Mekong Delta is in the southwestern region of Vietnam, where the great Mekong River meets. The river flows through six different countries: Yunnan province of China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It covers more than 15,000 square miles and plays a very important role in the lives of Vietnamese locals and a diversity of floras and faunas.
Can Tho itself is a small city, located on the south bank of Hau River of Mekong Delta. It is the fourth largest city in the country and the largest city in the delta. Its nickname is called the “western capital” and considered as the “rice basket of Vietnam”, accounted for more than half of the nation’s 40 million tonnes of rice production.
Let the Adventure Begins
My trip to Mekong Delta started from Saigon or Ho Chi Minh city. I was greeted by a local tour guide, Tuam and joined-in by 12 other guests (three Americas, one old Vietnamese couple, and a Vietnamese family of seven with two kids). We leave the city at 8.30 am and drive on a highway, passing through the paddy fields on both sides.
Our first stop is My Tho at the Upper River of Mekong River. There are four famous islands right across the jetty in this Tien River between this town and Ben Tre called Dragon (Con Rong), Tortoise (Con Qui), Phoenix (Con Phung) and Unicorn (Con Lan) islands.
We got on board a wooden motorboat from the jetty to Unicorn Island, the largest island among the four of them. We visit a bee farm and enjoy a tasteful cup of authentic honey tea.
The locals here strongly depend upon its tourism and earn their living by selling local fruits, food, and souvenirs to visitors. About 10 years ago, the villagers were quite poor and their houses were built only with wood. The roof was made with tree leaves with no electricity in their home. I saw some traditional wooden houses and others with minor renovation, built with bricks and install power generators. I believe most people still prefer to live and preserve a part of their old tradition and culture.
Then, we wandered around the quiet villages and watched the life of rural people. The locals were very friendly and the children happily greeted us with joy. There are a couple of stalls along the small streets selling fresh sea coconut water, handicrafts, art paintings, and clothing.
Walking right ahead is a small coconut candy factory where we get to witness the entire process of coconut candy-making. Those candies are wrapped up with paper rice which is eatable. Our guide also taught us how these villagers had fully utilized the coconut shells and their trees by making handmade handicrafts.
After a long walk, we were invited to watch the locals perform traditional Vietnamese folk music called Đờn Ca Tài Tử (Southern Amateur Music) and taste some tropical fruits. You are expected to tip them at the end of the performance.
This is the most exciting part of our tour, getting into a tiny rowing sampan, each can fit up to four passengers. So, we were divided into small groups, being seated one behind the other as the two helmsmen took us on a 20-minutes ride. There is plenty of water coconut palms grown on both sides of this small river.
We returned back to our motorboat and went to Phoenix Island for lunch. Luckily the food was well prepared minutes after our arrival because most of us are hungry. We have a delicious Vietnamese meal while admiring the riverside scenery.
We were well fed with rice, rice noodle wrapped with fried elephant ear fish, sour vegetable soup, pork, stir fry spinach, and pork salad. You can also visit a small temple just a stone’s throw from the restaurant.
When we finished our delicious lunch, we went back to the mainland of My Tho. It seems to get busier during the noon with many boats moving along the river. These boats are used to transport sand, construction materials, vegetables, fresh fruits, and passengers in Mekong Delta. Mỹ Thuận Bridge, a cable-stay bridge was built and completed in 2000 to connect Cai Be district of Tiền Giang province with Vinh Long city.
Arriving at Can Tho in the evening, we checked in at a 2-star hotel, situated just 10 minutes away to the riverside of Can Tho. After settling and rest for 1.5 hours, we met again at Can Tho Market to have dinner in a lovely cafe. The food served is mostly the same as lunch, only this time manage to snap more photos of the tasty food.
We had our free and easy time throughout the night. So, the trio from America (Melissa, Denise, and Andrew) and I began to explore the area along the riverside, Can Tho Market, and Ninh Kieu Night Market. Although it is a weekday, the town is still so lively. Elderly people and youngsters just hang out in the streets and night market. Young families also bring their children to play in the park and eat out and shop at the night market.
Cang Rai Floating Market
The next morning after breakfast at the hotel, we gathered at the riverside of Can Tho and board a motorboat to Cang Rai Floating Market. The journey took about 40 minutes and things start to get pretty interesting along the way.
It is easy to notice that the fishing boats have two prominent eyes painted on their front. It caught my attention since yesterday on the ride to Unicorn Island and got me wondering. My guide told me that the painting of the eyes is an important ritual here. It was used by many fishermen to guide them home safely from the sea and help to scare away the sea monsters. It is believed to have started back in the middle ages and the practice still continues today.
We got to see the floating market in action and were approached by a few vendors on small boats, selling mangoes, durians, pineapples, milk apples, watermelons, and mangosteens. We arrived a bit early to catch the glimpse of life and has fewer tourists than expected.
It was a sunny morning and it was the opportunity to watch the local people living in Mekong Delta get into their daily routines. A fruit supplier was loading their goods into the vendor’s boat before selling them to locals and tourists. Some fishermen were busy moving their catch to their distributors in smaller boats before carrying their loads into the docks.
We took the next five minutes boat ride to some stilt houses before getting to a noodle and paper rice factory on foot. Here, we get to observe how the worker made the paper rice from scratch.
We returned back to Can Tho city and prepare to check-out from the hotel. I had some spare time to walk around a market located just right outside my accommodation. They specialize in selling mechanic and machinery part.
We had our lunch together nearby the hotel before return to Ho Chi Minh which takes about 3.5 hours. I am glad to have a splendid time and an amazing experience to learn about the culture and lifestyle of the local people in Mekong Delta. Thankfully, the weather was great for us to enjoy outdoor activities.
Going Elsewhere in Vietnam?
If you are planning for a long adventure in Vietnam, you can check out some of my other posts: