After arriving in Ho Chi Minh City and exploring a bit, we headed off to a somewhat quieter are, namely, the Mekong Delta.
Those of you who read the Travelhackers blog with any regularity know that we always put together and plan our trips completely on our own. But to really catch a better glimpse into the lives of the locals, we decided to do the Mekong Delta Tour with Tourasia, a company that specializes in travel within Asia.
From Ho Chi Minh City, we were taken directly to our hotel by car. Van, our German-speaking female tour guide for the next three days, explained the promising program to us during the drive to the floating market.
The Floating Market
After about a three-hour car ride, we transferred to a boat and explored the floating market. We should probably mention here that the earlier you get to the market, the more there is to see. The system for finding your way around the market is relatively simple: every large merchant’s boat features a protruding pole from which the merchants hang the products they sell. The smaller boats can then dock by the big boats, examine the merchandise, and negotiate. The floating market actually only deals in large quantities, although amiable vendors will also sometimes sell you a single pineapple, which is prepared right on the spot. The floating market starts daily at 5 a.m., shortly before daybreak.
From the market, we continued by boat to visit a family that, in addition to rice popcorn, also makes coconut candy. Many of these families produce homemade goods right next door to their homes, using the food products available to them in their country. When they’re not producing sweets, they make and sell rice wine with preserved snakes in it. These dead creatures have great value for believers, and Van told us that her husband received a bottle of that kind of wine several months after their wedding because she still wasn’t pregnant. The wine also contains goat testicles, which are supposed to be good for virility.
After our excursion, the boat continued to our lodge, and in between we also took a nice tour on a little canoe through the canals built by the locals. At noon, we stopped by the home of a family who taught us how to prepare fresh rolls. After that, there was a traditional singing performance.
The Coco Riverside Lodge
After traveling almost the whole day either by car or by boat, we arrived at the Coco Riverside Lodge in the early afternoon. This is a lodge that’s in the middle of nature and right on the river. The lodge itself consists of about five separate houses with terraces overlooking the river and a dining space. If you want, you can have your breakfast brought to your room, or you can enjoy it on another terrace overlooking the river. Dinner is served on the other side of the lodge. The emphasis here is definitely on local food. Along with traditional soup, there’s fish and meat with rice. To top it all off, there’s also local fruit. The lodge is truly lovely, and we would have loved to stay longer than three days.
The rivers are the most important mode of transport in the Mekong Delta. Early in the morning, loaded boats are already heading to market or transporting goods such as coconuts from one factory to the other. We also had a chance to see these factories. Situated alongside the river, these are small coconut-processing operations. Once the coconut has been shelled, the coconut fibers are removed from the husk to make rope, which in turn is used to weave rugs. You can watch the whole manufacturing process in a short period of time. Most of the work is done by hand at very low cost. The buyers are mostly foreign companies.
After this outing, we got on our bikes and rode through the green rice paddies and small villages. Once upon a time, there were wild animals there, but the settlements drove them out, and in the mornings you’re now awoken by roosters instead of monkeys. Along the way, we visited one of the many dragon fruit plantations. One interesting thing are the energy-saving lamps that light the plants at night, because in the winter they need continuous light in order to grow.
The Vietnamese who live in the south are very open and don’t hesitate to invite tourists into their homes. This allows you to catch a lot of glimpses into the local lifestyle. Most of them live with their extended family in a house that consists of a single space, without separate rooms. At night, they ensure their privacy by drawing a cloth across as a curtain.
Since we hadn’t seen enough of the floating market on the first day, Van very kindly adjusted the program so that we could visit another floating market before the end of the tour. We left the Coco Riverside Lodge very early in the morning and were rewarded with an exciting market adventure in Can Tho before our trip continued on to Mui Ne.
If you’d like to catch a glimpse into the lives of the locals, we recommend that you make a three to four day stop in the Mekong Delta. Through the different tours, you can see how the locals work and how even today the farmers ply their trade without the aid of large machines.