41 Photos from the Mekong Markets at Dawn

Categories Food, Photo Essays, Vietnam

I posted a few photos from the Mekong markets when I wrote about my very fun soup angel rescue mission in Cai  Rang, one that finally resulted in a bowl of steaming hot bun rieu. It was hard to choose the photos for that post. A mere handful of pictures insufficiently conveys the glory of all that technicolor at dawn. I’m not even remotely a morning person, something that can be confirmed by just about anyone who has met up in the morning hours. Until I get a cup of coffee I’m fairly intolerable, my brain cobwebby and clunky. But there is one exception: morning markets. With swarms of people bustling about, gorgeous piles of fruit and vegetables and more food to eat than I know what to do with, I fly out of bed in anticipation of a market visit.

Tourists head to the Mekong specifically for the floating boat markets at dawn, among other things. In recent years, however, new suspension bridges and rebuilt roads have meant that market wares available only by boat are now accessible by land. While the floating market exists, I found that tourist boats closely numbered the local market boats in Cai Rang; what used to take up a huge swath of the river had narrowed considerably. In its place, the land markets ** were growing quickly, with residents buying a motorbike instead of a boat. According to Theu, who ran the guesthouse I stayed at (more about her soon!), a boat and a motorbike were roughly the same price in this part of Vietnam, and families were opting for motorbikes due to practicality, resilience and ease of use. It made sense, then, that the markets would shift with demand.

[** A small note on terminology. The land markets in Cai Rang are still referred to as "wet" markets because they comprise a wet part (for fruit, vegetables, meat and other produce, where the floor and stalls are literally doused with water to keep them clean) and a dry part where spices, dried goods and other foods and household products are sold. When people refer to a wet market in Asia, it is usually on land, whereas a floating market would be on a boat.]

What follows are a series of photos from the floating market at dawn, with soup sold boat-side and boats skewering their wares on spiked poles to indicate what they had for sale. In addition, there are photos from the Cai Rang wet market, a place most tourist boats skip on their return to Can Tho. Given that the land market was relatively untouristed, people were surprised to see me meandering around, buying dragonfruit and desserts and eating, eating, eating.

This photoessay is a small taste of the deliciously overwhelming, unique feeling of standing in the middle of what seems like total chaos and watching it move around you unperturbed. I know these markets are a normal part of life for people in the Mekong, and having seen similar versions of them during my travels, I am no stranger to their beauty. But no matter how many times I venture to the markets at dawn, I always find myself with a silly grin on my face, spinning in all directions to take in as much as I can.

* * *

Wet market Can Tho Mekong Vietnam

One of the first things you notice from the wet market boats is how they are effectively housing for long periods at a time. Clothes hanging, kitchens on the boat & the makings of general routine, floating on the water.

Wet market Can Tho Mekong Vietnam

Woman and her baby looking on as a boat drops off water near Cai Rang.

Wet market Can Tho Mekong Vietnam

Melon transaction on the Ong Tim river. Note the bright “eyes” on the front of the boat. Legend has it that they were to ward away creatures of the sea, though every person I asked had a different explanation (including “it’s pretty”).

Wet market Can Tho Mekong Vietnam

Boatside breakfast soup.

Wet market Can Tho Mekong Vietnam

Boatside breakfast soup, part two.

Wet market Can Tho Mekong Vietnam

One of my favourites: note the hands behind the hats — this kid was giggling madly then we waved at him and he dove behind the seat, cracking up the whole time.

Market Cai Rang Mekong Vietnam

Houses along the Ong Tim river on the boat ride to Cai Rang’s markets.

Cai Rang Market Vietnam

Approaching the land market in Cai Rang.

Cai Rang, Vietnam

On the bridge spanning the Ong Tim river.

Cai Rang Market Vietnam

Greens at dawn.

Market Cai Rang Mekong Vietnam

The land market at eye level.

Cai Rang Market Vietnam

Vegetable negotiations.

Cai Rang Mekong markets Vietnam

Daikon never looked so good.

Cai Rang Mekong markets Vietnam

Nor did carrots, straight from the soil.

Cai Rang Mekong markets Vietnam

Fish aplenty.

Cai Rang Mekong markets Vietnam

I thought these were cuter than all the rest.

Cai Rang Mekong markets Vietnam

Ready for cooking.

