Can Tho

Can Tho's famous Floating Market

Can Tho (or Cantho; Vietnamese: Cần Thơ) is the biggest city of the Mekong Delta, in Vietnam with an estimated population of 1.5 million in 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, fresh fruit, its large student population, and welcoming atmosphere.

Can Tho is on the south bank of the Hậu River, the bigger branch of the Mekong River. It is in the vicinity of 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 thru Nov; and dry, from Dec-Apr. Average annual humidity is 83%, rainfall 1,635 mm, and temperature 27°C.


Can Tho is the biggest city in the Mekong Delta. Although developing fast in recent years (about 10% growth in 2004), it retains its charm as the centre of a rural area, as urban development is taking place in a rather orderly manner.

Can Tho has a reputation for being a welcoming place, where everybody is smiling and welcoming. Indeed the Vietnamese in the Mekong Delta have a saying that goes:

"Cần Thơ gạo trắng nước trong
Ai đi tới đó lòng không muốn về"
"Cần Thơ, white rice, clear waters,
All who come wish never to leave."

Get in

As a regional hub, it is easy to get to Can Tho from cities in the Mekong Delta. There are buses from all the big cities and minibuses from the smaller ones. If you arrive from Cambodia, you will probably stop in Chau Duc and catch a bus to Can Tho there. There is also one bus line directly from Phnom Penh once a day. It is difficult, not to say impossible, to get in by car from Cambodia as a tourist. That likely also applies to bicycles and motorbikes.

By air

Can Tho International Airport (IATA: VCA) has a vast international terminal with convenient facilities. Flights are to Hanoi and Phu Quoc on Vietnam Airlines, and Con Dao with flights on Vasco Vietnam Airlines.

By bus

Phuong Trang intercity bus

Many operators serve Can Tho from cities in the Mekong Delta up to the centre and north of Vietnam. You may have a short stop in Ho Chi Minh City. Most travellers arrive in Can Tho from Ho Chi Minh City.

From Ho Chi Minh City, buses serving Can Tho leave every 1–2 hours around the clock from the Western Bus Station (Bến Xe Miền Tây). Prices are USD4-7. Smaller, more local, buses from Saigon to Can Tho leave in the morning.

There are three operators serving routes from Ho Chi Minh City as well as other destinations: Thanh Buoi, Phuong Trang, and Mai Linh. The big operators also have a departure point in the centre of the city on Le Hong Phong St, from where shuttle buses will take you to Bến Xe Miền Tây. You can take a taxi to Le Hong Phong St in District 10. Look for the office of Thanh Buoi (white background logo with a flower), Phuong Trang (red signs) or Mai Linh (all green) or go straight to Mien Tay bus station in District 6. The taxi from District 1 costs around USD12 (May 2012).

With most operators you will get a small bottle of water included in your ticket price. Bigger buses offer air-con, and also Vietnamese films and music shows, usually perceived as too loud for Western ears.

By motorbike, car, or taxi

Nguyen Trai Street

By chauffeured 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, Apr 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 USD120-150 for a one-way trip (or return trip on the same day) for 2-3 passengers from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho. A driver is included in the price. If you want to drive yourself, you should check terms well in advance.

You might be slightly faster by motorbike than by car depending on your driving. It is quite easy to rent a motorbike in the tourist areas of Ho Chi Minh City, District 1. Most rental shops will rent a motorbike to you if you can show a driving license from any country. They may not ask for a license at all. You are only covered by accident insurance 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's also possible to rent a taxi for about almost the same price as a car for a 1 way trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho. Try hiring a Vinasun or Mai Linh taxi.

By boat

Apart from overnight boat cruises for tourists, there are no scheduled boat services to Can Tho. This is because driving time to Can Tho has been reduced to less than 4 hours with the opening of the Can Tho Bridge in 2011 and the completion of the motorway around HCMC.

Get around

It is easy to get around in Can Tho by motorbike or bicycle. Mai Linh and Happy Taxi are the two main taxi operators of the city. If you want to travel on the river, you can easily rent a boat service at Ninh Kieu Pier. There are also ferries to surrounding areas here. Can Tho is a big city, but the centre can be easily explored on foot (đi bộ). Most hotels will offer you a map.


