In the watery world along the Mekong River, floating markets – the regular gathering of boats selling goods of all kinds – have been a way of life for generations.
This is true of the Cai Rang floating market near Can Tho, which is said to be the largest floating wholesale market in the Mekong Delta.
Here Vietnamese buyers and sellers meet to turn the region’s agricultural bounty into cash. These boats are both warehouse and shop, and the tall poles above each (hung with melons, pineapple, coconuts, and more on the day we visit) are how potential buyers know what goods are for sale on each.
Not that you really need the advertisement. In most cases it is pretty clear what is for sale! For instance, when we visited there seemed to be a particularly good supply of melons and dragon fruit.
But there were plenty of other things too.
Many of the boats here also serve as homes, with the merchants who operate them (and their families) living on the water with the goods they buy and sell. To serve this community, the market includes floating services like grocery stores, tea shops, and noodle shops.
Everything a family needs is available on the water or along the bank.
This is how life and commerce has functioned in the Mekong Delta for generations. It was a place where moving goods to market required lives to be lived on the water. However, as Vietnam’s expanding public road system makes more places accessible by land, the need for floating markets is diminishing. In most places goods can now move via truck, providing access to more distant – and potentially more lucrative – markets. At the same time, now even those living deep in the Delta can usually get to towns with shops that sell goods shipped from across Vietnam and far beyond.
It seems it is only a matter of time until the floating markets cease to exist as part of life in the Mekong Delta. Indeed, many have already become tourist-oriented (surviving by selling goods to tourists), while others have disappeared entirely.