Cai Rang Mekong markets Vietnam

Betel nut has two varieties used in Vietnam. One – piper betle – is for chewing (as a mild stimulant) and the other – piper sarmentosum (la lot) is used in cooking, great wrapped around beef and grilled.

Cai Rang Mekong markets Vietnam

Chicken, stamped, plucked and ready for sale.

Cai Rang Mekong markets Vietnam

Dried fish. Why choose one when you can buy them all?

Cai Rang Market Vietnam

Interrupting her breakfast for a photo. How cute is she?

Market Cai Rang Mekong Vietnam

Breakfast number two (after that great bun rieu soup). Bun thit nuong, grilled pork served over vermicelli noodles.

Cai Rang Market Vietnam

Breakfast number three, stir fried noodles with pork and bean sprouts.

Cai Rang Market Vietnam

Sticky rice, an excellent snack.

Cai Rang Market Vietnam

Glutinous rice balls filled with sweet mung bean.

Cai Rang Market Vietnam

Mini black chickens, used for ga tan.

Market Mekong Vietnam

Sawing through ice blocks to distribute to vendors in the market.

Market Mekong Vietnam

Banh bo, a light, sweet cake made with rice flour (and sometimes tapioca flour) and sweetened with honey.

Market Mekong Vietnam

The banh bo vendors were two women, pointing to these gentlemen and saying “look at our husbands, eating while we make money for them”. (This is why the men are all cracking up while eating!)

Market Mekong Vietnam

Fish and chilli, a perfect pair.

Market Mekong Vietnam

No shortage of duck, quail and chicken eggs, including fertilized duck eggs, a popular snack in Vietnam (and in the Philippines).

Market Mekong Vietnam

Crispy pork, extremely enticing but sadly no room in my belly for breakfast number 4.

Market Mekong Vietnam

Tofu in woven baskets.

Market Mekong Vietnam

Loved the banh bao tin with its great typography.

Market Mekong Vietnam

Pig grooming 101.

Market Mekong Vietnam

Requisite up close pig grooming shot.

Market Mekong Vietnam

This woman had cooked pig heads and wanted me to take a photo of her with them. Laughing and smiling, she got serious the second I started to take the shot, wanting to seem business-y for her close up.

Market Mekong Vietnam

A transaction occurs….

Mekong Vietnam

…. while the men looked on right next door.

Mekong Vietnam

It’s not all fruit and vegetables, however. This was the trash piled into the water right next to the land market where we got on and off the boats. Bags, food, plastic and more.

Mekong Vietnam

After 3 mornings of market eats, I was able to relax on an evening boat ride around the Ong Tim river, seeing the same canals that brought me to the markets, but at dusk.

More to come soon about the Mekong, including  the fabulous story of how the couple that ran my guesthouse met each other in Vietnam.


53 comments to 41 Photos from the Mekong Markets at Dawn

  1. Great photos as always Jodi. I love the energy you captured, especially in the banh bao tin shot.

  2. It’s incredible! What’s your camera? I love your photos from my country!

  3. Oh you make me want to book a flight right NOW!
    Beautiful pictures…

  4. Incredible photos! Thank you for sharing. I’m in the process of planning an around the world trip to work with and write about organizations empowering women, and these photographs are an inspiration to capture what I observe visually, and not just with the written word. Bravo!

  5. Cultural richness, thank you for posting the beauty and detail of the floating market!

  6. I stayed in Can Tho for 3 weeks. It was an amazing place. The pictures remind of the daily life there.

  7. I love how in these markets all the food is fresh and ready to be cooked, unlike in so many American supermarkets where everything is wrapped or boxed because it comes from so much further away. Beautiful photos of delicious looking food!

  8. On June 6, 2013 at 12:55 pm rubin pham said:

    great pix! you truly have the eyes of an artist.

  9. OMG the photos! You’ve become quite the photographer Jodi! So inspiring! I inhaled this post from start to finish, thank you so much for sharing (:

    P.S. I live minutes away from a wet market and have never really thought much of it till now – but maybe I should follow my grandad the next time he hits up the wet market for a second look!

  10. Man, I miss Asian markets and street food! Everyone thinks that street food is unhygienic, but the truth is I’ve never gotten sick from it. More importantly, it’s always fresh.

    I never had stomach problems in Asia. The problems started when I came back to North America and was forced to eat processed foods that my stomach couldn’t handle.

