Visiting Mekong Delta: The heart of Vietnam
The first time we visited Vietnam, we were amazed by the size of this country. With only two weeks ahead of us, we decided not to spend long hours on trains and buses – instead, we chose one region to get to know properly. And we chose Mekong Delta.
Why visit Mekong Delta? Is a one-day tour enough?
Most people say Mekong Delta is good for a one day trip from Saigon. With limited time, most tourists opt for that and buy an organized group tour to one or two villages. After that, they move on to other popular destinations in Vietnam; tourism-oriented places like Halong Bay, Sapa, Hoi An or Nha Trang.
But what if you’re not into sightseeing among crowds of other tourists on organized package tours around Vietnam? What if you’d rather experience something real, no scams and tourist traps involved? Well, we might have a solution.
Try out staying in Mekong Delta for a little bit longer. Experience it properly, thoroughly. Take a local bus from Saigon and go on your own adventure. Have an experience like nobody else, your own personal tour across the canals. Talk to strangers, taste amazing fruit, rent a boat at the port and visit local floating markets! Sounds good? Well, read on.
Mekong Delta is one of the most underrated places in Vietnam, but thanks to that, it’s still a very off-the-beaten-track area. Today we will show you how you can take advantage of that. Make the most of your time in this marvelous region of Vietnam.
Reasons to visit Mekong Delta
First of all, there’s plenty of amazing things to do in Mekong Delta. You can go on a boat tour down the canals, visit a coconut candy manufacture, a rice paper manufacture, you can rent a bicycle and explore local villages or taste the wonderful cuisine of Southern Vietnam.
Second of all, there’s next to no tourists in Mekong Delta apart from the mentioned before one-day visitors. They rarely pop into the villages anyway as most of the tours go straight to various Buddhist temples or coconut candy factories near the canals and then go straight back to Saigon.
In this post, I’d like to introduce you to a couple of destinations we visited during our stroll across the south-western part of beautiful Vietnam towards the Cambodian border. Even if you decide to only spend in Mekong Delta a day or two, at least you can choose your destination wisely.
Guide to Mekong Delta
Mekong Delta is the region where the Mekong River empties into the South China Sea through a network of distributaries. It lies to the west of Ho Chi Minh City and as most tourists travel from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi or the other way around, people often decide to skip that part of Vietnam during their journey.
Here is a list of places you should visit in Mekong Delta:
Rent a boat and spend a great day in My Tho
Once we left Ho Chi Minh City, we took a local bus straight to My Tho, the capital of Tien Giang Province. Even though it’s a city, it’s nowhere near as busy as Saigon. With the population of only slightly over 200,000 people, it’s a good place to rest after a hectic stay in Ho Chi Minh. The most popular tourist attraction there is a boat ride down the My Tho River.
Why we couldn’t leave My Tho
We stayed in My Tho for 4 nights. Why? We simply couldn’t leave.
The accommodation we found was only 230,000 VND (approx. USD $10) a night for the two of us and it was in a great location just near the central market in My Tho.
The accommodations in My Tho are mostly very basic guesthouses and hostels (watch out for signs that say khach san or nha nghi), however, the one we found was really clean and equipped with a fridge and a high-speed wifi.
It was that, and the fact that the food in this town was also cheap and absolutely delicious. That’s why we couldn’t leave. As it was our first week in Vietnam, we couldn’t get enough of it all and, basically, spent our days eating and walking around town exploring temples and cafes.
Local vibe of a Vietnamese town in My Tho
My Tho is full of typical local coffee shops full of men smoking cigarettes and playing checkers. It was fascinating to be able to spend some time there. On the contrary to Saigon, there wasn’t any Starbucks or other coffee shop chains full of tourists in My Tho. It was a great place to actually have a taste of real Vietnam, not the touristy one.
On the contrary to Saigon, here there wasn’t any Starbucks or other coffee shop chains full of tourists. No shopping centers or heavy traffic. It was a great place to actually get a taste of real Vietnam, not the touristy one.
The main point of interest in my Tho is definitely the Vinh Trang Pagoda. It’s located in a walking distance from the town center. It’s a nice temple to visit and it’s where we first tried the most wonderful grilled bananas in a coconut sauce sold just outside the fence.
When in My Tho, I’d recommend renting a boat at the port and going for a day trip down the canals of the Mekong Delta. The price usually includes a visit to a coconut candy manufacture or a rice paper manufacture I mentioned before. This is also followed by a tasting of local fruit while you listen to traditional Vietnamese music and can also include a visit to a bee farm. There, you can try a fine Vietnamese honey and purchase other honey-based products from the vendors.
Four days there and we thought we could easily stay for another week. Just to chill, drink fresh sugarcane juice and eat delicious Vietnamese beef noodle soup at ridiculous prices (as low as 10,000 VND, which is less than USD $0,50). Unfortunately, we had limited time in Vietnam this time around. It was time to move on to our next destination.
