When you are in Hoi An and your next stop is Can Tho, one of the options is to take the taxi back to Da Nang, then - have a flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), and then - take the bus to Can Tho. In order to find the best transportation options, I used 2 things: 1) Baolau.com for Asia flights and 2) VeXeRe.com for busses in Vietnam.
Busses and Stops
Getting to Saigon is the easiest part, and then I am on the big street near Saigon's airport and I have no idea from which bus stop I have to get further to the Mien Tay bus station. Google Maps help to get the approximate location, but afterwards - I have to solve the mystery myself. Some of the bus stops that I can find in Google Maps, I cannot find in reality. If there are maps and bus schedules in the bus stops, they are hard to read and understand. I finally locate the potentially right bus stop for bus nr. 119 going to Mien Tay bus station and the bus should be coming in a few minutes. While I am waiting for the bus, looking at the never stopping traffic, some bus drivers stop, even if it’s not their stop, to ask where I need to get. All of them start pointing in the direction a little bit back. I am confused. A young lady asks if I need help. In a minute she stops the bus I need, even if it does not seem to even stop at the bus stop. And the bus actually is not stopping! It slows down and I have to manage to jump in! Doors close, I get the ticket and head to the bus station.
Mien Tay bus station is crowded. Its system is not understandable for me at all - bus onboarding places are not indicated, busses have only numbers. On my ticket, I have the number of the bus and its departure time. A huge, moving line of people in front of the main entrance is nonstop onboarding arriving busses that leave immediately. I don’t really have much time to watch that, hoping that one of such busses will be mine. As everything happens at such a constantly fast pace, I start running around to understand, from where my bus is actually leaving. Some people are kind to help and, behind the madness, I finally find a place, where busses are aligned and waiting for their passengers at a calm pace.
I finally found a bus with the number matching the number on my ticket, only 5min left until departure. I go to the bus where the bus driver assistant checks my ticket and says it’s not correct. I am shocked, but still, go to the driver and I show the ticket to him. Something is wrong because he gives me back my ticket and goes to the main building. I am following to understand - what’s wrong. The bus driver gets to an old computer and changes something in the system. Thank god their English is good enough and I get on the bus.
Before getting on, I have to take off my sandals and place them in the plastic bag, because, as I realize, this is the “Sleeper Bus” from the “Futa bus line” services - very simple and seems to be full of locals only. The bus driver’s assistant distributes a bottle of water for each and the ride can start. My legs are a little bit too long for the leg space, but even then it is more comfortable than the standard - sitting bus. In addition, if the driver is more expressive, do not expect that you will be able to sleep unless you are used to non-stop “Beep! Beep!” for 3 hours.
The center of Can Tho city is much further than the bus station is. But you shouldn’t worry about getting to the city, because all is organized here. Go inside the main building, and communicate your hotel address at the info desk. In return, you will receive the word ‘minibus’ and a wooden stick that resembles the one the doctor puts into your throat when you are sick... Take the stick with the code on it and go looking for the minibus. Be fast - as soon as all the seats are filled with the sticks having the same code, the minibus driver asks each person the address and starts his ride through the city. It seems that he has a computer in his head as he plans the route with the order, how to drop off all passengers.
The same happens on the trip back. As there is not much public transport in the city, the “Futa bus line” service picks people up from the city without an extra fee and takes them to the bus station. So, you get out at your door, and you are picked up directly from your place!
The bus ride is interesting - views are different than in the North of the country. Also, it is cloudier, but not necessarily colder outside. View, that can be observed while riding through the countryside and is common in most of the country - multiple or individual graves in the rice fields. It looks weird. If I remember correctly from the trip to My Son (I haven’t investigated that myself) - Vietnamese people have similar traditions as Chinese: when a person dies, he/she is buried in the land where the person was born, so that the soul returns to protect the land.
Night Food Market and Fresh Food Market
On these rainy days, Can Tho seems grey and colorless, but just wait when the darkness sets in. There are three famous night markets in Can Tho City, each of them has its uniqueness. I managed to visit two of them, as they both are just one street apart: Tay Do Night Market (Can Tho Night Market) with a variety of street food and Ninh Kieu Night Market with cheap clothes and shoes of all kinds.
Texts like “there is a Food Night Market with delicious food not far from here!” do not have to be repeated. During the day this place is boring, but in the evening - it becomes like a city in the city - food stands with a variety of food - seafood, traditional sweets, and sandwiches. Delicious! You can browse and check almost every stand and pick the most delicious food to indulge.
Walking around the Food Night Market, one of the foods you have to try when being in Can Tho is Magenta plant Sticky Rice (Xoi La Cam). Traditionally white rice is soaked into the water with magenta plant juice giving the rice the purple color. Sticky Rice cakes can be savory or sweet - you chose!
