The Mekong Delta conjures up images of Vietnamese women wearing conical hats transporting their harvest of crops in a beaten up sampan from islet to islet. AND. IT’S. TRUE. Even today, a Mekong Delta tour gave us a wonderful insight into the daily lives in the most agriculturally-rich part of Vietnam.
The Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta divides into nine tributaries, which the Vietnamese call “The Nine Dragons” (or Cuu Long). It represents one of the largest food bowls for Vietnam with an array of agriculture and aquaculture industries.
Did you know? The Mekong Delta produces two-thirds of all of Vietnam’s rice!
Mekong Delta tour from Saigon – 2 Days 1 Night
We are what you call slow travellers. We like to hang in a place for almost a week (sometimes a month!) before moving on to another location. We had friends visiting and wanted to ensure that they (and we) got to see all aspects of Vietnamese life. From the island coast to the dense forest. From the bustling city to the people who depend on their land to give life.
So what does the Tripmasher duo do when we are pressed for time?
Well, we look at options of either trying to independently follow a route or hop on an affordable Mekong Delta tour. In this case, we opted for a tour with the Vietnam Travel Group. For two days and one night, we would get to enjoy a full experience in the Mekong Delta and not have to worry about transport or accommodation. Our only job was to immerse ourselves in the culture and life of the towns we visited. All this for US$26.50 p/p. A bargain if you ask me given that a bus ticket alone would be US$11 return and the tour includes a simple lunch, guide, transport to all destinations and accommodation with breakfast. The office is located at 235 De Tham Street, Ho Chin Minh City. It is easily the best value for money tour we found.
Mekong Delta tour highlights
A Mekong Delta tour is more than a boat trip through a few towns. It is an experience that awakens all the senses.
We were in jungle bliss rowing through a coconut palm ‘cave’. All we could do was relax as the cool breeze gently brushed our rosy cheeks.
We got the tummy juices going as we smelt the sweet, gooey molasses mixture that will eventually become the famous coconut candy of the Mekong Delta.
We felt the heat coming from the steam as we marvelled at the crafty hand work of rice paper being made. Remarkably the technique has not changed over four generations.
We waved and smiled at the local people as they went about their day. How amazing would it be to live in a stilt house as the river flows beneath.
And of course it wouldn’t be a Tripmasher adventure if we didn’t take it all in with a nightcap on a ‘rooftop bar’, followed by flavourful (and at times interesting textured) street food.
Mekong Delta tour itinerary
Day 1 -Departing at 8 am we had a 3-hour bus ride to My Tho city where we got to explore the Tien River and Phoenix, Unicorn and Tortoise Islets.
The highlight is most definitely when we arrived in Ben Tre for the rowing boat trip down through coconut tree canal. Life almost comes to a standstill.
Ben Tre province is known as the “country of coconut”, so expect to see a coconut candy workshop. Unbelievably, a lot of the work is still done by hand.
After lunch, we walked through a fruit garden and listened to some Vietnamese folk music whilst enjoying some of the tropical fruit grown locally. The musical performance was a little ‘hokey, but a good way to wind down before the final two-hour bus ride to Can Tho.
Once we arrived in Can Tho, we had free time to walk along the river promenade, explore the night market and pick up a couple of cheap shirts for the boys.
Can Tho is a very relaxed town and the locals were helping me count to ten in Vietnamese. We definitely have mastered Mot, Hi, Ba, Yo! Meaning One, Two, Three, Cheers!
Day 2 – The best way to explore the Mekong Delta is by boat.
Did you know? Most families have one boat per household in the Mekong Delta. With a lack of railroads and roads, the tributaries remain essential for local people to shop, socialise and get around town.
Day two is predominantly spent on a boat touring the Lower Mekong River and visiting the Cai Rang floating market. The floating market is purely for residents to pick up their supplies for the week ahead. It’s quite fun to see how the transactions take place and the oldest form of advertising your wares is to hang them on a post, so people can see what you are selling. As a former advertising student, something about this ‘does what is says on the tin’ style pleases me.
There is, however, a few boats that will ‘hook’ onto your boat offering a morning coffee, fruit or souvenirs.
After the boat tour, we got to see how vermicelli rice noodle is made and following that we had about an hour of free time to explore the village. I would highly recommend hiring a bicycle and slowly exploring the narrow paths playing chicken with actual chickens!
All that was left for us to do was play a bit of foozeball and try some sweet pastries at the final stop before heading back to Ho Chin Minh City.
Did you know? That about five square kilometres of land is being lost to soil erosion each year. The loss of land is forcing the community to move from rice growing to shrimp fishing as more seawater enters from the south. Many reasons have been suggested, but the main cause seems to be from the development of hydro dams in the north in China and sand-mining.
If you have only a short time to explore South Vietnam, then I would highly recommend this Mekong Delta tour for a memorable trip into the mouths of the ‘Nine Dragons’. Hopefully, as more attention is brought to the plight of Vietnam’s food bowl, we can ensure the livelihoods of these people are protected.