The Mekong Delta is a region in southwestern Vietnam where the mighty Cuu Long, also known as Mekong River, nourishes the surrounding landscape before flowing into the sea.
The region is known as the country’s rice bowl because it produces much of Vietnam’s rice as well as an abundant supply of fish and fresh produce sustained by its rich alluvial soil.
Mekong River descends all the way from the Tibetan plateau and meanders over 4000 kilometers through China, Myammar, Laos, Thailand Cambodia and Southern Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea.
The real draw of Mekong Delta is its unique countryside atmosphere and rural charm. I grew up in a rural town surrounded by rice paddies but it was still a novelty for me to get a glimpse of the villagers’ life along the river, see them barter in colorful sampan, and visit the local handicraft shops.
Choosing the Mekong Delta Tour
There are one-day, two-day and there-day trips to Mekong Delta organised by tour operators in Ho Chi Minh, but with limited time, I decided to book a day tour instead. Some of the advantages of spending more than a day in the delta are having an extra time to explore the surrounding villages and spend a night in a local homestay, but mainly to catch the bustling trade at the floating market early in the morning.
The highlight of a day tour to Cai Be and Vinh Long is a visit to the Cai Be floating market while the My Tho and Ben Tre tour offer bit of everything including tasting of local wine, seasonal fruit, honey and other local products, paddling on the estuaries, a visit to the bee farm, snake farm, and small-scale shops.
It takes about 2 hours or so to get to My Tho Pier and another 2 hours back to the city so I decided to avail of My Tho – Ben Tre Province tour. It is cheaper, closer to the city and there’s less travel time on the water.
The delta tour starts with a ferry ride from My Tho Port to any of the nearby islands; Con Phung (Phoenix Island), Con Qui (Turtle Island), Con Lan (Unicorn Island) or Con Long (Dragon Island) and a motorised boat ride through the narrow channels of the river.
Here’s a list of things to expect and “what not” on My Tho- Ben Tre tour.
Con Phung (Phoenix Island)
Rice Paper Making
Expect to see a demonstration of rice paper making and a free taste of the finished product in a tiny open-air hut, but not a big-scale livelihood shop.
Coconut Handicraft Factory
Expect to see souvenir stalls of coconut products, but not local craftsmen going about their business. There was only one worker during our visit and he was probably there just for the benefit of the tourists.
A complimentary lunch is served in a native thatched-roof cottage, but don’t expect a gourmet feast of Vietnamese cuisine. We were served with fried spring roll and roasted pork, which wasn’t anything extraordinary but fitting enough for a complimentary lunch.
Ben Tre Province
Fruit Tasting and Serenade
Expect to be serenaded with traditional music and served with tea and tropical fruits for free, although some of the local fruits may not be that exciting and exotic for visitors who are raised in SE Asia. If you’re a fruit lover, the month of April is a good time to visit and sample the fruits in season.
Expect to walk past some banana orchards and other plantations and ride a horse-drawn cart or a bicycle to the bee-farm. There is free taste of natural honey, wine and dried fruits at a local café but it was obviously another stop to buy souvenirs. The highlight of our visit here was the python that was brought out by our guide free for anyone to wrap around their necks.
Paddling on Mekong Estuaries
Expect a pleasant cruise on a smaller waterways fringed by lush jungle of palms. Gone is the roar of the motorized boat and you get a closer look at some villages near the riverbanks.
Coconut Candy Shop
Expect to see local artisans making candies and other delicacies from coconut in an open space candy shop. It’s their last attempt to sell more stuff to visitors before heading back to the port. They’re cheap and tasty take-home goodies so it doesn’t hurt to give in. The highlight of my visit here was sampling the famous snake wine of Vietnam for free.
Is the Trip Worth It?
As a whole, the day tour to Mekong Delta was fitting for a rough glimpse of what it was like in rural Vietnam in the early days but nothing more. The villagers of Mekong thrive on earning a living from its life-sustaining river and tourism is a big part of it.
The tours offered in the region are highly commercialised and too much of a planned touristy experience attempting to sell something at every stop. But paying 8 USD for the whole experience wasn’t a bad deal either.
The highlight of this trip for me was paddling on the estuaries in a traditional sampan while wearing a conical hat. Navigating smoothly through the lush scenery somewhat transported us back in time away from the commercialized atmosphere and hustle and bustle of the city. It would have been nicer though if we could paddle our own boat, but that calls for an independent trip I guess.
If I have to do it again, I would spend more days here, experience a local village homestay and explore the region at my own phase. It would probably assure me more of a real cultural experience on this part of Vietnam.