The Mekong meanders 4,350km through six countries from the Tibetan Plateau to the great Delta where it empties into the sea. The river brings fertility to the plains of Southern Vietnam and turns it into the country’s most productive region in agri- and aquaculture. A paradise for bird watchers, nature enthusiast and people who want to experience local life, the Mekong Delta is a must-see on every trip to the South of Vietnam.
To fully experience this unique area you should plan in at least two days, particularly as it takes some time to get there.
Things To Do
Take a boat tour along the Mekong
Most definitely the main reason to visit the Mekong Delta is its vast network of wide rivers and tiny streams which can best be explored from the water. A boat tour brings you close into the heart of this unique ecosystem and lets you marvel at the stunning nature and serene atmosphere.
Most tours follow a similar route:
- head to your boat in the early morning hours when the city is already bustling with early rising locals
- board your barge and set off into the light of the slowly rising sun above the river
- arrive at the Floating Market of Cai Rang and maneuver through the house boats of the locals, overladen with all kinds of goods and get some fruit or ice cold coffee for your onward travel from one of the nice sales ladies
- continue along the river and stop at a local factory on the way, depending on your guide this could be a coconut candy, brickwork or rice noodle factory (which we visited)
- snack on some yummy sticky rice cakes or spicy banana chips while you ship along the streams that become gradually narrower
- have some delicious, homemade lunch somewhere along the river and take a nice walk around the area where you can see the local way of life
- get deeper into the jungle and spot some wildlife here and there
- on the return trip to Can Tho lean back and enjoy a nice nap shielded from the midday sun under the boat’s canopy
We booked our tour with Can Tho Tourist and paid 900.000VND (35€, 31£, 40$) excluding 20.000VND for coffee at the Floating Market and 200.000VND for the lunch (for us and our guide). All in all we thus paid around 21€ each which we thought was worth it since we’d had a great day.
However, I’m sure you could get cheaper than that if you were willing to share a boat with others or are simply better at negotiating. (We had just arrived in Vietnam two days earlier and hadn’t yet gotten used to haggling)
Experience local life through a homestay
Homestays are always a fantastic experience no matter where you are in the world. Especially in rural areas they give you a unique perspective on the local way of life and traditions and connects you to the people on a very familistic level.
At this point however I won’t just tell you to go and do a homestay but will rather entrust a very specific one to you: Mr. Thai’s Homestay near by Ben Tre.
We had the opportunity to stay with the lovely Mr. Thai and his family for two days and I am not exaggerating when I say that this short stay was truly life changing. Mr. Thai is such a kind and wise old soul with many stories to tell which were everything from inspiring to devastating. His attitude to life made a lasting impression on me and made me realize once again how much you learn when you travel.
Mr. Thai lives in a small community in a very rural area surrounded by fruit orchards and rice paddies. Most people there still work in traditional agriculture and it was incredibly interesting to explore the area by foot and by bike.
We stayed in a cozy little open hut that was built on stilts over the pond so we could hear the fish beneath us, the vivid yet silent sounds of nature at night and the cockcrow at the crack of dawn. The calm atmosphere was perfect to unwind for a bit, especially after the urban chaos of Ho-Chi-Minh-City.
Mrs. Thai is a superb cook and spoiled us with luscious homemade dishes composed of fish from their pond, rice from their fields and fresh fruit from their trees.
On one day we got to meet Mr. Thai’s 79-year-old neighbour Mr. Hu who took us on a bike tour around the area stopping at points of interest and explaining to us about the flora and fauna, history and lifestyle of the people. He even invited us to his home where he gave us a small Vietnamese language lesson for he had been a teacher in his younger days.
Overall the time we spent at Mr. Thai’s homestay was one of the best experiences on our Vietnam trip and I will wholeheartedly recommend this to you. For more information see my accommodation recommendations at the end of this post.
Explore Can Tho
I wouldn’t say Can Tho is worth a trip to the south itself but while you are in the area it is a great home base for day trips to the area and nice for a half-day exploration.
Definitely plan a trip to the promenade in the evening where you can enjoy some touristy action with many bars and restaurant looking out over the water where the party ships put out to sea, their glimmering lights reflecting on the water. Stop by the huge golden Ho Chi Minh statue and enjoy the general cheerful atmosphere while munching on some delicious food.
