Living in Saigon, a trip to the Mekong Delta is kind of mandatory. So, at 8am on a sunny June morning we boarded a tour bus on Bui Vien – the backpackers road – and set off on a two day trip to the Mekong Delta.
As we booked the trip last minute we didn’t do much research beforehand, but having a rough idea of the itinerary was good enough. With so many companies offering identical tours we just went for the cheapest option. We paid about $18 for a two day trip including all transport, hotel and admission fees. According to our enthusiastic tour guide, the trip also included ‘free fruit’, ‘free tea’ and ‘free coconut candy’, although this made us laugh as it’s obviously just included in the price. But this is a pretty amazing price nonetheless!
The bus had all the qualities of a typical Vietnamese tour bus, and the tour guide was a funny character too. Once everyone was seated we were informed that we were on a tight schedule with a designated time for each stop – exactly eleven minutes at the pagoda to be precise! Needless to say Beth and I felt like the naughty kids on the field trip as we were always the last ones to get back on the bus. What can I say, we like to take our time! This was the only downside of the tour, but despite this it was very informative.
After an an hour or so we came to the first stop – Vĩnh Tràng Pagoda near Mỹ Tho. Every pagoda I visit I fall in love with, and this was no exception. The construction is beautiful with decadent details on the walls and the roof. It’s also surrounded by lush flower gardens and there are several stalls where you can buy the usual touristy merchandise. The showstopper of Vĩnh Tràng is the humongous Buddha monument. With the perfect backdrop of blue skies and fluffy clouds, it was quite incredible to stand at the feet of this almighty Buddha and just gaze up to his face.
The second leg of the journey was to a city called Mỹ Tho. As soon as we arrived we boarded a little wooden boat, which would be our boat for the rest of the day. With a rumbling engine we made our way across the dark water to the first of three islands. Here, we watched coconut candy being made by the locals. We sampled a few different flavours including durian, peanut and chocolate. Coconut candy is a famous sweet of Vietnam so I obviously had to buy some to send home. Because it’s made from coconut does that mean it’s healthy candy?
After the candy workshop we bought some coconut ice lollies (I love the abundance of coconuts in Vietnam!) and boarded the boat for the second island – Unicorn Island. *Although we looked far and wide unfortunately we didn’t find any unicorns. Much to our dismay we were informed that this is simply the name of the island. But please can we just take a moment to appreciate this name.* Our tour included lunch so we had a quick bite to eat in the restaurant. Wasting no time after lunch, we went for a wander. There was the option to use bicycles, and I’m quite good at riding bikes, but these bikes were rickety old things that must’ve only weighed one kilo so we decided to go by foot! We came across a snake enclosure, a convoy of roaming chickens and a mini swamp of crocodiles. It was quite sad actually as they had barely any room to swim and they’re blatantly just a tourist attraction.
On the last island, we went on a traditional wooden canoe through the winding Mekong canals. Our driver/rower was a young lad who was home from university for the summer and his mother was sat at the back. He was lovely actually and taught us a few Vietnamese phrases (unfortunately they left my brain as soon as we left the boat!)
When we got back on land the sky was looking extremely ominous and before we knew it the heavens opened in their full glory. It doesn’t just rain in Vietnam; it’s literally like someone is holding a massive jug and just pouring water over everything. The droplets are fat and nothing escapes getting wet. Anyway, it probably happened at the best time as we had just sat down for honey tea, fruit and other sweet treats. For a moment, I didn’t feel like I was in Vietnam. It reminded me of rainy England when you’re sat in watching the rain from your window with a hot cuppa, but instead, we were watching the rain pelt down on the Mekong through a wooden frame drinking sweet honey tea with Vietnamese locals.
Once we’d finished island hopping, we started the sleepy journey to Can Tho where we stayed overnight. Can Tho is a small, lazy city and there doesn’t seem to be much happening, so we had a little walk around and found a cheap restaurant, drank a few beers and then went to bed like the party animals we are. It was funny though – as we were walking back there was a big congregation of people in the square and we were bombarded with “Hello! We take picture with you?!” Obviously we jumped in with big cheesy grins.
It was a very early start the next day – 6am sharp in the lobby! In hindsight we should’ve had a lie in anyway as, in true Vietnamese style, we didn’t set off till 7.30am. On the itinerary was the floating markets, a bike ride through the forest and a noodle-making workshop. The floating market was slightly disappointing to be honest. I don’t know if I was just being a naive tourist by expecting postcard-perfect boats brimming with colourful fruit and veg, maybe I was. We only saw a few boats selling melons and jackfruit and a couple of floating bars; I think we went too late or perhaps it was just the wrong spot. Regardless, it was a quaint little cruise and was nice to see normal trade between locals in the morning.
My favourite part of the trip was the bike ride through the mini-jungle. We rented the bikes really cheap and cycled about 5k to the Heritage Tree. It was such a beautiful morning with clear blue skies and a beaming sun. The track was quite bumpy but we took our time, saying x’in chao to all the locals and having a nosy as we cycled past their homes. Jackfruit grows in abundance in the Mekong so we saw loads of jackfruit trees – my fave! We arrived at the Heritage Tree and it was beautiful. It’s a shaded area of thick and thin branches bending and interlacing one another. There was a beautiful Buddhist shrine, too. After having a walk through the tree, we set off back to base. On our way we spotted a couple of local boys splashing around in a stream, trying to catch fish.
The final leg of the trip was a noodle-making workshop. There were big drying racks where sheets of rice paper are laid in the sun. They are then put through a machine which separates them into individual strands. It’s always interesting to see how food is made.
We were absolutely knackered after this and thankfully it was then time to make our way back to Saigon. Unfortunately I left my lovely Vietnamese hat (made in the Mekong) on the bus… I was gutted.
And that concludes our short and sweet trip to the Mekong Delta!