Urban life in the Mekong Delta

Urban life in the Mekong Delta

Can Tho is the fourth-largest city in Vietnam, and it's one of 5 cities that's an independent municipality at the same level as a province. From a tourists perspective it's mainly seen as the jumping off point for the Cai Rang floating market and other trips around the Mekong Delta.My main mission on this trip was to look for remaining heritage buildings, eat street food, hang out in cafes, and just observe what provincial city life is like.The city sits on the junction of the Can Tho River and the Hau River (a distributary of the Mekong River). Near this junction is the old riverfront area, where the most historic buildings can be found. This is the best place to stay in Can Tho if you are here for a short time.Before Can Tho I was in Tra Vinh, which has a collection of old buildings that hint at what must have been an attractive riverside trading town. In Can Tho it's much the same, with some remaining old buildings giving a clue of its former glory.The old riverside market has since been turned into a tourist market.A common site in Vietnam is colonial-era houses that have been cut in half or thirds without any consideration for the building.Some buildings are just continually modified over the years until very little is left of the old structure.Vin Group has made its mark here, as it has done in most cities in Vietnam. Like Hue, Dong Hoi, and Haiphong, the tallest building in Can Tho is a Hotel.A potential city landmark in development is the oddly named Stella Mega City project. This new urban area is near the airport, and I went out for a look to post it on my Asia development website. Visiting these sort of places at least gets me out of the city centre, and on the way back I got off my motorbike taxi in the city centre, which is a few kilometres from the river. Here it feel more like a working city away from all the travel agent shops on the riverfront. I went back here at night to see Can Tho nightlife, and there were some big bbq and beer bars and nightclubs.There was something about Can Tho that I couldn’t put my finger on during my first visit. On this trip I realised what an isolated city it is for a city this size. Can Tho is on the southern branch of the Mekong River, and to get to Ho Chi Minh City requires crossing two major branches of the Mekong. River crossings were still done by ferry up until 2010 when the Can Tho Bridge opened. Even with the bridges the 160km journey still takes 3.5 hours.Can Tho only got its first international flight in April, 2019. Before that it’s only international connection was the bus and boat combo from Phnom Penh.The international connections have since improved, with flights to Seoul and Taipei planned.Another reason it feels isolated is that it’s not on the national railway network. When the French were building railways they got as far as My Tho. The multiple wide river crossings made building a railway into the Delta too costly and physically challenging.There have been numerous plans to connect Ho Chi Minh City with Can Tho by high-speed train, and there was even a proposal to then extend that line from Can Tho to Phnom Penh. I made a map of what Southern Vietnam and Cambodia might look like if these proposed railways went ahead, which I posted in detail here. In addition to not having international flights until recently, there is a lack of international brands. There are local chains like Highlands Coffee (the Starbucks of Vietnam), but apart from Jollibee and KFC (fried chicken is everywhere these days), the only international chain I saw was Circle K.

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