If you have some more time to spare you can also rent a motorbike and explore the surroundings. Drive along one of the pompous and completely empty avenues that are used exclusively by farmers drying their harvest on the street and find yourself in a rural area with buffalos and cows grazing on the fields within fifteen minutes.
On our way back we accidentally took some wrong turns and ended up in the city centre but after a momentary adrenaline rush we enjoyed it immensely. So if you want to try motorbiking in a city, do it here — it’s still thrilling enough but not quite as dangerous as driving in Ho-Chi-Minh-City.
How To Get There
The best way to get to the Mekong Delta is from Ho-Chi-Minh-City. The infrastructure in the south of the country is probably the worst developed one you will encounter in Vietnam but you will still get anywhere you want to go.
Since there are no trains you will have to take a bus from Ho-Chi-Minh-City which takes supposedly 4 hours (we did manage this on the way there) but can take sufficiently longer, like twice as long. So plan enough time for your arrival and departure and be prepared for a long trip.
I recommend you go with Futabus, one of the leading bus companies in Vietnam. We booked our bus tickets with this company on many trips throughout the country and were almost always punctual, with friendly service and modern buses (air-conditioned, free WIFI and water). I would recommend you book a sleeper bus as they are much more comfortable on longer trips and are also equipped with a toilet, but they do have Seater buses available as well.
Buses run 4 times an hour between 8am and 7pm and once every hour during the night. Tickets are only around 100.000VND (4€) and you can get tickets online, at the bus station or any ticket office in Ho-Chi-Minh-City or somewhere along the way.
Pro Tip: Take a Grab taxi to the ticket station or walk there. If you buy a bus ticket there it includes the transfer to the main bus station outside the city and is much cheaper than getting there yourself (FUTA Ticket Office: 272 Đề Thám, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh or ask your hotel reception)
Where To Stay
Tay Ho Hotel — Can Tho
Find it on booking.com
We stayed at Tay Ho Hotel for two nights which was recommended to us by an info lady at the bus station in Can Tho when we asked for a cheap and central hotel. Prices start at 350.000VND (14€, 12£, 15$) per night for a double room.
- very nice location, right at the promenade opposite of the Ho-Chi-Minh-Statue with restaurants and nightlife within walking distance
- large room with TV, Aircon, Mini Fridge
- laundry service
- mostly friendly personnel, very helpful, gave us a map and explained what to do in the area
- motorbike rental (200.000VND originally, haggled to 100.000VND for an afternoon)
- unfortunately no window in the standard rooms
Hong Thai Homestay — Ben Tre
Find it on booking.com (not up to date with the photos and information so it’s best to call Mr. Thai (+84 91 455 73 86) and arrange a stay personally)
We stayed for two nights at this wonderful homestay and paid 600.000VND (24€, 21£, 26$) for two nights/two people including breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as pick-up and pick-off in Ben Tre.
- awesome rural location and very authentic experience
- super friendly owner Mr. Thai
- the BEST food homemade by Mrs. Thai
- a cozy open hut with a bathroom (only cold rain water), a fan and mosquito net over the bed
- our bus to My Tho arrived super late and didn’t even stop in the city, we were left standing at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and called Mr. Thai. He immediately rounded up three neighbours and picked us up with motorbikes to carry the large backpacks as well. On the way back they brought us to the Futabus ticket office in Ben Tre — both trips were included in the price and would have been ridiculously expensive with a taxi.
- Mr. Thai arranges boat or bike tours for you for a very good price
Unfortunately, on our second night a lot of people arrived so all of the cabins were filled. Thus it became a little loud and took something away from the calming atmosphere that we found so special about this place. To avoid this call Mr. Thai in advance to make sure the homestay will be relatively calm during your stay.
Please note that this homestay is very far outside Ben Tre and there is pretty much nothing there except the small town with a tiny grocery store and the surrounding nature. As your food is provided by Mr. Thai though this should be no problem and you can enjoy your time by relaxing, exploring the area, experiencing rural life and biking or doing a boat tour. For us, this was absolute heaven but for others, it might not be, so just be aware of this fact.
Have you been to the Mekong Delta before? Did you book a tour or did you go by yourself? What did you like best about the Mekong Delta? I’d love to hear about your experience!