The Mekong Delta is a network of rivers and tributaries emptying the mighty Mekong river into the South China Sea. Despite its muddy and dirty appearance, the delta is home to over 1,000 animal species as recorded between 1997 and 2007. The river is predominantly used for transporting goods and nowadays tourists. Years ago the river was used by the residents simply to get around, as the dirt roads and daily rain in the wet season were not conducive to wheeled transport.
This trip started off a little hairy; it was booked (and paid for in full) on a subsequently lost card. Unfortunately the tour company's policy was that without being able to present the card used to book, you have to pay again...After much deliberation they decided that Lorna was in fact who she said she was. It helps having memorised her card details!
More often than not, when day tripping within Vietnam you're in for a long journey. This was no exception; roughly three hours and one rest stop later, we arrived in Bến Tre province south of Saigon, and boarded our tour boat.
The first stop on the trip was to a coconut candy and honey workshop. Despite the rather uninspiring-sounding name, it was actually really quite interesting! We saw how they used malt and coconut milk to make toffee-like sweets, the separating of the coconut husks for rope and the finished product of coconut wine.
Let me start with the coconut wine: it neither tastes like coconut... nor like wine. Nor does it have the same alcohol content as wine, being 30% ABV. We're no amateurs when it comes to shots, but the mid-morning tipple was an interesting way to kick off our drinking for the day.
At the workshop they had a rather laissez-faire, low-tech approach to the beekeeping; some coconut husk was set alight to help repel the bees and we were allowed to mill around next to the hives. All in all, they seemed pretty relaxed and no one was stung.
The staff there proceeded to put on a musical show for us, whilst we sampled some honey tea and fruit. The music was somewhat eclectic... however the traditional instruments were made from coconut trees which was fitting.
There is a web of thousands of small streams all across the Delta. Below you can see what is called a 'monkey bridge' which is used to cross many of the waterways by foot. It is rumoured to have got its name because it was thought that only monkeys could cross it due to its lightweight bamboo construction and only a simple handrail which may or may not withstand human weight. We didn't attempt to cross one, but if you do - and are successful...or not, please let us know!
We had lunch as a local restaurant, which was more like somebody's garden. The food was basic but lovingly made, and the setting was beautiful, in the middle of nowhere with nature all around.
After lunch we had a ride on 'rickshaws' which were metal carts attached to a motorbike. We travelled along a series of roads, passages and bridges barely wide enough for the vehicle. We made it nonetheless to the small open boats, where local oarsmen punted along the still river.
There were four to a boat, we were with two other people from England, true to form then heavens opened and we all took out our pack-a-macs, providing a source of mirth for the other guests.
After transferring to a bigger (and covered) boat, we drove to Cần Thơ, the busiest city in the Mekong Delta. Our hotel here was that was an interesting place. The hotel had over 150 rooms but appeared to be empty apart from our group of 14; it was eerie and had a deserted-town feel about it. There was what appeared to be the shortest wedding in history going on, which ended at 6pm, and a very oddly placed empty spinning carousel placed in the vacant carpark.
To make things weirder, at dinner they placed Lorna and myself on our own table and the other 12 people in the groupon another. They said this was because we were vegetarian, however, as the meat dishes seemed to consist SOLELY of meat, I'm sure would have been able to figure out what was what.
After dinner we were driven in the hotel minibus to the Cần Thơ night market, which was frankly so disappointing that we decided to sit in a coffee shop and people-watch. Please note that in Vietnam unless you explicitly ask for plain black coffee with NO sugar you will end up with a sickly sweet black coffee-esque drink. The market was extremely small and had no atmosphere to it; we were given one hour to explore the stalls, and when we returned to the bus early to find half of the group already there...that said it all!
The following day we got up very early in order to head to the floating market. The breakfast at the hotel was actually pretty good- just remember that here, a soft-boiled egg is really just a slightly set yolk and almost wholly raw and liquid white.
Following breakfast, we headed to the pier and embarked on our floating market tour. Well, perhaps we set our expectations too high here. We both imagined a packed river with people buying and selling, imagine those iconic travel photos... In fact, we were met with a handful of boats, little atmosphere and a snack boat which attached themselves to our boat hoping to sell some drinks.
We headed back to our post-apocalyptic hotel for an average lunch, and then were on our way back to Ho Chi Minh City with a detour to fruit gardens and a bike ride. The bike ride provided a bit of much-needed exercise, and we were able to see an iconic tree in the Mekong Delta, which provided cover for Vietnamese soldiers during the war with America. There is only one tree but it spans hundreds of square meters with thousands of branches sprawling all over the ground and destroying walls and fences!
The Vietnamese people now use this location as a place to remember those who fought in the war, and we saw some people paying their respects. This was a rather solemn way to end the tour, and with our thoughts with them, we headed back to Ho Chi Minh City.