Cycle around fruit plantations in Cai Be
We initially planned to go to Ben Tre, but changed our mind at the last minute. A friend we met on the way also visited Ben Tre and said it was very similar to My Tho in terms of things to do, so we decided to find a slightly different destination. Keep things fresh. That’s why we opted for a small town Cai Be about an hour away on a local bus.
While there, we found great accommodation in the heart of Mekong Delta. The hotel was run by a very friendly and helpful family and it was surrounded by plantations of tropical fruit, away from the town center and with no way of getting there by car. It was our little, secluded paradise, with air-con, breakfast and bike rental included in the price of the room. Who needs more than that?
You can check out or book the Sao Mai Hotel here. We’d definitely recommend it as it had a very homely vibe. The lady who owns it also made us sandwiches for the road on the day of our departure and, I mean, if someone feeds me… Just go there. If there’s one place I can’t recommend enough, this is the one. Cai Be is an experience you can’t miss out on.
We spent two days there, exploring Mekong Delta on bicycles. Cycling for hours around small local villages and talking to farmers and vendors, we were simply stunned by this area. One of the most picturesque and unforgettable places we’ve ever seen.
Enjoy a Vietnamese city-break in Can Tho
Can Tho was a drastic change of scenery after blissful, fruit-filled Cai Be and because we didn’t do our homework, for some reason we didn’t expect it to be the fourth largest city in Vietnam.
There’s a lot of accommodation options there for all budgets, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding something suitable.
Word of advice – don’t hesitate to bargain with owners of the smaller hotels. Due to a large number of available options, they are competitive and will probably give you a better price if you’re persistent.
The city itself is really pretty and well-kept. You can tell they look after it properly. While there, try and visit a few of the temples in the city: Nam Nha Pagoda, Binh Thuy Temple, Ong Chinese Pagoda (our favorite), or Quang Duc Pagoda.
There is also quite a few local markets in Can Tho and great restaurants serving gorgeous Vietnamese cuisine.
You can spend one afternoon checking out the floating market in Can Tho. It’s one of the main points of interest for tourists coming here.
Can Tho is a good transportation hub depending on where you want to go next in the delta.
We ended up staying in Can Tho for four nights due to the fact I got sick during our stay there. I’d say it’s enough to go there for 2-3 nights and then move on to other destinations in Mekong Delta.
Observe the life of fishermen in Rach Gia
Rach Gia is exactly everything you’d expect from a thriving port in close distance to both Cambodia and Thailand. This provincial hectic town is another highlight of our visit to Mekong Delta.
Our favorite in Rach Gia was the Nguyen Trung Truc Temple. It’s a temple dedicated to Nguyen Trung Truc, the leader of the resistance against the French in XIX century. It’s definitely a must see in this town and it’s conveniently located not far from the port in Rach Gia.
Rach Gia is another city where you probably won’t stumble upon other tourists. It’s a destination only to adventure backpackers and solo travelers not seeking touristy attractions.
I do think that there is something special about Rach Gia. To this day I remember how impressed I was with the rhythm of life in this town.
Walking down the promenade by the port in the evening, I was peeking at the boats and people living on them, eating dinner, living their life. Looking at this with a beautiful sunset in the background was a picture worth remembering.
Admire the limestone cliffs in Ha Tien
The last place we quickly visited in Mekong Delta was Ha Tien. If you’re headed to Cambodia, it’s a very picturesque place to make the transition. The views on the cliffs in Ha Tien were breathtaking. I wish we could have stayed there at least overnight.
Mind you, if you’re getting across the border on your own, make sure to have some extra time to spend at the bus station and at the border. Bargaining with the drivers to take you to the border can take quite some time. And they are quite stubborn, it’s a big part of their job to make as much money as they can.
Two wonderful weeks in Mekong Delta
These nearly two weeks passed by so quickly in Mekong Delta. We couldn’t believe it. We truly fell in love with Vietnam during our stay there. It was a fantastic experience and we didn’t expect that so much time there still wouldn’t be enough!
We will definitely go back again to visit a few more of these beautiful and colorful villages. We still have quite a few to discover. Next time we will try not to have a time limit, though. Time shouldn’t matter when you’re surrounded by such beautiful nature.
If you’re after a cultural experience and you want to see the real Vietnam, maybe it would be better to save a few extra days and miss out on visiting Nha Trang or Halong Bay and just stay in Mekong Delta instead? See something hardly any other tourist sees? It all depends on what you’re after! If you do visit Mekong Delta, let me know in the comments what you think! And where you went!
If you do visit Mekong Delta, let me know in the comments what you think! And where you went!
Thanks for reading and I hope I managed to convince you. Mekong Delta is hands down my favorite region of Vietnam.
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