When preparing to take our first Backpacking adventure three years ago when we had the opportunity to spend 2 days going down the Mekong from Chiang Khong in Northern Thailand to Luang Prabang in Laos we came across a number of images of the Mekong Delta, in Vietnam near where the river joins the South China Sea.
This week we had the opportunity to spend three days in the Delta region as we travelled from Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho, Ben Tre and Can Tho. We progressively travelled further and further from the city so it took about 5 hours for us to get back on our final day. (Even though the guide assured us it would only take 4. Another one of our travelling companions, a french man, assured us that we had still made good time as the bus didnt break down at all!! He had initially told us to expect the trip to take 7 hours!)
During our time in the Mekong region we did some of the typical tourist things like visiting a place where they grind coconut to make ‘Coconut Candy’. (They make and package this on rows of tables laid out under a thatched roof with no walls – that they call it a ‘factory’ but it looked more like a cake drive for the local netball club, to me!!).
Another interesting place we visited was a rural house where they make rice noodles from the cheap/rejected ‘broken rice’. They do not leave one ounce of waste in the process as the discarded rice husks are used to fire the the stoves that make the noodles and the ash is used as a fertiliser for local farmers. Unfortunately the rice noodle business does not pay very well, so they also keep pigs (feeding them the rice husks) as pork fetches a very good price in Vietnam.
We also spent some time on the river Delta itself.
The Mekong Delta was bigger than I expected with open harbours far wider than the river upstream in Laos and Thailand but it was the tributaries and small canals surrounding villages amidst the coconut palms that enthralled me.
Having the opportunity to go down a palm covered tributary in a row boat was a highlight for me and some of our photo’s resemble the idyllic ones I have seen on the web.
Here is a photo from that day – Floating down the Mekong
We also had a one night ‘Home Stay’ which, while different to what we initially expected was still a great night.
Our home stay started when our tour guide announced that the motorbikes had arrived to take us to our host families house. We had no idea that we were to be riding on motor bikes and if I have been able to convey how chaotic the traffic is here (even just a little!) you will understand how surprised (code for terrified) I was. However I took it in my stride turning to the guide and saying loudly “REALLY”, to which he just smiled and said, “Yes!”.
I didnt feel I could make a fuss so I climbed on the back of a bike. The rider was middle aged and so I figured he was the best bet. Sensible enough to know that when I said it was my first time on a motor bike he would take pity on me, not give me the ride of my life (as Jordans young driver did!)
I placed my helmet on my head and strapped it on tightly. Not that I was convinced it would make any difference if we fell, since it was wobbling as we rode along. Each of the boys climbed onto the back of their bikes and David and I balanced a bag in our arms too.
The ride took 25 mins and all I could think of was “If we crash, my knees are going to be completely smashed!!”. Ive never broken a bone before so I was imagining the excrutiating pain. My driver politely tried to make conversation (Im sure it was to distract me, as I was threatening to break his ribs with my grip), and he kept reassuring me that he was “an excellent driver!!”
Just when I was starting to relax Jordan zoomed past me with his hands by his side. There was nothing I could do except imagine the torture I was going to inflict on that young Vietnamese driver when I got my hands on him, and wonder where the closest hospital was!!!
Of course we all arrived safely and the boys were so excited to tell me how they ” didnt even need to hold on”. I just sighed. David grinned. The homestay hosts and the rest of my family had a good laugh at my expense.
The next morning David and I were taken down the river for 50 minutes to a market where we would meet our group while the boys had a shorter (15 min) motorbike trip and met us there. It was nerve wracking leaving my boys behind in a foreign land, but they had our phone number and the host had assured us they would not be left alone until we arrived.
We joined the rest of our tour group and headed off to a traditional floating market on the river which has been running for a couple of hundred years.
We did visit the tourist floating market outside of Bangkok, however this one was much more authentic. Large boats were laden with fruit taken from the rural areas with samples of their stock hanging from the mast, so that smaller boats could come and buy their produce. These smaller boats then transport the fruit to markets that then sell them to the locals. Only a few boats approached ours to sell us snacks. I had my eyes on all those watermelons, but a boat with pineapples was the only one on-selling to tourists that day. Below is a photo of JM and his ‘snack’ bought from the floating market.
Jordan devours his ‘Pineapple’ Snack
Our one disappointment was that we were also meant to see and cross a ‘Monkey Bridge’ during our trip. A Monkey bridge is a single piece of bamboo suspended across a canal which the locals use to transport all manner of things, from caged chickens to bicycles. However these are slowing being fazed out as motor bikes become more and more popular and the govt replaces the bamboo with concrete bridges so the people can take their scooters across.
We had crossed a Monkey bridge when in Laos and the boys were really looking forward to it again. Maybe next time. .
Having only a short time in Vietnam I’m glad we were able to get to the Mekong Delta for part two of our Mekong journey that started back in 2006.