Mekong Delta is a region in southwestern Vietnam where the great Mekong River flows. The river runs through six different countries, starting from Yunnan province of China to Southeast Asia, namely Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It covers more than 15,000 square miles and plays a very important role for Vietnamese locals and wildlife. It is the most important fishing regions in the country and home to a diverse 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 called the “western capital” and is considered as the “rice basket of Vietnam”, accounted for more than half of the nation’s 40 million tonnes of rice production. They also export about 8 million tonnes of rice to other countries every year.
Let the Adventure Begins
My trip to Mekong Delta starts from Saigon or Ho Chi Minh city. I was greeted by a local tour guide, Tuam and join-in with other 12 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 drove 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 villages were poor and their houses were built only by wood and the roof was made with tree leaves and no electricity in their home. I saw some traditional wooden houses and others with minor renovation, built with bricks and install power generator. 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, can fit up to four passengers each. So, we were divided into small groups, being seated with one behind the other as the two helmsmen took us on a 20-minutes ride. There is plenty of water coconut palm grown at the side 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 felt hungry. We had 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 throw from the restaurant.
When we finish our delicious lunch, we head 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 as the mode of transportation to carry sands, 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 check-in at a 2-star hotel, situated just 10 minutes walk to the riverside of Can Tho. After settling and rest for one and the half hour, we met again at Can Tho Market to have dinner in a lovely cafe. The food served are 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 the day was on the weekday, the town still so lively. Elderly people and youngsters just hanging out in the streets and night market. Young families also brought their children to play in the park and enjoy the cooling air.
During 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.
You will notice that the fishing boats have two prominent eyes painted on its 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 few vendors with small boats, selling mangoes, durians, pineapples, milk apples, watermelons and mangosteens. We arrived a bit early to catch the glimpse of life and was fewer tourists than expected. It plays an important part for the local people living by Mekong Delta.
A fruit supplier loading their goods into the vendor’s boat before selling them to locals and tourists on board their boats.
We took the next five minutes boat ride. passed through some stilt houses before getting to a noodle and paper rice factory by foot. I got the opportunity 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 heading back to Ho Chi Minh which takes about 3.5 hours. I am glad to have a splendid time and 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.