While we were in Vietnam we really wanted to get out to the Mekong Delta. We had heard great things about the Mekong, endless rave reviews. It’s always listed as a can’t miss in Vietnam, isn’t it?
Unfortunately what we actually got wasn’t really what we expected.
Don’t get me wrong, we loved checking out a different part of Vietnam. Seeing the way the people in the southern part of country live and learning more about their cultures. There are definitely beautiful parts of the Mekong to explore. However, our trip to the Mekong Delta felt like too much of a hectic day, where you saw a little bit of everything, but nothing very great.
If you’re planning a visit to the Mekong Delta, we would strongly recommend allowing at least two days to explore the region. Spending the night will give you a much nicer experience, where you can actually take the time to see some of the highlights of the Mekong Delta.
Here’s everything you need to know about our tour to the Mekong Delta and how you can choose a better one for your visit.
A little bit about the Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta (also known as the River of Nine Dragons to locals) is a network of rivers that run through a number of countries, Vietnam being one of them. The river actually starts in the Himalayas and weaves through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos before it reaches Vietnam. More than half of Vietnam’s rice and fish comes from the Delta region, so it’s a very important part of the Vietnamese economy and diet.
Here, life revolves around the water. The people living in the area actually live on the water, in houses with stilts keeping the inside dry. Many get around on boats each day, visiting their families and friends and getting to work.
The river is very popular for floating markets, as well as river side restaurants. There’s a huge agricultural industry in the area, with flowers, fruits and livestock all growing in the region.
How to get to the Mekong Delta
The Vietnamese region of the Mekong Delta is made up of quite a few different towns and villages, depending on which area you visit. While some of these villages are accessible on a day trip, most of them are a little further away and will require at least a one night stay.
Each region is accessible by road, with buses, private car transfers and motorbikes all options for getting to the Mekong. The main villages along the river include:
Mỹ Tho – Pronounced me taw, this is the most visited city in the Mekong Delta region and is about two hours by bus from Ho Chi Minh. The village is flooded with hundreds of visitors and tour groups each day. Known for their famous floating markets there are also some beautiful pagodas and orchards in the area that are worth checking out.
Cần Thơ – Pronounced cun tuh, Cần Thơ is actually the biggest city in the Mekong region and home to the biggest floating market – the Cái Răng markets. Each morning hundreds of boats packed with beautifully colourful fruits and flowers line the river, it’s really an incredible sight to see! This is where you’re likely to find the most accommodation options, with many easy day trip options to explore more of the Mekong region. From Ho Chi Minh it takes about four hours to get to Cần Thơ.
Sóc Trăng – Pronounced sawp chrung is home to the largest population of Khmer people outside Cambodia, so it has a bit of a different vibe to the rest of the villages in the area. There’s more of a relaxed vibe here, with lots of rice fields surrounding the city.
Cần Giờ Biosphere Reserve – Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the Cần Giờ Biosphere Reserve is very important to Vietnam for it’s mangrove forests and wetland ecosystems. The biosphere reserve helps to protect the region from corrosion, preventing much of the agricultural land from washing out to sea.
Our Mekong Delta tour
We had originally booked onto the Private Mekong Delta & Cai Be Floating Market Tour with Bravo Indochina Tours through Expedia, although trust me that this is absolutely not an advertisement for their tour services.
There were a couple of reasons that we chose this specific tour after shopping around for a bit. The first was because it was a private tour, we were travelling with our family and didn’t want to waste too much time on an already super long day waiting for other people to get organised.
The second was because, as the name suggests, we wanted to visit the Cai Be floating markets. We had heard that these are the best markets to visit if you’re only doing a day tour since they normally stay open a little later than others along the river but still have plenty to see.
We were meant to be picked up from our airbnb in Ho Chi Minh City by a private transfer at around 7am, however the car didn’t arrive until well after 8am. It might not sound like a lot, but an hour behind on a 10 or so hour tour is a pretty long time.