Ninh Kieu Park
Munirensay Temple
Mau Than St is the central street of Xuan Khan and famous as the longest street in the Mekong Delta stretching for over 30 km. The street is named after the Tet Offensive, launched on Vietnamese New Year, 30 Jan 1968. In Vietnamese, the offensive is called Tết Mậu Thân (hence the name "Mau Than", meaning "year of the monkey"). Xuan Khanh Market at the start of the street is a daily stop for many citizens. Mau Than is also centre for the local community as there are two churches and the Quang Duc Pagoda just a few hundred metres distance. Depending on the day of your visit you may see traditionally dressed monks or a celebration service at one of the churches that often reach into the street in the evening.
Xuan Khanh Student Quarter: Many students from nearby Can Tho University live in Xuan Khanh or do their daily shopping here. There are small eateries in the street and alleys as well as cafes catering to the student population. As this quarter is less frequented by tourists, visiting Xuan Khanh you will find more local colour than in the upmarket Ninh Kieu Pier. The best time to visit is in the afternoon and early evening.

Pagodas and churches


Vegetable and fruit vendor at the Floating Market
Billiard Hall in Can Tho
Hairdresser in Mau Than
  • Cai Rang (Cái Răng) floating market is the main wholesale floating market near Can Tho. Go there early in the morning (as early as 05:30), and come back through the small tributaries to Can Tho River, about 3-4 hours. The Mystic Sampans offer higher-end breakfast cruises to the Cai Rang floating market.
  • Phong Dien (Phong Điền) is further up 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 canals back to Can Tho are also very much worth the ride in a small boat.
  • Phung Hiep (Phụng Hiệp) is much farther away, in the neighbouring 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 Clouds Island (Cù Lao Mây).


If English is your mother tongue and you have a teaching background, then teaching English is a possibility. German, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese are good, too. If you have IT skills, there is always a chance you might get hired by an international company, though the challenge is to find out about openings. In Can Tho, MBM Vietnam provides information on opportunities and job offers for expats with technical backgrounds, freelancers, translators, and hospitality industry professionals. There are also meet ups from time to time in the city, where you might meet others who can give you tips about hiring companies.


Ninh Kieu Tourist Market, seen from the river




The dishes you will find in most places are:
  • Vit Nau Chao (duck hot pot)
  • Lau Hai San (seafood hot pot)
  • Lau Ca Keo (fish hot pot, small fish that looks similar to eel)
  • Lau Chua (sweet- sour hot pot with river fish)
As the menu is Vietnamese-only, look around at other tables when you enter the restaurant and point to indicate what you want.
Some places are thronged with diners. These are the best. Do not be afraid to enter a place that looks like there are no more tables available, just take your time, look for the server and indicate the number in your party (e.g., show two fingers and say "hai nguoi" meaning "two people"). They will find a table for you or clean up some space.


Vietnamese typically enjoy a coffee (strong, with lots of condensed milk, and ice), fresh coconut juice, and fruit drinks (lemonade, orange juice, etc.) in one of the many small stalls along the streets or in the markets. Sugarcane with ice is also very popular. There are sugarcane presses along the roads everywhere in the city. If you want to spend a couple of hours like a Vietnamese, some nice cafes are located on Mau Than St or at Ninh Kieu Pier.

The nightlife in Can Tho is not as vibrant as Ho Chi Minh City, but it is not as "bottle service"-centric as HCMC either. Can Tho clubs often hire famous Vietnamese singers to perform live in their venues and feature go dancers on regular nights. Prices of drinks are around 80,000 dong (USD4) for a bottle of beer (May 2012), around 1,500,000 dong (USD75) for a bottle of locally produced vodka and more for cognac and imported whisky.




There is a wide range of hotels available in Can Tho, from the very local Kach San Tây Hồ, to the state-owned (and state-like) hotels like the International Hotel and Kim Tho Hotel or to the recent and more elaborate Hotel Xoai geared towards International business travellers.

The standard design of many buildings in Vietnam is about 4m wide and 25m deep. Buildings are very "thin". This means buildings next to each other often have rooms without windows. When you book a hotel, check that there is a window in your room as some cheaper hotels, ones that often cater to 2 hour "transit guests", offer rooms without windows.

Beware the giant, neon, Chinese-style riverside hotels. They come with pounding karaoke and dodgy staff. In particular, avoid the Golf Hotel. The spa staff demand inflated tips then block your exit as you try to leave.




Go next

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 minibus and your destination is not directly on the route to Ho Chi Minh City they might just drop you off somewhere you have no intention of going. 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 or one of the Express Boats to Phnom Penh from there.

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