Fewer traders are setting sail to the Cai Rang Floating Market in Can Tho City, posing the threat that the market will gradually sink into oblivion.
On one early morning in March, few boats gathered at the Cai Rang Floating Market, the largest and most renowned floating market of the Mekong Delta, where traders buy and sell agricultural products.
Sitting on a boat selling pineapple, Tran Minh Thanh, who has spent 26 years of his life trading farm products at Cai Rang, said the market has never been as deserted as it has been recently.
He said in the past, the market usually attracted as many as 500-600 boats every morning.
Carrying rice, vegetables, fruits and other agricultural products, those boats anchored close to each other to create a line running more than one kilometer and covering nearly two-thirds of the river’s surface.
But in recent years, the number of boats and traders coming to the market has gradually been falling; now, the market just welcomes around 30-40 boats per day.
Thanh explained that the market has become emptier because traders have switched from boats to trucks.
Furthermore, in recent years, the Can Tho City authorities have built an anti-erosion embankment too high along Cai Rang River, which has made it inconvenient to transport goods from shore to boats.
Tran Minh Thanh holds pineapples he sells on his boat at Cai Rang Market in Can Tho. Photo by VnExpress/An Binh
With fewer traders and boats, Cai Rang, which is three hours southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, has also failed to attract tourists.
Lam Minh Hieu, a tour guide working for a tourist firm in HCMC, said more than 70% of customers booking tours at the company request to visit Cai Rang Floating Market.
However, most of them return home disappointed as they do not enjoy the experience they expected.
For decades, Cai Rang Floating Market has been one of the top tourist attractions of not just Can Tho but the Mekong Delta as a whole. Many international publications and tourism sites recommend people visit it to experience the scenes of traders busily exchanging goods from boat to boat and to enjoy a hot meal served right on a boat.
In 2016, Can Tho approved a VND63 billion (US$2.65 million) project to preserve and sustainably develop the Cai Rang Floating Market after it was recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage.
The project has so far completed several items such as employing garbage collection vessels, moving 40 floating rafts to legal anchorages, providing aid for hundreds of households to develop tourism products along the river, and organizing boats to sell souvenirs, food and farm products on the river.
However, the project has failed to entice traders to stay at the market.
Nham Hung, a cultural researcher and tourism expert, said Cai Rang is not just simply a market as it carries unique cultural values, including the way of trading goods and the community lifestyle that has been passed down through generations of southerners.
The project to preserve that market, meanwhile, does not say anything about preserving those values.
“The floating market only exists when there are traders,” Hung said. “Therefore, the most important goal is to preserve the trading activity on the river.”
He proposed that Can Tho allow private investors to operate floating markets to develop tourism.
Deputy chairman of Cai Rang District, which directly manages the market, said the district has currently approved a project of VND35 billion to build a pier and wharfs from now until 2025 to lure traders back to the market.
Nguyen Thuc Hien, deputy chairman of Can Tho, said the city will organize a conference to let experts in different fields contribute ideas and solutions to preserve the market.
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