Our Private Mekong Delta Tour: The Quick and Easy Way!
What trip to Vietnam would be complete without a Mekong Delta tour? There was no way we were going to visit Vietnam without seeing this iconic location. That’s what this whole unstatusfied lifestyle is about for us. Putting more emphasis on experiences through long term travel rather than accumulating stuff. Read on and see how easy it was for us to take a half day Mekong Delta tour and get inspired to start planning that extended vacation. Ok, let’s get at it!
Getting to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)
During our 5 days in Ho Chi Minh City (see our No Nonsense Guide to Ho Chi Minh City) we sniffed around and gathered info on how best to check this area out. There were no shortage of overpriced options ranging from 1 to 2 day tours from HCMC but that isn’t how we like to do things. We find it usually suits us better to organize our own way as much as possible. With that in mind along with wanting to see more of southern Vietnam than just the delta, we decided we would hop on an easy 3 hour bus ride and head south west by about 180 km’s to Can Tho.
Can Tho, a city of 1.1 million is situated on the banks of the Hau river, the largest branch of the mighty Mekong river. It is smack dab in the middle of the 40,000 plus square kilometer delta and a great place to head out for a day of exploring the area.
Getting there by bus is no problem. We went with the larger, more well-known bus company called Futa Bus Lines. You can see their routes and prices here. We found that in Vietnam it’s quite common for your hostel or hotel to offer to do this for you. It was the same price and usually included the shuttle pick up. This made things very easy and convenient.
You have your choice as to what style of seating you can have on some routes as well. Seated upright as usual and a sleeper style which is what we opted for. When we booked our tickets and picked our seats we thought it was a bus with a top and bottom floor similar to buses in Europe and Central and South America. To our surprise we were treated to something we’d never seen before. A kind of bunk bed style seating arrangement.
We were going bunk bed style! With free WiFi and an almost fully reclining seat we traveled to the area known as the food bowl of Vietnam.
Can Tho like other cities in this area has a canal system. On our first night there the flow from the river was great enough that water filled the streets in a few places. This we were told was a common occurrence during the rainy season and part of living on the delta.
Another part of living in an area with waterways like these is their utilization. We saw people using it as a means of transportation and often saw fishermen casting their nets on some of the bridges that span them.
After our leisurely jaunt to the south we checked into our hotel. Immediately we were given the sales pitch about seeing the delta even before being given the key to the room. Tourism is big here because of it’s location. As mentioned we don’t care for tours as it makes us feel like sheeple but sometimes there is no way around it. We decided to see for ourselves over the next day or two how we were going to go about checking out the delta.
Choosing our tour
The best alternative for us this time around was to go with a smaller operator rather than with a boatload of tourists. We found a half day Mekong Delta tour on Facebook of all places run by a company called Can Tho Touring by Susan. https://www.facebook.com/Canthotouring/. She also has a site you can check out. http://canthotouring.blogspot.com/?m=1. It rang in at $18 per person which was very reasonable compared to most that we could find. We saw other deals that were almost twice that. So we booked it the night before and crossed our fingers that we made the right decision.
We also questioned whether the shorter 3 hour tour was enough as there was a longer one day tour. It involved seeing a second, smaller floating market. In the end we decided one was enough. For us it was the right decision. The larger tour would tack on another 3 hours and took you further afield and didn’t feel the time was worth it. We felt that the half day itinerary described below would make for a decent day.
Arriving at the dock and meeting our tour guide
So 5:30am the next morning, we were picked up and taken to the river where we met our guide Huyen. She was awesome and we felt good that we helped provide a gig to a student who could use the extra money while taking Business and English courses.
When we reached the place where we’d be pushing off into the river we were introduced to the boat operator named Trong. Another super nice person as is the case with most everyone we met here. After some small formalities like asking if we could swim, we climbed aboard the smallest of the boats we would see all day. It was what is called a long tail as the propeller is at the end of a long shaft that delivers power from a motor that is mounted at the back of the boat.
If they look and sound familiar to you chances are you’ve been to Thailand. These long tail type boats with the motors on the back apparently not allowed to have mufflers installed. They are load! After climbing in, we pushed off into a bit of a chop about 15 minutes before the sun came up and got semi comfortable.
Making our way down the river
While stabbing westward toward our first stop the largest floating market on the Mekong Delta, Huyen began sharing some info about the area with us. The first bit of info was about the Mekong River itself. Turns out that at over 4,300km long, it is the 12th longest river in the world and the seventh largest in SEA.
It originates from the Tibetan Plateau and runs through a bit of China before exiting through the south and forming the border between Myanmar and Laos. It flows into Laos and again forms a border between Laos and Thailand cutting back into Laos one more time before heading south into Cambodia.
After heading south it eventually enters Vietnam. It is here that it starts to branch out into several other rivers that drain into the South China Sea. There used to be 9 outlets in total but two of them “healed over” for lack of better wording. Despite that, this system still maintains the name “9 Dragons”!
I believe our guide said that 90% of the rice that is cultivated in the area is exported. Not hard to believe as there are no shortage of rice paddies here!
As would be expected these rivers are one of the main ways of getting products from A to B. Every few minutes we saw big boats sliding by carrying construction materials, raw logs, bricks, sand, gravel, whatever!
One thing most of the fishing boats we saw had in common were eyes painted on the front. We were told this served two purposes. The first was to help the fishermen find fish. Never hurts to have another set of peepers I suppose. The other was to scare off….crocodiles? We were not told there were crocs when we were asked if we could swim!
First stop: The floating market
We continued west for a half hour to reach the larger of the two floating markets in the area that are still in operation. Nowadays, most trade is done on land and the market is only a fraction of what it used to be. Still an important aspect of trade in the area, we got the impression that the tourism associated was doing its part to keep it “afloat”
First we arrived at the market and it was hectic. There was a bit of smashup derby going on. Some territorial shit between vendors perhaps. We were starting to understand why our guide asked us earlier if we could swim. Although we were never in any real danger, we could see now how anything could happen. She joked later that although now in her 20th trip she felt comfy it was not always the case. The first time she went she did not like it. It can be a rough ride at times.
Next stop: our floating breakfast
After about an hour on the water we stopped for breakfast. This is where it was obvious we were in among tourism. We were tied up alongside a boat with some other larger boats full of a lot of people doing their not so private Mekong Delta tour. We were all getting a glimpse of the market the only way possible, with some type of guidance.
The best noodle soup we had in our first 2 weeks in Vietnam was served to us while we sat soaking in the scene. Topped off with a strong black coffee, we slipped out and headed off for our next location.
Last stop: the rice noodle factory
After our tasty breakfast it was time to take a trip further down one of the countless canals .
Out of the big boat traffic it was very mellow. We talked with Huyen about all things Vietnam while on our way to our next stop which was the rice noodle factory.
Here we saw how rice noodles were made old school style. We were told that although the factory was in use it was largely for tourism as the lion’s share of noodle making was done with machines in larger factories. Still really neat to see though.
Wrapping up after an awesome morning on the Mekong Delta
We rounded out our 4 hour trip (turns out it took 4 instead of 3 hours! Yay us!) with some fresh pineapple and a slow cruise back in the late morning sun.
What a great experience! Remember, this tour can be done from HCMC but we were happy that we opted to visit Can Tho, relax and start at sunrise when the market starts. From what we were told, the former can be done but it makes for a very rushed day.
So do you prefer to take organized tours or hire locals independently? Leave us a comment below and let us know your thoughts on why you prefer one way over the other.
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