On November 2014, during the Water Festival in Cambodia, we decided to travel to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. One of the major activities listed in our itinerary was a 2 day and 1 night cruise along the Mekong Delta since to us, a trip to Southern Vietnam would not be complete without a trip to the Mekong River. It is the 12th longest river in the world and the 3rd longest river in Asia. It runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It boasts the world’s largest inland fishery. Recently, it has been dubbed as a “biological treasure trove” as over 10,000 new species have been discovered in previously unexplored areas of Mekong Delta.
I was so excited to get a glimpse of the Vietnamese way of life and to have a chance to see with my own eyes the things I had only seen in history books and photographs. This is iconic Vietnam – flat fields of rice fields, fruit orchards, wooden houses on stilts located along the river’s edge, men and women in small boats selling their products, canals and river life.
Day 1: My Tho and Ben Tre Provinces
On our first day, we took a boat trip to visit the islands around My Tho and Ben Tre provinces. From the port in My Tho, we sailed to Thoi Son Island to visit the Honey Bee Farm. The staff explained the process of producing honey. We tried some honey tea, some dried fruits such as mangoes and bananas. It was very delicious. Then we went through the small market where locals were selling some clothes, fruits and some souvenir items such as key holders and bookmarks.
From the Honey Bee Farm, our local guide took us to the Phoenix Island with lush tropical gardens and there we had our lunch. When I looked at the menu, some of the dishes sounded exotic to me such as rat dish, crocodile dish, etc. After lunch, we went crocodile fishing, walked around the place, took a nap and had some rest while others went bicycling. I enjoyed the atmosphere of this beautiful natural countryside.
Then we continued exploring the Mekong Delta and we were led to the Ben Tre province. When we arrived there, we got on the rowing boat and paddled in along the small canals, fully covered by the shadows of the water coconut palms. Mangrove trees crowded the banks, their branches arching overhead to form a long winding tunnel that filtered out sunlight and rain. I got a close look at the magnificent setting of the Mekong Delta.
Then we walked through a picturesque fruit orchard to the pavillion. We sat on the shaded pavillion and tasted some tropical fruits such as banana, mango, dragon fruit, pineapple while we listened to the local musicians singing Vietnamese songs. After that, we stopped at the coconut candy workshop. Our guide explained the process of making this sweet and of course we tasted some coconut candies. Then we were taken on a horse cart ride through town. I had a glimpse of how people lived in this small town and at the same time enjoyed some fresh air.
Day 2: Can Tho province
We woke up at around 4ish am as we needed to leave very early to be able to visit the Cai Rang floating market. I have learned that it is the largest wholesale floating market in the Mekong Delta. It took us about 30 minutes to reach the floating market from Can Tho and the cruise was wonderful especially when the sun just started to shine. To me, it is an impressive site as I could see a stretch of boats selling all variety of goods but mostly foodstuffs lines the river. Our guide told us tidbits of information about the water commerce in the Mekong Delta such as: the boat will hang a sample of their product off the top of a long bamboo pole so that people will know what they are selling. We also had the opportunity to interact with some of the floating merchants when they tried to sell some drinks and fruits onto our tour boat’s side. We stayed about an hour there to observe the life of the local people in the floating market.
From there, we were ferried off and roamed through the village to visit the rice noodle making shop. While I watched them, I was surprised at the labour and effort that goes into making rice noodles. I was impressed the way they made rice noodles as I noticed that most of the noodles were handmade. I would say that Vietnamese are very creative and hard working.
Then we headed to the local fruit orchard. We walked around a fairly large garden growing a big variety of tropical fruits. It was well-maintained and beautiful. In fact, it was my first time to see a dragon fruit tree. We also tasted some freshly picked local fruits after we leisurely stroll around the area. After we had eaten, we went back to the boat and continued exploring some of the Mekong’s canals. And as the sun started to heat up, we slowly cruised back to Can Tho. We took a van there and travelled back to Saigon.
Overall, our Mekong Delta cruise was a good chance to learn the traditional rural lifestyle, culture, customs and witnessed the daily activities of the Mekong Delta inhabitants who call the Delta their home. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery even though the tour schedule was quite hectic. It was an amazing experience and we had such a great time.
Have you tried cruising around the Mekong River? What do you like best about the cruise?