The Mekong River is the 12th largest in the world and runs through six countries, beginning on the Tibetan plateau and continuing through China, before passing through Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam on its way to the ocean.
This waterway is an essential lifeline for many of the communities that live along it, not only allowing them to transport goods from one place to another, but also playing a central role in their communities and development. Nowhere is this clearer than at the floating markets that are held along its length.
Here you can see how the people who live along the Mekong work in harmony with the river, paddling their row boats and wooden vessels along the shoreline to ply their wares to passersby, or maneuvering in and out of the myriad floating stalls as they shop.
Among the best floating markets to visit are:
Many of the busiest floating markets on the Mekong are located in the delta, and it's here that you should come if you want to have the full sensual experience of visiting one of these trading areas. We've put together some information about the biggest and best of these, as well as covering other floating markets you can find in Southeast Asia that aren't on the Mekong River.
he Cai Be floating market in Vietnam is well worth exploring if you want to see how the inhabitants of the Mekong Delta do much of their shopping. This thriving marketplace is best visited early in the morning, when all the vendors are on form and the locals are doing their daily shopping.
What's nice about Cai Be is that it's still very traditional and not one of the busier tourist stops, so you get a real insight into day-to-day life when you spend an hour or two here. Fruits and vegetables are the main products on offer, with the wooden boats piled high with colourful displays of various exotic and more familiar produce.
Also in Vietnam on the Mekong Delta is Cai Rang, one of the most popular floating markets among travellers. This is a vast collection of large river boats, often lashed together, selling a wide variety of goods, where smaller row boats weave in and out of the larger vessels anchored in the river.
The majority of what's on offer here is seasonal goods - fruits, vegetables and fish - and as with Cai Be, the colours and smells are impressive. The sheer scale of Cai Rang is what makes it worth a visit, especially if you want to compare it to other floating markets you've experienced in Southeast Asia.
Located outside of Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak is one of the most popular floating markets for travellers to visit in Thailand - and one of the most eclectic. There are dozens of boats here with vendors selling everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to beautiful flowers and locally-made souvenirs. There's a cacophony of noise as vendors and buyers chatter and shout to one another, with traditional rowing boats gently gliding from one stall to the next.
As with many of the floating markets throughout the region, the best time to visit is in the early morning when all the produce is fresh. Don't rush to leave, though, as there is much to be discovered - take your time to soak up all the sights and sounds around you.
Mekong River and beyond
Although here we’ve only listed three of the many floating markets found along the Mekong River, it’s not to say that beyond this long river there aren’t more floating markets to be found and enjoyed.
The Chau Doc floating market in the Cambodian border is another vibrant and colourful one you shouldn’t miss out on visiting. Here you can find lines of boats strung together and selling various goods from the region. The best time to visit this one is early in the morning, when you’ll find it at its liveliest and most colourful.
The floating markets of Siem Reap are another gem worth visiting. More than floating markets, here you’ll find authentic Floating Villages; right on the border between Vietnam and Cambodia. Here you’ll be able to view life on the lake, the amazing floating houses, fishermen working, clinics, schools and floating goods everywhere. Undoubtedly a sight to remember!
Last but not least the Inle Lake floating market in Burma is just as interesting, selling an array of handmade goods such as carvings, tools, textiles, cheroots and ornamental objects. The location of where the trading between boats takes place changes places each day, rotating through five different sites around the lake area - Shwenyaung, Heho, Nyaungshwe, Taunggyi and Minethauk).