Culture and civilisation have developed around rivers throughout history, and the Mekong is no exception. The river forms a big part of geography and lifestyle of the people living on it’s both sides. Chances are if you are traveling through Asia, you’ll come across the river more than just a few times.
Even though the river itself winds around 6 countries, Vietnam is the best place to see the river. It’s home to the Mekong Delta where the river ends. This rich land of biodiversity play an important role in producing more than one-third of the country’s food crops. The opportunity to discover beautiful natural landscape, tradition, and authentic local life is what makes a trip to the Mekong Delta one of Vietnam’s most worthwhile journeys. While a Mekong river cruise is the most epic adventure, a day trip or two-day trip is enough to gain insight into this lush area.
If you don’t know where to start or if you want to have a glimpse of the trip, follow me to the Mekong Delta where it soon became my favorite destination in Vietnam.
Encompasses 40,500 square kilometers of southwestern Vietnam, over 12 provinces of the country, the Mekong boasts a rich history, authentic culture, and laid-back vibe that's best experienced on the water. We started from Saigon. You may want to start early because we can never say anything about traffic in Saigon. After two and a half hours, we arrived to a small house in Phong Nam, Ben Tre where we walked through a garden to the river’s bank. Our boat trip started from here. The river was slow and calm, so as the pace of life here. Everything is very different from what you feel in Saigon. No modern buildings, no crowded roads, no shops, and absolutely no honking. This is a kind of snapshot of daily life that is unique on its own. Scattered along the flow are local workshops such as coconut products, bricks, and carpet-weaving. They aren’t a kind of big ones with hundreds of workers. Small and intimate, these workshops are much like household businesses where people in a family work together while waiting to new crop.
We walked through this small garden to the pier where we started our journey. There are 3 different piers around here but if you start from Phong Nam, you will have a longer boat journey. It means, more interesting.
People use the river to deliver many kinds of farm products to Saigon as well as other provinces in the South. Can you guess how many coconuts are packed on this boat?
The pace of life is much slower here, comparing to other places in Vietnam
Our first stop was a brick factory.
The locals in Ben Tre still use traditional methods to make bricks. Farmers are seasonal workers.
After 2 – 3 day drying under the sun, they place the bricks in to the brickyard, use rice husks to heat the bricks from 3 to 4 weeks
1,500 bricks are lined up in the furnace each time.
Near the brick workshop is a coconut workshop. Countless coconut workshops are lined along the waterway
The locals here still use their hands in every procedure.
It’s surprised to know that nothing of a coconut fruit is useless. Coconut meat is to make coconut milk and coconut candy. Coir, or coconut fiber, is used to make floor mats, mattresses and to custom the soil to plan orchids. The shell is used to produce high quality charcoal. And the coconut water, you know what it is for!
The coconut shells are collected at these coconut workshops then sent to another factory to produce activated charcoal
After another visit to a coconut candy workshop, we cycled in 30 minutes through small villages and rural landscapes to a local restaurant. The narrow lanes on both sides of the river are ideal for two-wheeled exploration. We were taken into small canals after lunch, on a traditional wooden sampan which sent us to lush coconut mangrove forests. The journey was around 30 minutes but you might want it lasts forever. I enjoyed so much the cool breezes and the peaceful feeling when cruising down the calm water. That's where you find out the true meaning of the enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future.
There were only us on the lance on that day. The rural life in Ben Tre is peaceful and quiet as if the only sound you can hear is the breezes blowing through the coconut foliage
Coconut trees are everywhere in Ben Tre. I'm never tired of drinking its water.
Our lunch was served at a thatched roof open-air house, in a lush tranquil garden.
We had a delicious lunch with a lot of green
All the dishes were local specilaities. The dish on the left of the photo were flowers coated by flour then deep fried.
It's time to enjoy the cool breezes and the peaceful feeling when cruising down the calm water. The route, that Exotic Voyages desgined, allowed me to travel by boat - the popular transportation in the Mekong Delta - longer than other routes. The sampan stopped at a small pier where we got back in the car to drive to our hotel in Can Tho.
Dolce Far Niente is a common Italian saying which means "the sweetness of doing nothing". It was what I thought of as I was sailing idly on the narrow cannal. Sometimes, simple idleness, peaceful feeling, and a little reflection is excellent therapy for the soul.
One day tour can stop with the wooden sampan cruise. But if you want to have a deeper understanding about the Mekong, go a bit further to Can Tho where you can explore the city and one of floating markets there in the next morning. Different from colorful floating markets in Bangkok that are more commercial recently, floating markets on the Mekong still keep it authentic and local vibe.
We started early in the morning to avoid the heat and cruised 4 miles to Cai Rang Floating Market, the most famous and biggest floating market in the Mekong Delta. It starts around 5:00 AM and runs until mid-day. The waterway becomes a maze of hundreds of boats packked with fruits, vegetables, plants, and food. Most of them are farm products and specialties of Cai Rang Town, ChauThanh District and neighbouring areas. Depends on the time of year, you can see different kinds of fruits as grapefruit, kiwi kumquat, pinapple, or durian. Pay a little attention, you will see wooden boats here are easily noticable: Their bows are painted in red and decorated with two eyes on the both sides and an anchor in the middle. The eyes are painted lively because they are considered the soul of the boat that will keep the boat away from the devils living under the water. Boats here also operate like “taxis,” very convenient for tourists.
I was picked up at the Ninh Kieu Pier to embark the Bassac Cruise. Appetizing breakfast was served onboard.There’re two daybeds on the cruise to lounge on.
The Cai Rang Floating Market is always busy, bearing all the characteristics of the locals’ life in the western region.
All the goods are transported to the market by boats: vegetable and fruits
There are foods and drinks on small boats to serve hungry sellers and buyers.
We stopped at a noodle workshop on the way where we spent 30 minutes there to see the family making the big thin rice cakes, drying them naturally under the sun, and cutting them into long strands that later will be used to make Hu Tieu noodle – a popular breakfast in South Vietnam.
From the boat, I saw stilt houses built on both sides of the river and the small boats they use to commute on the water, as we drive our cars on land...
... and stilt houses built on both sides of the river. I could also see the life behind an opened door
A boat with its bow is painted in red and decorated with two eyes to keep it safe from evils. Many sellers hang a sample of the goods on sale on top of a long pole so that buyers can see from a distance.
A day tour can stop with the wooden sampan cruise. But if you want to have a deeper understanding about the Mekong, go to Can Tho where you can explore the city and one of floating markets. Anyone who have more time can go further and make it a 5 or 7 days trip that I will do in a very close day. And you will never be disappointed with your decision.