After a six hour motorbike ride from Saigon which involved a few repairs and some sights, I made it to Can Tho to explore with two friends and fellow travelers, Deepak and Katie. We were staying in the Aura hotel, in the Cái Khế district of Can Tho, walking distance to the city center. For $8/night, it was a steal: the rooms were clean, the staff was extremely helpful in describing the city and calling around to help us book tickets, transportation, and rent motorbikes for my friends, and the location was perfect.
Our first night, we just explored the surrounding area. Finding a place for dinner and a subsequent beer was easy due to the hotel’s central location. We walked up to Trần Văn Khéo Street, which was lined with options on both sides. Street performers rolled in while you were eating or drinking, but don’t feel pressure to give in to their solicitations unless you actually enjoyed the show, which did happen about half the time. Street food was unfortunately scarce compared to Saigon, so we settled for sit down restaurants. Prices varied but we ended up paying a little bit more than what we would for the street food we’ve become accustomed to and fond of.
Also different from Saigon was the attention we received as we were walking around. It was clear that we, as westerners, were a rarity in this city, which was a little bit more off the beaten path for tourists. We received a lot of waves and cheers as we were walking among the restaurants and children would giggle and yell “hello” countless times as we passed.
The next day, we got to the point – explore the delta. Neither Katie or Deepak had been on motorbikes before, but I recounted my story of my first time not 6 weeks ago in Thailand insisting that it’s easy to pick up and explained how much more we’d be able to see. They eventually agreed to at least give scooters a shot. Deepak was slower to catch on and it wasn’t until the next day, when he was keeping up just fine, that we realized that it must have been the prescription antibiotics that he had taken that first morning that must instilled a bit of uncertainty in him. Be careful what you take people!
Exploring the delta with the freedom to find our own way was an amazing experience. It truly feels like a natural habitat in many places. I didn’t feel that during my tour, which instead focused on the industries and markets surrounding it. At every channel, fork, and bridge, we we able to chose whether to go left, right, or across. We discovered a tiny coffee shop, a goose farm, and a beautiful guesthouse with amazing food while driving around. No idea where it was, I cannot find it again on Google maps, but that’s ok – this is not meant to be a “Go here” guide, rather a testimonial of the marvels you can find if you go explore.
We kept at it until it looked like the sun was setting and we decided that these unlit dirt roads would be quite daunting after dusk. Once we made it back to the city, the traffic was once again bustling. We definitely lost each other a few times and had to pull over to find wifi, share locations, and find each other again, but we finally made it to dinner at “Hot Pot Alley”, one of Can Tho’s best dining neighbourhoods.
Hot Pot Alley was a little hard to find as it really is just an alley, but it’s worth the search. We got to it by driving north east on 30 Tháng 4 (A on the map), taking a right on Lý Tự Trọng street and continuing north just until the park ends and the two streets surrounding it merge (B on the map). Once there, on your left, you’ll start seeing numbered alleys, which are only visible on online maps if you really zoom in. On the street, they’re labeled as Hẻm and a number. You’re looking for the first one – Hẻm 1. Take a stroll along it and choose a place. Again go explore, you cannot go wrong, but the busier the better!
We spent our final night inside, fully satisfied with our busy day of exploration and our hearty dinner. In the morning we headed to the floating market, which the other two hadn’t seen yet. I wasn’t sure how it would work out because when I first went there, it was during my Mekong Delta tour, during which our boat to wander through the market had been arranged for us. This time however, we were showing up unannounced with no arrangements. As soon as we arrived in the area on motorbikes though, the locals quickly identified us as potential business and offered to take us on their boats. The initial asking price was D300k, which we bargained down to 150k for the three of us and then further down to 100k by threatening to go to somewhere else. I always worry when we pull a tactic like that that our experience would suffer as they’d be displeased with the deal, but I never noticed a correlation between how much we try to bargain and the service we receive. The locals seem to believe in bargaining, and that, once agreed upon, a deal is a deal. The fellow that took us through the market on his boat, for instance, was very friendly and patient as we asked him to take us to the various vendors despite our hard bargaining, which seemed to upset him at the time (maybe also a tactic). We bought some fresh watermelon and pineapple and enjoyed it while rocking on the boat and waving at the smiling vendors.
Back in the city center, we downed some more vietnamese coffee and chased it with one more amazing banh mi for lunch at Cafe Già Rô. I know this is a tall statement, but that was the best banh mi I’ve had so far. I ordered a fish based one, which came in a pan and full of sauce. They gave you the baguette and allowed you to stuff it as much as you liked! We mixed and matched a little bit between our orders and it came out so delicious!
As we ate, we made our next plans. Deepak and Katie were going to head to Saigon for their flight to Bangkok and needed to figure out their bus whereas I had a few more days until Arjun arrived in Saigon so I decided to try and find some more nature. I still wanted to explore further south and, while googling, found that Tri Ton was relatively close and near a few mountains with temples, as well as the Tra Su swampland forest on the delta. I was sold! I hugged my friends, hoped on my bike, and waived goodbye as I headed for Tri Ton!
I have to say that I didn’t expect such a bustling city so deep within the delta. There was lots to do, and a good contrast between city life and nature. Good wifi all around and very tasty coffee so getting work done was easy. The hotels too were comfortable and cheap and the people, as always in Vietnam, friendly and helpful!