Veggie travel, green living and other great stuff.
The Mekong Delta
The “big” boat
One of the things that everyone will say you MUST do while you’re in Vietnam, is visit the Mekong Delta. It’s not like saying you should visit the Thames. Or even the Norfolk Broads. The Mekong Delta region covers 15,000 square miles – the final stages of the Mekong river’s journey through 6 countries and out to sea.
You can do 1, 2 or 3-day tours from Saigon depending on your budget and how much of the delta you want to explore. As with Ha Long Bay, I did a 2 day 1 night trip, which took us to the orchards of “Unicorn Island” (I did not see any unicorns) as well as to a coconut village in the beautiful Ben Tre province and a 4-star hotel in Can Tho (!!!!!) before coming back towards Saigon via a floating market and the port town of Vinh Long. We got fed various exotic fruits along the way, as well as freshly made coconut candies and traditional Vietnamese meals both during our journeys and at the hotel.
The not-so-big boats
There was a fair bit of driving involved, but I can vouch for the fact that if you book with popular budget operators ‘The Sinh Tourist’ you’ll get an air-conditioned bus with free water and a tour guide who cracks absolutely awful jokes at random intervals throughout the journey.
Awful, awful jokes.
Other than the bits of the journey that are more sensible to do by bus, your time will be split between a “big” boat (see top) and some smaller, rowed boats, in which you may be lucky enough to recieve your very own Vietnamese-style straw hat. Due to the nature of all of the transport, you’re not going to want more than a day-bag with you- so it’s worth asking wherever you’ve been staying in Saigon very nicely if they’ll look after your main bag while you do the excursion.
Demonstrative Viet hat selfie
A quick investigation of how we could possibly be staying at a 4-star hotel with a rooftop pool when we were all backpackers on a budget showed me that you could book rooms (at “Fortuneland” Can Tho) for under a tenner per person per night (so long as you had at least one person to share with). Mental. I assume this means that if you splash out on a luxury tour you end up plated in gold and eating free diamonds for dinner. I may be wrong.
For approximately the price of an hour’s work in England, you too could be staying here, in a room with embellished bathrobes and mattresses like clouds*.
*May have just seemed like clouds because so many of the hostels here have mattresses that feel like they’re made of rock. Can’t 100% confirm.
Cheaper than a UK travelodge
Personally I found the tour of the floating market more interesting than seeing the exotic orchards (where you could also buy BBQ snakes), partly because it feels a lot more Vietnamese than staying in the backpacker district of a big city is ever going to.
There are boats floating around with all manner of wares aboard, and the smaller vessels often contained a tiny pho kitchen or someone selling freshly brewed coffee, who would come up alongside our boat and tie on for however long it took to make a sale.
Bigger boats were very clearly people’s homes as well as their shops, and it was interesting after seeing the stilted houses on the shores and floating houses of some of the fishermen, to see houseboats laden with watermelons and coconuts passing by.
There are several floating markets in the Mekong Delta, the details of which you can see here http://www.mekong-delta-travel-guide.com/en/activities-attractions/floating-markets . There are also a number of small towns and villages where you can stop and break up your journey buying cheap goods and food- although we were warned to be wary of the street food in some areas, and perhaps keep our weak western stomachs in restaurants where food preparation was a little more hygienic.
If you’re doing this journey un-guided, on bikes or otherwise, I won’t say you’re missisng anything by not stopping in Vinh Long. It breaks up the journey, but it’s not the most glamorous of places (the photo below is the only one I bothered taking) and there’s only one restuarant that any tour guide deems safe for their customers to eat in- and it’s not exactly the best that Vietnamese cuisine has to offer. Given the choice, you’d be better off doing more of the journey by boat, or just stopping for lunch elsewhere!
What I will say though is that people are (unusually) right: you should do the Mekong Delta if you’re in southern Vietnam. Bobbing along in a little rowing boat in the sunshine and stopping off for regular noodle breaks is hardly a bad way to spend your time.