The important thing about going to the south of Vietnam is to visit the Mekong Delta. The Mekong River is one of the longest river in Asia that runs through 7 economies: Thailand, China, Tibet, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. The Mekong Delta is located near Ho Chi Minh City, a perfect destination for your weekend away from the city.
*Note: getting a tour is very affordable but I would highly recommend you NOT to do that. The main tours are horrible and a waste of time and money. More information below.
The Mekong River
The Mekong river provides livelihood to millions of people in South East Asia, including the cities in Vietnam like Ben Tre, Cai Be, Can Tho, Vung Tau and even Mui Ne. At the Mekong delta, you will find 5 “islands”. Not the islands with 1 coconut tree and clear pristine waters, but they are still worth exploring. Being quite a superstitious culture, the islands are called “Dragon island”, “Phoenix island” and even “Unicorn island”.
The Mekong River is such an attraction because you can see life being built around it. The river delta feeds millions of people in the region. Houses are built to accommodate the high and low tides, businesses are established due to the river trade and transportation methods are different.
How To Spend A Weekend In The Mekong Delta
I am assuming that you are going to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). It is really cheap and easy to get there on your own. I highly DO NOT recommend to go with any tours, because it is easy to do it on your own, and the tours I had & reviews from others are all very negative. (But hey, just my personal opinion. Go ahead and book your tour if you want to. I wrote a little review at the bottom.)
You could spend 2 days in the Mekong this way:
- Ho Chi Minh City – My Tho – Ben Tre – Vinh Long – Can Tho – Rach Gia Town – Phu Quoc – Ho Chi Minh City
- Ho Chi Minh City – Vinh Long – Can Tho – Ho Chi Minh City
From Ho Chi Minh City, take the local long distance buses. I recommend Futa Bus, known as the Phuong Trang bus lines. I tried them before and do like them. The seats are not too bad and you also get a bottle of water for your trip.
You can arrive in Can Tho first to put your bags down and explore the city. Alternatively, you can pack light and travel with your bags and only check in when you are going to rest for the night. You can also take the bus directly to Vinh Long or Rach Gia. Check out the prices and schedules here.
How to get to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City
Futa bus address (Saigon): 80 Tran Hung Dao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City 70000, Vietnam
Duration: 3.5h, if you go to Can Tho. Different destinations take different times but it is about 2-3.5h away from Saigon
Cost: about US$5 one-way (110,000 VND), if you go to Can Tho. The prices vary with the destinations. Check out the prices on Futa Website here.
Booking: you can call them to book (1900 6067), book online or just go to any of their offices to book the next bus to the Mekong Delta. There are buses leaving every 30min.
Exploring My Tho
My Tho is 2h away from Saigon, and it is the nearest city in the Mekong Delta from Saigon. Why My Tho? From there, you can catch boats to Dragon, Tortoise and Unicorn islands. (I told you they have interesting names for the islands.) There, you can rent a boat across the Tien River to Tuoi Son island and Ben Tre. There, the boats will take you to coconut candy manufacturing, a little boat tour around the delta and try out some local tropical fruits.
You can also take a trip to Phoenix island and check out the crocodile fishing or cycling in the area. However, I have to admit that everything there is meant for tourists. If I could, I would even give My Tho a miss. The only interesting part is to be on the local boats and go on a little round in the delta. Nonetheless, it is nothing close to authentic.
There is nothing much to do in Ben Tre, but you can take the boat to Ben Tre. It is a small town, so it means less tourist and more authentic local lifestyle. You can consider renting a bicycle and cycle along the rice paddy or check out the local wet markets in Vietnam. Raw meat hanging on hooks and live chicken in little straw cages. It is quite a sight, especially I don’t see live chickens in wet markets. You can take a motor-taxi back to the ferry pier.
Take the local bus to Vinh Long. This is one of the popular towns to visit. There are homestays there and you get to see many backpackers in the area. You can also find lots of reviews of homestays in Vinh Long by the Delta. However, I would recommend a homestay in Can Tho. Many backpackers will explore the city in Vinh Long and spend the night in the homestay while learning how to make spring rolls and hang out with the locals.
Homestay: Hung Homestay in Can Tho
Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong Delta. There is the tallest building in the Mekong Delta in Can Tho. It is a very large mall, basically. There are also night markets and street food around, so you can visit if you have time.
For us, we visit Can Tho and spend a night in Hung Homestay by the Mekong Delta. It is about 15min drive with a taxi to the homestay, but I absolutely loved it! It was the only homestay in the region, and the houses around are local residents. It was just so beautiful to spend the night by the Mekong delta.
I shared a room with another girl and we had 2 beds. There was also a mosquito net and it just felt 100% princess like. Call me Princess and the Mosquito Net, cause peas are overrated. The room was made of wood and straw. It was rather cooling at night and there was a small toilet in the room. The back door opened to the Mekong delta and you see boats there.
We rested for a few minutes and headed to the dining area. We were learning how to make spring rolls as they cooked other food for our dinner. We made fried spring rolls with lentils, tofu and some other vegetables. We didn’t exactly do a very good job rolling up the spring rolls. Two broke in the pot of hot oil. (oops)
We returned to the dining table after cooking spring rolls and they served us tomato-based tofu, fresh steamed fish, vegetables and cooked beans. We made other types of spring rolls and ate it with rice. It was so delicious!
