient, and a surprising variety of languages is spoken there, from English to French to Dutch and even some Japanese.
Sao Hom (Sao Hôm), in the old market hall, facing the river (When on the Ninh Kiều pier, follow the pier with the river to your left hand, you cannot miss), ☎ 0710 381 5616 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 06:00 – 23:00. Located in the central market’s hall, facing the Can Tho river, the Sao Hôm serves a large palette of Vietnamese cuisine, as well as some western food, too. The ambiance at night is unique.
l’Escale (the Port of Call), 1 Ngô Quyền, 4th floor (right in the middle of Ninh Kiều pier, on the top floor of the Nam Bộ Boutique Hotel), ☎ 0710 381 9139 (email@example.com). 06:00 – 22:30. l’Escale is a fine restaurant with a view to the river and the bus boat wharf, with a bar and a wine cellar.
Phở Cali, Trần Văn Kéo Street (close to the central market in front of the Exhibition Centre and the Citimart supermarket).
Hợp Phố Spa (4 Nguyễn Du, close to Nink Kiều pier) Hop Pho Spa is the only premier day spa in Can Tho City, Viet Nam. It offers a variety of body massages and facial treatments with Pevonia (Product of U.S.A) – Award-winning natural skin care products. The professional team at Hop Pho Spa has a natural commitment to its clients’ well-being. They are motivated, well-trained and passionate about providing positive change in their clients’ lives. Whether looking for peace, relaxation, or rejuvenation, you will find it at Hop Pho Spa.
Gony Spa Cafe Lounge, Nguyen (close to Ninh Kieu pier). Offers a variety of food including pizza, pasta, beefsteak as well as local food. It also offers different shakes, smoothies, coffee and ice cream
Goat Specialties (Lẩu Dê Thanh Thuý) is a little aside of the city, and run by a French person who settled in Can Tho who offers a variety of dishes revolving around savory goat meet.
There are also a variety of other restaurants, the quality and service of which spans the whole range from poor to great.
Dog meat (Thịt cầy Trần Văn Hoài)
Duck soup (Vịt nấu chao Hẻm 1)
Where to stay
Nam Mon The Boutique Hotel (Friendly budget boutique hotel), C233/4 Nguyen Van Linh St, Hung Loi, Ninh Kieu, Can Tho City, Vietnam (The hotel is located on Nguyen Van Linh Street. It is within 10-minutes walk of 91B highway and the Can Tho Bus Station, 15 minutes walk to the City Centre.), ☎ +84 (0)710 6250 866 (firstname.lastname@example.org). checkin: 1400hrs; checkout: 1200hrs. Newly renovated guest rooms and garden terrace on February 2013. Contemporary guest rooms with free wi-fi. Offers free daily breakfast. Fitted with warm lightings, the air-conditioned rooms are equipped with a flat-screen LCD TV, minibar and coffee/tea making facilities. Each of the rooms have a bathtub and a rain shower. The hotel is located on Nguyen Van Linh Street. The Hotel also offers a Free City Tour for all guest who check-in at the hotel. Day Tours to the floating market and car rentals to other cities and destinations can be arranged at our Front Desk Counter. Free bicycle rentals, barbecue facilities, luggage storage, and a business centre with free printings available upon request. US$25/$32/$40.
Hotel Xoai (Newly opened mini-hotel with roof terrace), 93 Mau Than Street, Xuan Khanh, Ninh Kieu, Can Tho City, Vietnam (Close to Cantho University main campus and opposite Quang Duc Pagoda.), ☎ +84 (0)907652927 (email@example.com). checkin: 2pm; checkout: Check Out at 12pm. Young and friendly atmosphere. 23 compact rooms with double or single beds, private bathroom with shower, toilet, fan, AC, phone. Budget option is small. Standard and Deluxe rooms bigger and additional facilities. All rooms with windows. Fast free wifi throughout the hotel. Guests can relax on the roof terrace. Helpful and trustworthy staff, moderate prices for tours, no additional charge on bus bookings. US$11/15/23.
