Decided on a stopover in Can Tho before hitting the hustle and bustle of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). With an estimated population of 1,5 million (2012), this city is famous for its floating markets, network of canals, delicious food, fresh fruits, but also the beauty of the Mekong Delta.
Although expecting a longish day, as we were leaving Phu Quoc Island to transit through Ha Tien, then onto Can Tho, I wasn’t expecting what actually happened.
The day started without too many hick-ups. The ferry left the island at 08:30hrs and arrived in Ha Tien at 10:00hrs as scheduled. From the Ha Tien ferry terminal, a guy with your name on a card finds you and after piling into another mini-bus, drives to the Green Travel office. Here everyone is split up into onward destinations and the minibus takes you to the local bus station, if Can Tho is where you’re headed.
I’ve included a bit of detail above so you know what happens as no one really explains exactly what’s going on and this can be a little frustrating and confusing, to say the least.
The local bus departed at 10:30hrs and was supposed to arrive in Can Tho at 16:00hrs but arrived around 20:00hrs as our bus was involved in a fatal accident…
A fateful day!
Everyone piled onto the local bus in Ha Tien as scheduled and travelled about 30 kilometres north of the town. As it was an early start so a little tired, the movement of the bus was just starting to lull me to sleep when, bang! The bus came to a screeching halt. We weren’t travelling very fast. Everyone soon realised that we were in an accident, but didn’t realise just how bad it actually was…a head-on collision with our bus and 2 guys in their early 20’s (if that) on their motorbike.
The rider died instantly on impact but the pillion (passenger) was flung to the other side of the road with a huge hole in his head, bleeding profusely, and barely alive. Apart from never having been involved in such an accident, the utterly confronting thing for me was what happened next…the way in which the locals behaved at the accident scene.
The pillion was strewn half-way across the road and obstructing traffic. Locals gathered around the accident scene looking, pointing, and voicing their opinions (it seemed), and motorists waited impatiently. The dead rider was left uncovered on the kerbside, where he had landed. I was asking people to phone for an ambulance but no one really understood. My partner checked the rider and pillion’s pulses, just to be sure. A bus passenger was hanging out of the bus taking photos of the accident with his phone, but did advise that an ambulance had been phoned.
About 10 minutes after the accident, bikers were now very impatient as no one could get through – there was only about a couple of metres between both casualties. So, one bystander walks over and props up the almost dead pillion so that bikers could pass! Blood was still draining out of his head and he was barely breathing. Then to my horror, a crude wooden cart was wheeled up and he was thrown into the back of the cart – apparently, taken to hospital. Welcome to Vietnam! Life is cheap in Asia and if you can’t pay for a hospital, you won’t survive. After 8 months of travel in South East Asia and having only arrived in this country 4 days’ ago (already had one minor accident on Phu Quoc Island) and now our local bus was involved in a fatal road accident; it does not bode well.
About half an hour after the accident, the police arrive at the scene. The officer in charge covered the dead rider with a rattan mat, took some measurements, asked a few questions from different bystanders, then hoisted the smashed up motor bike in the back of the police truck. If things weren’t bad enough, one officer then threw the dead rider in the back of the truck with his motor bike and drove off. During this time, the ambulance arrived and promptly left.
The remaining passengers from our bus waited on the side of the road for several hours trying to catch another bus but no one wanted to take us as there wasn’t any room. If you’ve travelled on Asian buses, you’ll know what I mean.
The Mekong Delta’s charm is what draws travellers to this city situated south of the Hau River; and known for its network of canals and nearby floating markets. It’s lovely just to walk along the riverfront, take in a cool drink, and absorb the local culture.
One of the many bridges offering beautiful views is another place to enjoy a cool change from the river breezes – try the Nguyen Trai bridge, as this is where locals like to spend evenings (great people watching).
Ninh Kieu Pier Tourist Market – Not as popular as Cái Khế market and Xuan Khanh market, Ninh Kieu is still a nice place to wonder around for a few hours. Albeit a little touristy, you can indulge in some of the local delicacies here at budget prices.
Boat trip around the canals and floating Market
The 3-hour boat trip (250,000VND) goes up the Hau River and is a fantastic trip; well worth the money! The lovely lady boat driver weaved our small timber boat (with an engine bigger than her tiny body), in and out of the narrow canals with expertise. No doubt she’d probably done this a thousand times before and with ease.
We arrived at the floating market just before 12 noon to not many boats left; you really need to be there for around 05:30-06:00hrs. It was still great checking out some of the leftover market boats, locals interacting about their daily bargaining, and watching boat traffic leave the general market area.
Kim Lan Hotel (138A Nguyen An Ninh Street)
Apart from this renovated hotel being excellent value-for-money, it is spotless, breakfast is delicious (choice of several dishes), wi-fi is very good (router on each floor), a comfy bed, cable TV with English channels; and very helpful, friendly, and pleasant staff. Your room is serviced daily and comes with a huge bathroom (toiletries, hair dryer, and great solar hot water)! What more can you ask for?
Great location to everything you need in Can Tho and staff can organise bus trips in and out of Can Tho with a pick-up at your hotel, which is great. I can’t fault this hotel!
Apart from the 3 main local markets (Ninh Kieu Pier Tourist, Cái Khế, and the Xuan Khanh) as great eating haunts, try some of the riverfront restaurants and cafes. I try to stick to local places and not go to western-style restaurants; what’s the point? I can always get western food at home. Delicious street food is abound in this city and you won’t be disappointed, so, try a few dishes.
Leaving Can Tho for Saigon
The Kim Lan Hotel organised the Thanh Buoi bus ticket (130,000VND or USD$6) to Saigon, which leaves at 10:30hrs and includes the minibus pick-up from the hotel to the local Can Tho bus station. Also included is the tourist bus to Saigon, where apparently, we swap to another bus for District 1. Apprehensive of travelling on Vietnamese roads again, I’m hoping there won’t be any more accidents!