When the French subjugated Indochina in the 19th century, the hope of an independent Kampuchea Krom would be forever destroyed. Even though the majority in southern Vietnam at that time were the ethnic Khmer, the French didn’t incorporate the colony with Cambodia but made it a separate protectorate known as Cochinchina. It was on 4 June 1949 when the French formally annexed Kampuchea Krom, a day of sorrow for many Cambodians, though the writing had been on the wall centuries earlier as the area was colonised.
From this independence in 1954, the Vietnamese government has adopted a policy of integration and forced assimilation (the Khmer Krom must take Vietnamese family names and learn the Vietnamese language, among other things). According to the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF; www.khmerkrom.org), the Khmer Krom continue to suffer persecution. They report difficult access to Vietnamese health services, religious discrimination (Khmer Krom are Theravada Buddhists, unlike Vietnam’s Mahayana Buddhists) and racial discrimination.
The poorest segment of the population is the Khmer. Even their numbers remain a contentious topic: Vietnam reports one million Khmer Krom, while KKF claims this figure is up to seven million.
Eating & Drinking
For tasty cheap dishes, visitors can try the central market food stalls (Ð Tran Quang Khai). They’re in their own covered area, with two scant blocks north of the main market building. Another favourite, ‘Hotpot Alley’ is the site for fish and duck hotpots, with restaurants stuffed into an alley (Hem 1) between Ɖ Mau Than and Ɖ Ly Tu Trung east of Xoai Hotel.
Sao Hom VIETNAMESE, INTERNATIONAL $
(50 Ð Hai Ba Trung; mains 45,000-160,000d; 8am-11pm) This restaurant which is set in the former market and overseen by staff in ao dai has an atmospheric, breezy riverside setting, and is a great site for lunch or a morning coffee.
Mekong VIETNAMESE, INTERNATIONAL $
(38 Ð Hai Ba Trung; mains from 25,000d; 7am-8pm) Looking onto busy Hai Ba Trung, this travellers’ favourite has a nice blend of local and international food at competitive prices. You can try the lovely sour soup with fish (40,000d); good veggie selection.
Nam Bo VIETNAMESE, INTERNATIONAL $
(071-382 3908; http://nambocantho.com; Nam Bo Boutique Hotel, 1 Ɖ Ngo Quyen; mains from 45,000d, set meals 210,000d; 8am-11pm) With a charming, romantic Mediterranean feel, this restaurant on the ground floor of the Nam Bo hotel is more affordable than the restaurant on the top floor, but it doesn’t have the views.
New Delhi Indian Food $
(128 Ɖ Hai Ba Trung; mains from 40,000d; 10am-11pm) A shortage in charm at this stark, soulless Indian restaurant (don’t bring a date) is balanced out by a surfeit of fine flavours in its scrummy vindaloos, kormas, samosas and naans.
Phuong Nam VIETNAMESE $
(48 Ð Hai Ba Trung; mains from 40,000d; 10am-10pm) With check tablecloths and a Mediterranean feel, this place has an upstairs terrace for people-watching, although downstairs is slightly more upmarket. Snake is the speciality here but vegetarian options get a look-in.
L’Escale VIETNAMESE, INTERNATIONAL $$$
(071-381 9139; Nam Bo Boutique Hotel, 1 Ɖ Ngo Quyen; mains 70,000-410,000d; 6am-10.30pm) This restaurant is a romantic choice with tantalising river views from the top of the Nam Bo hotel and outstanding for its menu and strong wine list.
(50 Ð Hai Ba Trung) It is an atmospheric French-era market which is roofed with terracotta tiles edged with ceramic decorations, and is the centrepiece of the city’s attractive river front tourist district. The blood, guts and chaos of the original market have moved north to the central market (and to some of the neighbouring streets), leaving upmarket tourist-orientated stalls which sell lacquerware, clothes, pillowslips, postcards and the like.
(Ð Tran Van Kheo) It’s a market which sprawls over four buildings and several blocks abutting the Cai Khe Canal, which a lot of local farmers and wholesalers still use to transport their goods. The major market building concentrates on produce: for instance a colourful, smelly mess of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Across the road is the cloth market.
Food stalls take up the following block and behind that is another large building full of bags, belts and jewellery.
Can Tho Tourist (071-382 1852; www.canthotourist.com.vn; 50 Ð Hai Ba Trung) Staff here can speak fluently both English and French and decent city maps are available, as well as general information on highlights in the area. Here you have a booking desk for Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar as well.
Hospital (Benh Vien; 071-382 0071; 4 Ð Chau Van Liem)
Main Post Office (2 ÐL Hoa Binh) Postal services and internet access.
Getting There & Away
Can Tho opened a new international airport in early 2011, but at the time of writing the only services were Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlines.com) and VASCO (www.vasco.com.vn) flights to Phu Quoc Island, the Con Dao Islands, Hanoi and HCMC (with flights to Danang on the cards). The airport is 10km northwest of the city centre, accessed from Ð Le Hong Phong, the continuation of Ð Nguyen Trai. It will cost travellers about 180,000d to get into town by taxi.
Can Tho has two bus stations. The old bus station (Ben Xe Khach Can Tho; cnr Ð Nguyen Trai & Ð Hung Vuong) is centrally located on the northern edge of the city centre, with regular buses to HCMC’s Mien Tay bus station (100,000d to 110,000d), Cao Lanh (60,000d), Ben Tre (70,000d), My Tho (70,000d), Ca Mau(90,000d), Chau Doc (60,000d) and Long Xuyen (40,000d). The new bus station is in the southwest, and it costs 110,000d to go to HCMC , Ca Mau (110,000d) and Dalat (320,000d).
Travellers can use many boat services to other cities in the Mekong Delta, such as hydrofoils to Ca Mau (150,000d, three to four hours), passing through Phung Hiep.
The xe loi is the main form of transport around Can Tho; these makeshift vehicles are unique to the Mekong Delta. Essentially a two-wheeled wagon attached to the rear of a motorbike, the xe loi resembles a motorised cyclo, but there are four wheels touching the ground rather than two. Tickets around Can Tho should be about 10,000d per person (they can carry two, or sometimes more).