    Ironically, it’s in North America where I’m scared to eat at the restaurants now.

  11. Hi Jodi – another great vicarious visit. The Mekong Delta means so many other things to those, like me, who where listening to the divergent versions of the war there from Voice of America and Radio Peking. Again, will post to Worlders.

  12. What a great set of photos! You really get a good vibe of the place through these shots. And your breakfast looks yummy too.

  13. All great pics and the last one is epic!

  14. beautiful pictures!!

  15. I love the stamped chickens.

  16. Pig grooming? Wow.

  17. I like that you showed the trash, and the work going on at the markets too. Not just the food. A wonderful mix.

  18. Some off the best photography I’ve seen compared to to other travel blogs. Great post.

  19. Great photos, giving a real feel for the locale. Great undertaking you are on.

  20. Mmm everything looks so yummy!

  21. Especially the “cuter” fish. Or is that funny, funky girl! LOL

  22. Amazing pics!! Black chickens and piggy eyelashes = fabulous shots!!

  23. Beautiful photos Jodi!

  24. Great photos. I’m missing my Viet food here in Central America

  25. Absolutely amazing pictures. I really want to go back to the Mekong again and have their food. Bring on the Pho!

  26. This photo album is just deliciously perfect! I can almost smell the air with a wrath of petrol, frangipani and coriander in it.

  27. yeah great photos!!

  28. The mini black chickens look weird… and I feel sad that people do not dispose garbage properly.

  29. The Mekong Delta is my favorite part of Vietnam. The people there are the friendliest and most honest.

  30. Ah, the colors, grays, and pig heads of the Mekong. I’d have to say that nothing is more interesting than stamped chickens and birds so blue that the viewer worries about oxygen deprivation even though they’re dead.

  31. Stunning pictures Jodi :-)

  32. Great captures Jodi! I’ve noticed that these photos are much better than the ones in your earlier posts. :) Having just came back from a trip round Southeast Asia, I really like the composition in each photo and the captions which are so essential! A question comes to mind – do you still get the feeling sometimes that you are being ripped off when taking transportation (boats/tuktuks/taxis) since you’re a fa lang?

    • No, I never felt that way, to be honest! I’d just negotiate the price and sure it was sometimes higher than the locals but not by much from my investigations. It’s a part of traveling, you can just negotiate to mitigate as best you can. ;)

  33. Love this. A lot of cooked food as well. I generally avoid wet markets for feeding (smells and bustle). Here I would have kept going to crispy pork belly… maybe a 5th. Thanks.

  34. You did an amazing job with this article and the photography is beautiful. Keep up the great work!!!

  35. Photos are absolutely amazing! My favourite has to go to the “Black Chickens”: very impressing composition, lightning and editing. I’ll for sure come back here for more :p

  36. I’m going to Vietnam soon, can’t wait! I almost feel like I’m there already looking at these stunning photos.

  37. Awesome markets, so much going on!!!

  38. Great pics

  39. Looking at this post while hungry was a mistake! GIVE ME FOOOOOOD. :)

  40. Beautiful photos! It’s almost like I can smell, hear, taste all these strange, wondrous things from that faraway Vietnam floating market.Cheers!

  41. After reading several of your beautiful blogposts I’m more than sure that I have to visit Vietnam on my next trip. Thank you!

  42. Hope your eating brings you to Chennai, India, the home of some great South Indian cuisines.

    Lucky Balaraman

  43. Great photos but what disgusting polluters the people of the emerging world are! No interest in trying to keep their environment clean.

  44. Great photos. Scenery looks like that of Philippines. But Cebu’s lechon or Cebuchon in Philippines would much tastier!

  45. Fantastic photo essay. The colors, the light, the textures – just gorgeous. I am even more excited for my coming visit to Vietnam in February!

  46. Crap. I may have to move up my trip to Vietnam to March instead of May. You’re killing me with the yummy photos and food descriptions. I seriously miss the street eats in Asia at times. For now I need to find some decent Vietnamese food in Québec City – if that is even possible. LOL

  47. On January 30, 2014 at 5:56 am Vincent Vitorio said:

    very nice and i like that very simple living along the river

  48. On March 5, 2014 at 3:19 am Candyy2014 said:

    Great photos. But I feel a bit sad with trash, that is my country

  49. Great photos and descriptions! Thanks Jodi!


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