There was also a group of students there. They were learning English so we spent time talking. They were shocked at my level of English and though I was American or Canadian. I guess it does not occur to them that Singapore is a country that speaks English. We were also drinking the local alcohol, known as Happy Water. Maybe because all of us (Irish, Canadian, American-born French and me, a Singaporean) are very fluent in English, so perhaps we were speaking too fast with too much sarcasm, irony and inside jokes, they were not exactly catching up. So in the end, what do you do with playing cards and alcohol? You make friends over drinking games.
We had such a fun time playing. We end up finishing all the alcohol and they had to return home. We chatted a little more then everyone got carried away with the free WiFi. We went to bed early because we had to get up early the next day for the floating market!
Cai Rang Floating Market
Do this floating market in the morning. The floating market starts really early so I would recommend you to take up early and visit the market from 6.30am to 7.30am. There are boats from Hung Homestay to the floating market, you can discuss it with Mr Hung to arrange it. Get a round trip so you return to the homestay.
Yes, you’re going to say “Bangkok has the floating market too”. Well, it’s quite different here. In Thailand, the floating market has “sampans” with colorful food on it. The goods sold are cooked food and souvenirs. You also get straw houses as restaurants on the riverbank. The floating market in Thailand is very much made for consumers and tourists.
In the Mekong Delta, the floating market is really a way of life. It is more “local”, which means you don’t see the colorful food and fruits like those in Bangkok. You also don’t see small sellers with an assortment of items on their boats. Instead, you see a relatively big boat selling a huge quantity of the same stuff. For instance, pineapples. Sellers sell to local shopkeepers in kilograms. The floating market is more made for local businesses instead of consumers and tourists.
So how do they advertise the products they are selling? On the boats, you will see a long stick. On the stick, they tie their products on it! So you get to see watermelon skin, pineapple, cabbages, lettuce and all sorts of items hanging on top of the boats! They also do sell to consumers. I bought a pineapple for 40,000 VND and they cut it for you on the spot. There are also a few cooked food small boats around, selling noodles, coffee or snacks to tourists or those workers.
I added Rach Gia because there is a bus from Saigon to Rach Gia. It is also the gateway to the beaches in the south of Vietnam. There is also a plane from Ho Chi Minh City, if you are interested. It is also the way to get to Phu Quoc, a resort island in Vietnam. Rach Gia is a fishing town, so you can be sure to grab some seafood.
Instead of starting in Can Tho like the rest, you can start your journey in Rach Gia and head towards Can Tho and then back to Saigon.
I have not been to Phu Quoc yet, but it is high on my list. I heard that the beaches are beautiful and clear, and there are national parks there. It is also a great destination for diving and chilling. There are more and more resorts in the area now, and it is turning into a luxury destination for people living in Saigon. So, it is good to go now, before it is filled with even more tourists!
You can spend a weekend in Phu Quoc or take a boat from Rach Gia to spend a day and fly back to Saigon via VietjetAir.
Local Tour Review (I Hate The Tour.)
In general, I don’t like following main tour groups. I have not been in a main tour group for as long as I can remember. So this weekend, I thought to myself, “well it’s been years since I have had such experience. Let’s see how it will go”. It was horrible.
*disclaimer: this is my own personal experience and it is not to deem any operators or persons. It is my experience thus far
I found out that there are many tour companies selling the exact same tour for different prices. Yet, they are NOT THE ONES operating the tours! They are just the middle man selling it. So they can make 101 promises on the tour program, but on the tour itself, the operators blatantly said “we did not promise that. You have to go back to where you booked the tour to ask your questions”. I could not have a more furious weekend.
In the list, they promised a bunch of things like cycling trip, visiting monkey bridge, going to the national park and doing more activities. Yet, we spent most of the time on the bus, travelling from places to places. The entire 2 days could be condensed into 1 day. They also did not do the things stated above: cycling trip, visiting monkey bridge, going to the national park. They simply claimed “it was raining so the floor is wet, we can’t cycle” or simply “we did not promise these activities. Your booking agent did.” Gee, I didn’t know you could push the blame around this easily.
So whatever, I have paid. I might as well try to enjoy it. I met many other trevellers and we started talking and making friends. It was really nice. We had 7 english-speaking trevellers (including me) and they were from England, Ireland, Canada and US. The rest were Vietnamese and since I could not speak Vietnamese, I joined the English speaking crew. There was also a Singaporean couple that only spoke mandarin so I was trying to bridge them with the English speaking crew. I had a nice time thanks to them.
We started speaking about the price that we have paid. Turns out, I paid TWICE the amount they paid and got the EXACT SAME THING! It was just insane. They booked it via their hostel for the lower rate while I booked it online. It is such a huge disappointment.
In short, I strongly DO NOT RECOMMEND you to book a tour for your Mekong trip. It is cheaper to do it on your own. In fact, you save more time and will definitely have a better experience. The places we went to were not even an inch close to what authenticity is. Everything was made for tourists. I ABSOLUTELY hate it with all my energy. I am just so glad to meet all these nice souls along the way and hope to meet them again.
If you want an awesome Mekong experience, do plan the itinerary on your own.