Hello 2 Hotel (massage and spa inhouse), 31 Chau van Liem Street, Ninh Kieu (Close to Ninh Kieu Quay), ☎ 0913 764 994. checkin: 2pm; checkout: 11am. Friendly and comfortable. Here, you can relax with special service and take care of your health for spa, massage from our young ladies, bar and drink coffee. US$15-25.
Spring Hotel, 22 Khu Dan Cu So9 Duong 30/4 (Ninh Kieu district), ☎ 0710 3839723 (firstname.lastname@example.org). checkin: 2pm; checkout: 11am. Very clean and friendly place. Rooms maintained and bed sheet changed daily during stay. Enjoy meals any time you want at the nice sitting area by the big windows on each floor. The downside is distance from the center and river (40mins on foot) but free bikes to ride around as well as motorbike rental. Staff are nice. Free wifi. USD$25/21/19/17.
31 Restaurant, 31 Ngo Duc Ke, ☎ 07103825287. checkin: 2pm; checkout: 11am. One of several cheap and very simple places on this road. Rooms can be a bit smelly as the kitchen aromas waft upstairs. If you have an allergy beware of the dust from fans. Wifi works at reception, but not working in the rooms (most notably back ones). Avoid booking bus and tours there as it seems a lot more expensive US$17.
Xuan Mai Hotel (hotel in Can Tho city centre with no english speaking staff), Nguyen An Ninh 60, Can Tho, Vietnam. checkin: 2pm; checkout: 11am. Location is good. Relatively clean, but some rooms with older beds are said to have bed bugs. Rooms have LCD TV with Vietnamese channels. AC available with top up charge, but smell a bit old. Bathroom with bathtub. Warm water might not work at night because of their water system. Check for rooms with windows. US$16/19/25.
Kim Thơ. checkin: 3pm; checkout: 10.30. 3-star hotel that is clean with wifi and wired LAN in the rooms. Located in Ngô Gia Tự close to Ninh Kieu boat pier. US$90/110/130.
Kim Lan Hotel (hotel with 24 hour reception), 138 Nguyen An Ninh St, Can Tho, Vietnam. checkin: 2pm; checkout: 11am. Staff is friendly and trying to be helpful. Some rooms do not have windows. Hotel with mixed reviews and some complaints about bug smells and fungus in bathrooms. The front rooms are facing the street and might be bit noisy for some as the windows are not insulated very well, but offers a simple breakfast on top floor with a view over the city. $US58/68/78.
Nam Bộ Boutique Hotel (7-suite classic hotel right on the pier, with cozy accommodation and caring service), 1 Ngô Quyền, Ninh Kiều, Cần Thơ (Right in the middle of the Ninh Kiều pier, facing the river), ☎ +84 (0)710 381 9139 (+84 (0)381 9139). The Nam Bộ Boutique Hotel has one of the finest diners in town, quiet and overlooking the river, l’Escale. $100+.
Victoria Can Tho, ☎ 71.810111 (fax: 71.829259). Luxury resort on Cái Khế island, including a swimming pool, a spa, a ballroom, and a rice barge for a scenic breakfast, lunch or dinner. Rooms from US$150+, river view suites from US$220+.
- Supermarkets: There are many supermarkets in Can Tho such as: Coopmart (Hoa Binh Street), Metro Hung Loi . Maximark (opposite the bus station) and Vinatex Plaza in Xuan Khanh.
- Market Halls: A market to experience how the locals shop is Xuan Khanh Market at the beginning of Mau Than Street. The Can Tho main market is Cái Khế. The old market hall at Ninh Kieu pier offers some choice of souvenirs and finer handicraft for tourists.
How to get out
From Can Tho you can easily reach other cities of the Mekong Delta such as Sóc Trăng, Châu Đốc, Rạch Giá, Vinh Long and Cà Mau. If you are heading to the north from the main bus station be careful about what ticket you buy. If you are going with a mini bus and your destination is not directly on the route to Ho Chi Min City they might just drop you off somewhere. You will have to buy another ticket and end up paying way too much.
There are two ways to get to Phnom Penh from Can Tho. There is a bus operator leaving at the petrol station close to the bus station (Can Tho Ben Xe) early in the morning. Alternatively you can take a local bus from Can Tho to Chau Doc stay there overnight and take a bus to Phnom Penh from there.