Can Tho (or Cantho; Vietnamese: Cần Thơ) is a relatively large city in the heart of the Mekong Delta, in Vietnam.
Can Tho has a reputation for being a welcoming place, where everybody is smiling and welcoming. Indeed the Vietnamese in the Mekong Delta are making good a saying that goes:
"Cần Thơ gạo trắng nước trong
"Cần Thơ, white rice, clear waters,
Can Tho has a population well in excess of 1 million and is the biggest city in the Mekong Delta. Although developing fast (about 10% growth in 2004), it retains its charm as the center of a rural area, as urban development is taking place in a rather orderly manner.
By road, allow about 1.5 hours from Sóc Trăng, about 3 hours from Châu Đốc, about 3.5 hours from Rạch Giá (80,000 Dong in sept 2011), less than 4 hours from Ho Chi Minh City (85,000 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; or move by local minibus, which offer better and better services; for about US$5-8, and departing every hour or so from the Ho Chi Minh City western bus station (Bến Xe Miền Tây, Xa Cảng). Phuong Trang company is offering a more confortable service providing a large coach with room for luggages and waiting lounge in the bus station. Price is a bit lower than "express" minibuses that are only few minutes faster indeed.
It is also possible to rent a taxi for about almost the same price than a car for 1 way from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho. Try hiring a Vinasun Taxi outside of the tourist areas (District 1) for this kind of traveling, you will be surprised about the rate differences a trip outside of district makes.
Apart from cruises (with night onboard) like the Bassac boats, there is no more regular boat transportation to Can Tho. As the time necessary for a car trip from HCMC as been reduced to less than 4 hours with the opening of the Can Tho bridge and the motorway around HCMC, there is no reason for a speed boat service anymore.
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.
Can Tho is a regional hub, so it is rather easy to get to and from all the surrounding provinces.
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.
New markets on Cái Khế peninsula and further upstream the Can Tho river have been built to 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$3/hour per boat. You may take a tour from the Ninh Kiều pier, in front of Nam Bộ restaurant, where the "boat ladies" are charmingly eager to welcome you aboard. On sep 2011, starting prices is about 10$/20$ for 3h/7h tour with either one market + canal, either multiples markets + canal. It could be bargained down 7$/15$. Pay attention as there is an old pushy lady haunting riverside to sell boat tour. Best to get your tour directly from a boat driver.
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's a bit more expensive than making your own arrangements. Ask around at the riverfront or contact Mr Dung (0913 618056, email@example.com) who can arrange just about everything. Make sure to negotiate the price!
There are many supermarkets in Can Tho such as : Coopmart (Hoa Binh Street), Metro Hung Loi (91B)[you need a special registration card to shop here], Citymart (closed for renovation), Maximark, Vinatex Plaza...
Can Tho main market at Cái Khế is a very typical and colorful place to buy authentic Vietnamese goods.
Can Tho is famous for delicate cuisine and extra-fresh fruit and vegetables, and a good place to try and eat the fruit you would not usually like: you may well find they are very tasty and enjoyable.
Among the local produce, you may like to try mangoes, oranges, jackfruit, pomeloes, grapefruit, but also custard apple, corossol, longans or even durian.
Some restaurants more aimed at serving vietnamese guests but that can offers a more exotic and delightful experience to foreigners have recently appeared. The Alô 100 on CMT8 road not far from the ferry (Đường Cách Mạng Tháng 8) provide a nice environment, varied meals and affordable prices for a service that is still improving.
There are also a variety of other restaurants, the quality and service of which spans the whole range from poor to great.
Vietnamese people 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.
If you want to spend a few hours like a Vietnamese, the best places are located on the river, with the most famous ones near Ninh Kiều pier. Just in front of the three-star Ninh Kiều hotel is a popular and affordable place, which is sometime crowded, especially when students get out of school for the day.
A nice family owned and operated cafe, known as "Cafe Buu Dien" (Post Office Cafe) serves the best coffees and has an interesting atmosphere. The servers holler your orders to the back, and in a couple of minutes you get fresh coffee in a warm mug. Its extremely fast paced, but at the same time very relaxing. They have locations throughout Can Tho, but hop on any xich lo or taxi and just tell them to take you to a "Cafe Buu Dien" and they'll know where to go. My favorite location is the one in Cai Khe ward, known as "Cafe Bich Phuong".
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 usually hire famouse Vietnamese singers to perform live in their venues and feature go go dancers on regular night. Drink price is usually 50,000 VND for a bottle of beer, around 1m for a bottle of cheap vodka and more for expensive cognac/whiskey such as Hennessy VSOP/XO.
There is a wide range of services, from the very local KS Tây Hồ (on Ninh Kiều pier, a good choice for US$12-15), to the state-owned (and state-like) International Hotel, US$25-35, to the recent and more elaborate Ninh Kiều 2 Hotel, on Hòa Bình street, owned by a military company.
A different way is to try bed and breakfast accommodation in the Can Tho surroundings. Hanh and Yannick from Nature-Mekong offers accommodation services and their house is located close to the famous Cái Răng floating market.
From Can Tho you can easily reach other peaceful cities of the Mekong Delta such as Sóc Trăng, Châu Đốc, Sa Đéc Rạch Giá 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 to much. You can reach Vinh Long from bus inside town, on Vo Van Lang street near HSBC bank and 5mn walk of Hotel Restaurant 31. Price is about 50,000 Dong for 1h30 trip.