The Fresh Food Market in Can Tho was the most amazing market-experience I had during the trip, just because I finally caught the time when it's open - early in the morning, just after the boat trip to the Floating Market and the Rice Paper Factory. Fresh meat, fresh seafood, fresh greens. Fresh and wild. Seeing all the possible animals that can be cooked and eaten - woow!
Almost sounding like a heavy metal band, durian is a ‘magic fruit’. For those that do not know this fruit, it is so magical, that I even wrote a speech about it in the public speaking class. I knew what the durian fruit was - known as the most smelly fruit in the world that is banned from taking into a plane. Some say that it smells like in hell, tastes like heaven, but I could not believe it could actually be so bad.
- Even only passing the fruit stand, you can unmistakably smell it. If you feel a heavenly sweet smell that makes you sick at the same time - that is durian!
- The whole fruit looks like a huge, spiky, almost ball-shaped alien head, but one slice of the edible flesh, that contains a big seed in it, looks like a pale yellow poop.
- Hold your breath and take a bite! At first, the texture is a bit crunchy like an apple and also very soft. It tastes slightly sweet. Whatever you do, do not open your nostrils, otherwise… OMG, it is so disgusting! The smell, the texture, the taste, the looks… All this combination is already initiating the vomiting reflex. Thank god it doesn't make a sound! Most likely it would be so nice, that could pierce the eardrums!
- I definitely suggest trying this fruit at least once in life. A hand-size piece costs around 75’000 Vietnam Dong (~3 EUR)!
- In case you are on the street munching on this fruit, make sure you have a plastic bag at hand or a trash bin nearby.
So I tried durian fruit and I am not sure I will do that again. Next time I would stick to some other exotic, weirdly shaped fruits, like dragon-fruit - juicy pink or snowy white, hairy rambutans, lychees, and longan fruits with their sweet, edible flesh. Or juicy grapes in the size of mandarins. Choose papaya of any size with a bright orange body, that is so rich in taste that feels like you are almost swimming in it…
Floating Market and Rice paper factory
Make sure you arrange an early morning tour to the floating market. It takes around 30min to get to the largest floating market on Can Tho river (apparently one of the most popular in the world) - Cai Rang floating market - full of agricultural goods, especially fruits. The market starts trading around 4 am, while it’s still dark, and is finished around 10 am.
The water of the Can Tho river does not look good - it is milky brown and has seaweeds floating in it. But, once you get to the market, the only thing that matters is the boats of different sizes floating around - big and small, filled with mountains of fruits and vegetables. In order to know what you could get on a certain boat, you have to look at the vertical sticks where you can see fruits and vegetables attached, indicating what the boat is selling. And then you just float through the sea of boats to get what you want. Some boats are even approaching yours offering to try their goods. Some boats even look like people are actually living on them - clothes drying out, children playing. Boats are floating so close and close, that sometimes it feels like the crash is inevitable... It’s exciting, crowded, and definitely - fascinating.
The next stop after the Floating market is the Rice paper factory. In the factory, you can have a nice tour and see how, with traditional methods, rice paper and rice noodles are made - and even try it yourself. Afterward, in the local eatery, you will get a delicious breakfast before getting back to the city.
If you are lucky, on the way back, you can get traditional palm waving ‘jewelry’ - crown, earrings, rings, bracelet, etc. - from your tour guide.
War Museum, Incense coils and the Golden Star
If the day is not that sunny, go to the Military War Museum in Can Tho (Bao Tang Quan Khu 9), covering the Vietnamese military and the wars they fought. The museum is spacious and has lots of rooms and outdoor exhibitions with local history, French occupation, and the Vietnam War. Exhibitions include some military equipment, military weapons from the war, and even remains of a helicopter. The museum is free, so you can spend as much time as you want.
Ong Temple is a pagoda in the center of Can Tho city decorated with huge incense coils that fill the room with smoke and fragrant. When visiting the temple, respect its rules and lit your own incense coil with the wish and positive thoughts written on a plate. When the plate is attached to the coil and the coil is lit, a man with a long pole hangs it to the ceiling so that your wishes and thoughts could go upwards to gods as a message.
You most probably have used Golden Star Balm (Cao Sao Vang) when having a cold or a headache, or remember it from your childhood. The balm is made of high-quality essential oils from Vietnam - Peppermint, Menthol, Camphor, and Cajuput. If you have a chance to be in the pharmacy, get one or a lot, because they cost around 30 cents apiece. I think it is one of the best souvenirs, that is recognized by many and is actually the quality stuff.
Our last stop in Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh (also called Saigon).