On the swampy shores of the Ganh Hao River, Ca Mau is the capital and sole city in Ca Mau province, which covers the southern tip of the Mekong Delta. It’s a remote and inhospitable area that wasn’t cultivated until the late 17th century. Owing to the boggy terrain, the province has the lowest population density in southern Vietnam. It incorporates the country’s largest swamp and is known for its voracious mosquitoes.
Given that, it’s perhaps surprising that Ca Mau city is such a pleasant place. With wide boulevards, parks and busy shopping streets, the town has developed rapidly in recent years but sees few tourists. The main attractions are the nearby swamps and forests, explorable by boat.
(Ð Le Loi) Traditionally Ca Mau life was lived facing the water, and while the floating market has disappeared in recent years, the main market still sprawls along the streets to the west of Phung Hiep Canal, south of Ð Phan Ngoc Hien.
(Ð Phan Ngoc Hien) Like all Cao Dai places of worship, this temple (built in 1966) is a riot of colour and ornamentation.
(International Hotel; 0780-366 6666; www.hotelquocte.com; 179 Ð Phan Ngoc Hien; r from 280,000d) Breakfast and airport pick-ups are included in the price at this business hotel with swimming pool, massage service and a lift. It falls short of international standards, but rooms are smart enough.
( 0780-355 0992; 23 Ð Phan Ngoc Hien; r 80,000-230,000d) This light and bright five – storey mini hotel has clean rooms with tiled floors. Extras include TV and hot water, plus bathtubs in the more expensive rooms. Little English is spoken.
( 0780-356 7666; www.anhnguyethotel.com; 207 Ð Phan Ngoc Hien; r US$29-49) Romantically translating as the Moonlight Hotel, this place attempts a glitzy look. Rooms are perfectly fine, although walls are thin and the carpets rather cheap.
Ca Mau’s speciality is shrimp, which is raised in ponds and mangrove forests. The best food is to be found at the cluster of small, cheap roadside restaurants and banh mi stalls in the streets around the market, particularly at the end of Ð Nguyen Huu Le. In the evening, the eastern end of Ð Pham Ngoc Hien becomes a big outdoor cafe.
(126 Ð Phan Ngoc Hien; mains 50,000-300,000d; 7am-10pm) An atmospheric place set amid landscaped gardens draped in fairy lights, with a menu heavy on shrimp and other seafood dishes.
Vietnam Air Service Company (VASCO; www.vasco.com.vn), a subsidiary of Vietnam Airlines, has two daily flights to and from HCMC (from 750,000d, one hour). The airport is 3km east of the centre, on Hwy 1A.
At least three hydrofoils a day travel between Ca Mau and Rach Gia (125,000d, three hours) from Ferry Pier Can Ganh Hao, where you can also catch a speedboat south to Nam Can (60,000d, one hour). Boats to Can Tho (150,000d, three to four hours), with a stop in Phung Hiep, depart from Cong Ca Mau pier (Ð Quang Trung), 3km east of town.
If you’re tossing up between taking a hydrofoil or a bus, take the hydrofoil every time. They’re less crowded and generally more comfortable, and the journey is also more interesting. The boats are low and long, meaning views are just above the waterline. The trip between Ca Mau and Rach Gia is particularly good, as it switches from a green, undeveloped section dotted with rattan houses near Ca Mau to a heavily built-up and industrial stretch approaching Rach Gia.
Buses from HCMC to Ca Mau leave from Mien Tay bus station; express buses (130,000d) take around seven hours. Several daily express buses leave for HCMC between 5am and 10.30am. Daily buses also leave for Rach Gia (50,000d), Ha Tien (89,000d), Bac Lieu (50,000d), Can Tho (65,000d), Cao Lanh (83,000d), My Tho (100,000d) and Ben Tre (103,000d). The Ca Mau bus station is around 2.5km from the centre of town; head along Hwy 1A towards Bac Lieu.
Car & Motorbike
Hwy 1A now continues to Nam Can (50km), the southernmost town in Vietnam. Ca Mau is 176km from Can Tho (around three hours) and 329km from HCMC (approximately seven hours).