Construction driving away merchants at iconic floating market

By An Binh   July 11, 2023 | 03:21 pm PT
Construction driving away merchants at iconic floating market
A person uses a ladder to get from a boat in the river onto land in Can Tho's Cai Rang District. Photo by VnExpress/An Binh
Anti-erosion revetments built around Cai Rang floating market, the largest such Mekong Delta site of its kind, are too tall for merchants to ply their trades.

The revetments are 3-4 m higher than merchants’ boats, forcing vendors to use ladders to get up and down the banks of the Can Tho River.

The boats are not only there to transport goods. There are also boats that carry agricultural products, food and tourists as well.

Nguyen Thi Tham, 45, said her family has spent 20 years doing business at the floating market. But the last 2-3 years were the toughest. When the Covid-19 pandemic came under control, local authorities built the revetments, making it more difficult to gain access to trading areas.

"Now we have to hire trucks and use 5-7 m high ladders to transport goods from our boats to riverside trading areas for sale. It takes time and money," she said.

Tham added that selling 5-7 tons of gourds can now take an entire week, while it used to take only 1-2 days.

With business not going well, many of Tham's merchant friends have sold their boats and gone on land to make a living.

Tham is not alone. Many merchants of the Cai Rang floating market have lodged similar complaints since the anti-erosion revetment project was deployed in 2018.

The project, which spans 5.2 km, cost around VND810 billion ($34.1 million).

A representative of the Can Tho Management Board of Investment and Construction Projects, the project's main investor, said the revetments are now 77% completed. The revetment project covers over a kilometer of the Cai Rang floating market.

The project also included a 10 m-long staircase that allows people to go up and down the embankments. However, merchants have reported that the pathway is simply too narrow for many boats and goods, causing them to no longer do business in the area.

As fewer and fewer boats show up, there are only around 100 boats at the market a day now, and the number can sometimes be as low as 30-50 boats a day. In the past, the number of boats at the market could reach 500-600 a day.

"The new revetments are built too high, making ships and boats weighing dozens of tons unable to lead goods onto land," said Nham Hung, a researcher on southern Vietnamese culture.

Hung worries that with more and more vendors leaving the market, it may one day cease to exist altogether.

The floating market has been around for over 100 years. Besides its function as a place to trade goods, it is also a popular tourist destination.

In 2016, the market was recognized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism as an intangible cultural heritage.

Nguyen Quoc Cuong, chairman of the Cai Rang District People's Committee, said the floating market has been heavily and negatively impacted by the revetment project.

To resolve the issue, the district has recently approved an initiative to build piers, parking lots and docks at a cost of VND35 billion. Construction is scheduled for completion by 2025.

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