Yesterday we spent an amazing day going around the beautiful Mekong Delta. The Delta is Vietnam’s ‘rice bowl’ as it produces more than a third of the country’s annual food crop. The Vietnamese refer to the Delta as Cuu Long (nine dragons). It originates in Tibet and covers more than 4000km before it reaches Vietnam (through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia), making it the third longest river in Asia. We explored the river next to My Tho and Ben Tre, which are about 2 hours outside of HCMC. My Tho is a market town located in the Mekong’s northernmost tributary and Ben Tre is a laid back province just south of My Tho.
We began the day early and drove through the countryside before reaching My Tho after about 1.5 hours. We got straight onto a motorised boat and made our way down the river. My ignorance about rivers meant that my expectations were very different to what I saw. I didn’t realise how wide the river would be (with hindsight, considering how big it is I should have expected some diversity) and was expecting quite a thin river for some reason. I was also surprised at how quiet it was: there were very few other boats (we saw a couple illegally collecting sand from the bottom of the river) and hardly saw any other tourists all day.
Firstly we drove past a catfish farm in the middle of the river, which to be honest did not really hold any appeal for me. After about 15 minutes, we were dropped off at Phoenix Island where we were shown how rice paper is made and tried some strange mix of something (not sure what it was but it tasted doughy) as well as some sweet tapioca. We then visited a ‘factory’ of handicraft made from coconut trees (abundant in the Mekong) and saw some pretty impressive items made out of coconut eg chopsticks, statues, bracelets. After we had a nice lunch, which included the local favourite elephant-ear fish spring rolls. We then got back onto the boat and drove for about 20 minutes, taking in the beautiful scenery: the vast river, the small villages along the banks of the river, fishing techniques, bright green reeds and vegetation and a jet ski!
Our next destination was a bee-keeping farm where we held a placard (no idea what the name is) where the bees live with about 100 bees just hanging out on it. We then tried the best honey tea I have ever had and some other honey-themed snacks eg honey roasted nuts (so good). It was then a short walk around the corner where we got a horse and cart to our next stop. I have no idea how this poor tiny horse managed to get six grown adults down the bumpy road, but he/she did. After we sat down to eat some tropical fruits (dragon fruit, pineapple, and some other fruits native to Vietnam that I didn’t know the name of but they were yummy) and listen to traditional music and singing. When we were leaving, me and Becky decided to eat some of the fruit that other tables in our group had left, thinking that people had gathered on the ‘stage’ area to play the instruments. However, when we finally stopped stuffing our faces with fruit, we walked to the front and one of the women was holding a snake. So of course me, Becky and Taylor volunteered to do it too. Even though I knew it wouldn’t hurt me I was much more intimidated than I thought I would be because it felt so strong.
Next was a slow, meandering row-boat ride down a narrow part of the Delta, much more what I expected. It was very peaceful and relaxing, epitomised by some of the other rowers we passed who were sleeping in their boats… the Vietnamese do love to sleep. We then got back on the motorised boat to our last stop, viewing a coconut candy production process. The process wasn’t particularly interesting but the eating was. It was quite an unusual flavour but nice at the same time. We also tried coconut wine, which was very strong but a lot better than rice wine, which I really don’t like.
The drive back to HCMC took about 2 hours. We got the bus back to our district and went for dinner at a ‘vegetarian’ restaurant down the road… Typical Vietnamese experience! So it’s vegetarian but the menu has ‘vegetarian chicken’, beef and goat on it. We ordered spring rolls to share (so far so good), then I got my ‘noodles and vegetables’, which had some suspicious items in so the girls tried it and said it was meat, then Taylor got her ‘goat’ but she didn’t seem to have any meat at all, just mushrooms… Was a very strange dining experience.
On the way to the bus stop we had picked up a dessert from Tous Les Jours, so I enjoyed my amazing baked goods once we got home. The evening was just washing (still have to do the boring things) and hanging out. All in all it was a great Saturday.
The Mekong is beautiful and I wish I had more time to explore it. Time seems to pass much slower and it has a laid back feel. I loved trying all the locally produced foods and snacks, although I felt stuffed all day. It was also nice to escape the city for the day and the breeze was very welcome too.