It ended up taking us about 3 hours to get from Ho Chi Minh to our first stop in the Mekong region. Of course there were a couple of ‘toilet breaks’ along the way, where you are ushered through jade showrooms and souvenir and gift stores. They were relatively harmless though, sales people generally left you alone as long as you didn’t touch anything or look too interested.
In a back alley somewhere we ended up picking up another couple of tourists, so not only did our private tour end up being a group tour, but we lost a whole heap more time trying to find them in the back alleys of rural Vietnam.
By the time we actually got to the Mekong the river was pretty quiet. We had well and truly missed the floating markets, there were only one or two boats still out, lazily floating down the river with colourful fruit hanging everywhere.
We jumped into our own boat for our first ride along the Mekong. It was crazy to see all the houses lining the river, with tall stilts keeping them up dry. Along the river you can see convenience stores, grocery stores and even restaurants that are only accessible by boat. It’s crazy to think that some of these people live their whole lives on the water.
Our first stop was to jump into a couple of sampans that took us into more of a narrow part of the Mekong. This is probably more of the Mekong Delta that you might be thinking of. Cute Vietnamese women, dressed in traditional clothing, standing tall on the back of each sampan, with passengers wearing leaf hats to keep the sun off their faces. Lots of mangroves and greenery surrounding the river.
It was a bit like that, but what those pictures don’t show is the smoke fumes puffing out the back of some of the sampans delivering supplies to some of the remote villages, the huge number of mosquitoes buzzing around the water surface, or the amount of litter (and in one case what was either a dead dog or a dead goat) floating by.
In any case, it was a relatively pleasant sampan ride, finishing with some morning tea and a traditional dance performance in a small cafe surrounded by fruit trees and flowers. It was very pretty to say the least.
Our next stop was actually one of the highlights of the whole day. We stopped at the Thanh Phong factory, that produce popcorn, pineapple, coconut and candy. Actually they make a whole bunch of coconut products, including produce like candy and ice-cream, as well as gifts like coconut bowels, lip balm, soap and coasters.
The locals that worked in the factory were so lovely and happy. They were so excited to show us the different ways they made products out of coconut and simple ingredients, and despite speaking little English, they even gave us a demonstration of how they make popcorn in a very traditional kind of contraption.
We could have spent heaps more time at this stop, wandering around the gift show and taste testing all their different products. If you ever find yourself at the factory make sure you try the coconut candy, it was absolutely delicious.
On the way to lunch we came across a sole fruit boat still floating along the river. Our tour guide pulled over alongside and the beautiful owner of the boat let us climb on board where she let us sample her fresh pineapple, coconut water and dried coconut. Again, absolutely delicious. They certainly are creative with coconut in this region, and every one of their coconut snacks are so tasty!
Lunch was our very last stop of the day. From the boat dock we jumped on bicycles that led us further into a little island on the land, where we were treated to a traditional Vietnamese lunch including elephant ear fish, deep-fried spring rolls, clay pot pork, soup, rice and even some desert. During the lunch we even got a chance to make a few of our own spring rolls. Gotta be honest though, theirs were much better than mine!
Once lunch is over it’s back to the mini van for the long drive back to Ho Chi Minh City. And luckily for us, an epic accident in the middle of the Vietnamese countryside turned out three hour drive home into a five hour drive home. NOT FUN.
Booking your own Mekong Delta experiences
It’s always difficult for me to write a post about something that we don’t have a glowing review for. We don’t believe in being negative just for the sake of it and don’t like sounding bratty about what are generally amazing experiences.
Overall we’re really glad that we visited the Mekong Delta. It’s a region that we had always wanted to visit and there were parts of the tour that we really did love. If we had of spent the night out there though, I think we would have been able to have a much better time.
Booking an overnight trip to the Mekong Delta gives you the chance to explore a few more of the smaller villages along the Mekong, check out some of the lesser known sites, and of course it means that you don’t have to sit through seven hours of driving in Vietnamese traffic all in one day.
There are heaps of great home stays in the Mekong area, as well as tours that will include all kinds of extras, from cooking classes to hikes through the countryside.
Share your favourite Mekong Delta experiences in the comments below!
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