Accommodation comes in all shapes and sizes and I love to mix it up a bit when I travel. Home stays or guest houses can be a great way to have a more personal connection with the people and their environment. That was how I experienced the Mekong Delta and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
The Mekong Delta stretches from Ho Chi Minh’s city limits southwest to the Gulf of Thailand and while it covers only 10% of Vietnam’s land mass, it supplies more than one third of the country’s annual food crop. Paddy fields of rice, fruit orchards, coconut groves and fields of sugar cane, all thrive in the nutrient-rich soil. Due to the heavy rains during the long wet season, rice can be harvested three times a year here, whereas elsewhere in Vietnam, there is only one season annually.
The Delta is famous for it’s “floating markets”, where every morning local sellers and buyers of produce meet on the river to conduct their business directly from the boats and is a destination many travellers to Vietnam wish to experience. There are tours galore offered by many companies from Ho Chi Minh City and by joining a tour is the most common way tourists get to visit the Mekong Delta. But there are other options.
To Tour or Not to Tour
An organised tour from Ho Chi Minh City to one of the floating markets of the Mekong Delta will generally involve a 2 to 4 hour trip (depending on which floating market it goes to) in a bus full of fellow tourists. Many of the tour companys provide a large boat with a large noisy motor and bench seats. A big boat is too large for the smaller idyllic canals, and cannot navigate and weave it’s way around the busy marketplace but must stay on the perimeter.
A small boat provides a more peaceful experience, better photo and viewing opportunities and can get right in amongst the activity, even stopping at one of the small sampans which serve as mobile cafés, where you can buy soft drinks, an iced coffee or a strong noodle soup for breakfast.
Traveling to and from the Mekong Delta in the same day doesn’t leave time for much other than a quick peek and certainly no time to get a feeling for the rich and diverse culture of this area.
My two traveling companions and I chose not to do a tour, but caught a local bus in Ho Chi Minh City and traveled the four hours to Can Tho, the capital of the Mekong Delta. The bus was comfortable, air-conditioned, and cheap, stopping half way for a 20 minute toilet stop and something to eat at the large Phuong Trang bus station.
From Can Tho bus station we made our way by taxi to the NguyenShack Homestay, the taxi dropping us at the Ong Tim bridge. There was no road access to the property and we were met by the owner’s sister at the bridge, whereupon she hoisted our luggage on the back of her motorbike and lead the way along a narrow concrete path which ran alongside the river. As we walked under overhanging mango trees laden with fruit, and alongside small fields of rice we began to relax into the peace and silence of the landscape around us.
The property was situated beside the river, with an open restaurant in front and 5 separate cabins behind, all built with bamboo and other natural materials. The cabins each contained comfortable beds, flushing toilets, and hot and cold water for hand basin and shower. The only sound outside at night was the calling of a gecko and I”ll swear he was calling my name. We’d hear “MAxine! MAxine”.
During our 3 day stay at theNguyen Shack Homestay, the owner of the property, a lovely Vietnamese woman named Tao, arranged for us to explore the local canals in their small, flat-bottomed boat, visit a local orphanage, a rice wine distillery, a small school, and various other local activities. Our transport was either on the water, or by pushbike.
We headed for the nearby floating market at Cai Rang at 4.30 one morning. The sun was coming up as our little boat turned a bend in the canal and we began to share the waterway with local women rowing their small wooden boats laden with various types of merchandise, towards the market place.
Vietnam is very much a “developing” country, with new roads and bridges under construction in every province. The floating markets became a way of life for the Vietnamese people when the river was their only access. Now, with the development of new infrastructure the floating markets are quickly diminishing, and will very likely become an event that will be written in history.
If the Mekong Delta is a place you want to visit I’d be happy to chat with you about it. Just contact me by email and I’ll get back to you very soon.