Another really early start for us. After a quick breakfast we got picked up by our tour guide who was pretty much on time and on we went with a smaller group southwards to the Mekong Delta. The drive takes around 2.5 hours including a pitstop at a preselected local cafe type hangout in the middle of nowhere (but on the highway to My Tho – the gateway to the Mekong Delta and our destination) with loads of hammocks and free breakfast for the guides and non-free cold drinks for us.
If you go on a tour like ours try to take as much of the scenery in as possible. The towns have a completely different feel and vibe to them compared to the bustling streets of Saigon. You will be amazed to see how many people and items can fit on a small scooter. The highest number of passengers on a scooter we have seen so far is five; the probably most bizarre and bulkiest item a fridge freezer. Cars being so expensive entire families rely on one small scooter or motorbike for transport and taking goods from A to B. Traffic is as manic as everywhere but luckily we haven’t had to witness any accidents so far.
On the way to My Tho you’ll pass numerous rice fields and if you look closely you will see a number of tombs in the middle of them. According to our tour guides in the past people were given the option to be put to their final rest on their fields. I say on not in because all tombs are above the ground.
From My Tho we took a boat across to a smaller island. This is where the real touristy stuff kicked in. First we sampled some locally produced honey tea which was genuinely nice followed by a sales presentation of a number of bee products including some magic cream that when applied lowers cholesterol levels and serves as an aphrodisiac. Needless to say no scientific evidence exists to support these and any of the other facts mentioned on the A4 sheet given to you during the presentation.
After the honey tea sampling experience we went on to the paddling boats. Another activity on the meticulously scheduled itinerary. The boat takes you through a small river part of the delta. It’s a pleasant experience but spoiled by mass tourism which makes it feel overcrowded and staged. I guess we knew what we signed up for and for the price we paid we really can’t complain.
The paddling tour was followed by a visit to a coconut candy manufacture. The coconut candy tastes amazing and it is sold on location at a really good price. It’s a good souvenir to take home home for friends and family. You can get it at Saigon airport as well but you’ll end up paying at least double for it.
Lunch which was included in the price was served on another island and this time it didn’t taste too bad. Highlight of the trip for us was the cycle out of tourist central into the nearby villages where Europeans are hardly seen. The locals especially the children are super friendly and were excited to see us – running up to the street, waving and shouting “hello”. The bikes helped us to explore the real Vietnam. When we got back to the boats the rest of the group was already waiting for us even though we got back 10 minutes before the given time. It turned out that we were the only ones making good use of the bikes. Everyone else had stayed in the restaurant and returned to the boat early out of boredom hoping we would arrive soon. Some had the cheek to tell us we were late and made the rest of them wait. We chose to ignore them.
The last item on the Mekong Delta tour schedule was “traditional singing”. Again this is purely enacted for the masses of tours arriving every day. The music is interesting and different but tge rendition of “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” in English which was just slightly weird. During the last song you will be passed a basket with a small flower inside in which you leave a tip for the performers. Apparently the company that organises the trips only pays for the fruits that are offered and included in the overall price. The singers only get their income from the tips. Whether that’s true or not we don’t really know.
We left the Mekong Delta at around 4pm. It was overall a really enjoyable trip but if you have the luxury of time stay in the delta for a few days to really explore it. Motorbikes can be rented for little money and are ideal for exploring the area. We have heard that there are a good number of homestays available throughout the delta. Hotels exist in the bigger villages but please don’t expect a Hilton.