Why You Must Visit the Mekong Delta
If you’ve been following our Southeast Asia honeymoon, you’re probably aware of our regrettable travel mistake by now: Booking only TWO days in Vietnam! We dedicated one day to Ho Chi Minh City, exploring the energetic, bustling and history-laden south, and one day discovering the lush, green Mekong Delta; equally impressive in drastically different ways.
The Mekong Delta is a fertile region, considered the lifeblood – and sometimes “the rice bowl” – of South Vietnam. It encompasses nearly 16,000 square meters, producing the majority of Vietnam’s rice, fruit and vegetable supplies. Nearly everything is afloat in the delta: The Mekong River, starting at the Tibetan plateau, flows into a series of nine small tributaries and eventually empties into the sea.
Most notably, the people are incredibly relaxed, positive, welcoming and genuinely content. Here’s a recap of our day in the Mekong Delta. By the end of this post, I hope we’ve convinced you to add the delta to your travel bucket list.
Post-Vietnamese coffee, we were picked up bright and early by our adorably chipper guide: Hang from Water Buffalo Tours. With a dedicated driver, Hang took us to our first stop in Can Giuoc, where we paid a short visit to the colorful, vibrant Cao Dai Temple – a combination of most major religions on earth. Our day-trip apparently coincided with a traditional ceremony in Vietnam called Cung Ong Tao Thus, so several ladies were preparing special items in the kitchen space behind the temple. Each female, from young child to elderly grandmother, sat on the kitchen floor conversing, laughing and prepping her individual tasks. Incredible sight, with infectious energy; we only wished we could stay around to eat the meal!
Next, we headed out to the Co Kong Market, a rural, informal setting with very friendly (and curious!) locals. We were the ONLY tourists, and let me assure you, we were the talk of the entire market! Hang intervened in the “gossip,” as she called it, and translated some of the hysterical highlights: Some locals called my husband “Godzilla” (he’s only 5’11), and many thought we looked like siblings (yikes!).
As expected, the liveliness was irresistible within the market. Lots of laughs, smiles and vivacity, although living very simply. And, the setting is truly authentic. That is, all sorts of animals and birds are very much so alive – which changes quickly when you make a purchase. Many locals opt to “make the kill” at home so they can keep the blood for soups and broths.
After saying farewell to our new friends, we drove to Tan Hoa to visit a local family’s legumes nursery. Incredibly, their labor-intensive, seed-by-seed form of farming yields a few-hundred-thousand chilis and tomato sprouts. The family welcomed us in their home and even chopped a coconut from their tree so we could drink the fresh water. We clearly couldn’t verbally communicate in the native Vietnamese language; however, we all seemed to understand one another, sharing a few laughs and universal gestures.
A short walk away, we hopped on motorbikes and rode through a picturesque, remote village, dotted with coconut palm trees. Along the route, we witnessed carefree, uniformed school boys on lunch breaks and women working in the greenest mazes of rice paddy fields.
But, the highlight of the day, was a fresh seafood lunch at a restaurant on Tan Thanh Beach. Perfect setting and a never-ending amount of food just pulled from the water. Hang taught us how to unpeel fresh prawns and insisted on eating our shrimp heads after we pulled them off (“the sweetest part!”). She also introduced us to local fruits, which she had purchased at the market earlier – rambutan, mangosteen, dragon fruit and jack fruit.
Post-meal, we drove to My Tho pier, where we embarked on a traditional, wooden boat to cross the mighty Upper Mekong River, lined with floating fish farms. Along the way, we saw water homes, fuel stations and markets.
As we approached Ben Tre province on the other side, we switched to a small sampan to wind through the narrow, green and lush, Amazon-like creek of Tan Thach. No joke, this looked like a setting out of Jurassic Park.
We walked through the fertile province and were introduced to a local family’s distilled rice wine (ruou de). The home-made beverage uses cooked sticky rice, first mashed, then mixed with water and yeast, and left to ferment; oh, and it smells like rubbing alcohol once fermented, so I said a polite no thank you. But a firmer ‘no thank you’ to the legendary snake wine they shared with us thereafter.
Our driver picked us up in the Ben Tre province, and lastly, we drove through the Rach Mieu suspension-bridge, boasting a tremendous view of the Upper Mekong and its islets. We sat in serious motorbike rush hour traffic once back on Highway 1, before arriving back at our hotel in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City.
Don’t miss out: This was one of the most memorable days of our entire honeymoon adventure throughout Southeast Asia, and we’re still obsessed with Hang.