Me Wrong About Mekong

Best things to do in the Mekong Delta

Before experiencing the best of the Mekong Delta, my imagination cruised me down quiet rivers shaded by palms, while other sampans paddled over to sell me tropical fruits. I was shocked to discover there was very little serenity and very little shade. There were the canals of Ben Tre, but they were set aside for tourists, as you can see from our Raiden hats and in the faces of the happy boat people of the Mekong.

Cruising Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta

Ben Tre Boat Cruise

A more logical person would recognize that civilization started in the land between two rivers, and that future civilizations would follow suit. Like the more than twenty million Vietnamese–a quarter of the country’s population–who now live in the land between nine rivers (or the nine major branches) of the muddy Mekong. With a huge population comes the ugliness of industry, traffic, trash, and of course tourism.

But there were certain aspects of the Mekong Delta region that made the trip worthwhile.

The Best of the Mekong Delta

Houses on the Mekong River

Home Stay in the Mekong Delta

One of the best experiences in the Mekong Delta was our home stay. While it wasn’t exactly a stay in a home, our visit to the Hung Home Stay afforded us an extra journey down the river, providing a taste of the Mekong at dusk: Women washed their dishes and clothes while balancing on shaky boards that extended from their stilthouse homes. Fishermen bathed in the Mekong, toddlers leaned against baby gates as life swept past their inquisitive eyes, river weeds floated down in clumps while keeping heaps of trash buoyant in its network of leaves, men fixed their in-river bamboo fences that swayed with our wake.

Hung Homestay in the Mekong Delta

The bamboo and palm leave huts we stayed in at Hung’s, while slightly dirty, were on the tranquil waters and gave us the chance to chat with the Vietnamese and other travelers as we shared Elephant Ear Fish that we wrapped up with rice paper, vermicelli and basil. Marissa and I dined with a Dutch family and listened to the father recount stories of traveling through South America in the ’80s and playing for the Netherlands national water polo team. Later in the evening, the owner, Hung, handed out bags of rice wine, which he had punctured with a chopstick that acted like a stopper.

Vietnamese rice wine

Floating Markets on the Mekong

In the morning, we returned to the Mekong River and boated up to the busy Cai Rong market in Can Tho. There, boats overflowed with pineapples, watermelons, and cabbage being sold wholesale to locals cruising up in smaller vessels. All of the boats were devoid of color, having lost their hues to the Mekong. Like leeches, the small beverage and food boats latched onto our ship to try to sell us coffee and pho. The “lucky boat” didn’t have to move anywhere. Everyone motored to the man and his lotto stands, leaving with a slip of paper and the dream of retiring from a life of sleeping in the aft of their ships among the pots and pans and clothes drying on lines.

Buying Cabbage at the Floating Markets in the Mekong Delta

Vendors at Can Tho Floating Market

The Lucky Boat in the Mekong Delta

Near Chau Doc

Other highlights of the Mekong Delta are two short trips from the lackluster town of Chau Doc, only worth stopping at if you’re headed to Cambodia. The best site is the temple atop Sam Mountain. The temple’s architects had fused the building with the mountain. Thus mirrored rooms filled with Buddhas would lead to hallways and staircases that bent around stalagmites and stalactites. Most interesting was that the hilltop temple was home (or a place for a stop-over) to female monks.

Much closer to Chau Doc was a Muslim Cham community. They live about twenty meters back from the Mekong River in stilted homes. But when the waters rise, as it does each year, the Cham homes are nearly sunk. Peak water levels are marked off accurately on the ten-foot stilts, except for in 2000 when the river had breached their patios. On the short trip back to Chau Doc, we stopped off at fish farms on house boats. Resident farmers raise their livestock in tanks below their floating homes.

Cham Homes Near Chau Doc

Note: I booked a tour with TNK Travel, the same folks who brought me to the Cu Chi Tunnels for $5. Our tour through the Mekong Delta cost $38 each for three days. You can imagine all the dead things we found in our rooms. Though there were a few highlights of the Mekong, be ready for some lowlights, too: we watched locals produce rice paper, coconut candies, and rice wine; we listened to boring, traditional Vietnamese music (I mean look at those guys); we spent most of our time traversing the Mekong Delta by bus. I’m not sure if there is a better option to see the region, since all of the above sites are very spread out. But fret not, if you’re on your way to Cambodia, a trip through the delta breaks up the journey with the above sites. I just felt bad for those who had to return to Ho Chi Minh City. Based on their complaints, I don’t think a Mekong Delta trip should be a part of your itinerary if you’re doing a round-trip from Saigon.

Vietnamese Musicians

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Asia, Somewhere

9 Responses to Me Wrong About Mekong

  1. Juliann

    I love the pictures and honesty of your post. This seems like something I’d like to do if I find myself near the Mekong, so I pinned it. Otherwise I’ll never remember the part about the Home Stay. Thanks!

    • Noah Lederman

      Thanks Juliann. If you continue on to Cambodia, cross the border at Ha Tien and head to Kep instead of crossing up north and going straight to Phnom Penh

  2. sam lederman

    dead things in the room?
    another great spot to avoid.
    nice job on the writing.

  3. travelyn

    I think this will be an experience you will never forget and in time look on it as a great experience seeing and sharing a few days the life/existence that these people have. Really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

  4. Alex Kennedy

    Great photos of the Mekong, Noah. I’ve yet to visit that part of Southeast Asia. Your post reminded me of a passage in a novel I read recently set in ancient Angkor. After a war in Champa (ancient Vietnam) the prisoners are taken by boat to the royal court at Angkor. Judging from your images, things haven’t changed all that much in the last 1,000 years.

    Novel is called God King of Angkor, btw. Great read about that part of the world. Link below:

    • Noah Lederman

      Thanks for the message and book recommendation, Alex. I’ll check out the novel.

  5. Yosh

    hi, thank you so much for such wonderful info! My brother and I are planning to go down to Mekong Delta, but oh what a massive area it is…! your page really helps us have a grasp of where to go there 🙂

    such a shock though, what a great bargain you had on the price for your tour! how did you get that?
    We are on budget, so we are all ears 🙂

    • Noah Lederman

      There’s a street in Saigon where all the tour offices are located. It’s been a few years, so I don’t recall the name of the street, but it’s a major tourist hub with lots of popular nightlife. You can shop the street for the best tour that meets your interests and budget.

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