After Ho Chi Minh City we headed south into the Mekong Delta. This is where the huge Mekong River hits a vast, flat plane of land southwest of HCMC and splits into hundreds of smaller rivers and streams which make up the delta.
The delta is incredibly lush; there's a constant water supply, it rarely floods due to the wide expanse of land that the delta covers and it has a temperate climate so the area can be farmed all year round.
Our Journey through the Mekong Delta
We knew that we had 10 days to get to Phu Quoc (our destination for Christmas), so we selected three different locations in the Mekong Delta, spending two nights in each. After that the plan was to head to the ferry port at Rach Gia and get a ferry to one of the remote Nam Du islands, Hon Son.
We got the public bus from HCMC to Ben Tre for 65VNDpp (£2.30). We chose Ben Tre as it is a little off the main tourist route, being 10 miles south of the busier My Tho; a popular spot for day trippers from HCMC.
We stayed in a beautiful, remote homestay for an authentic experience - Ba Danh Home. We had free reign of the bicycles and kayaks and had a lovely time cycling the little roads lined with banana plants and paddling up one of the many little streams.
Two nights was definitely enough here as it is remote and there's not a whole lot else to do apart from lounge around in the hammocks drinking beer & coconuts. It's a hard life!
Mike doing what he does best
The Mekong at the back of the homestay
We didn't really stay in Vinh Long, we were in a homestay 45 minutes by motorbike taxi from the town centre.
We got a public bus from Ben Tre to a ferry port close to the homestay. It cost 20,000VNDpp (£0.70), cheap for a 2.5 hour bus ride!
Communication with the homestay was top notch, which is good as they're in the middle of nowhere. I sent a message when we arrived at the ferry port and within minutes, two motorbike taxis arrived to take us to Happy Family Guesthouse.
The place was lovely, had a beautiful pool and was right on a main transport waterway between HCMC and Cambodia. We watched many boats, large and small passing by whilst we ate in the restaurant on the river.
In keeping with the rest of our trip, the weather had not been great for our time in the Mekong so far. It had rained heavily most days and we were a bit worried about being stranded in this remote location if it was chucking it down. Luckily we had glorious sunshine for our stay; we lounged by the pool in the morning and headed out for a short walk to Dong Phu (the nearby village) in the afternoon. True to form we managed to upset a couple of dogs along the way and had to sprint to get away!
There was a lot of wildlife around and Mike kept insisting we check our shoes for deadly spiders before we put them on. I thought he was being a bit dramatic until I tried to put my trainers on one morning and found there was something in there. Naturally I thought Mike had spiked my shoe, I screamed and threw it on the floor. A second later a little frog hopped out... I guess the frog was luckier than the snake!
Watching all the river traffic going by
Making a normal sized chair look huge
Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong Delta, and apparently the fourth largest city in Vietnam, although it certainly doesn't feel like it. For this we chose a nice hotel in the city centre, rather than another homestay out in the sticks.
Cai Rang Floating Market
The Mekong Delta is famous for its floating markets, the largest being Cai Rang, a 30 minute boat ride from Can Tho. We managed to arrange a cheeky cheap boat to take us there for 300,000VND (~£10) with a lady down by the riverfront. This was considerably cheaper than the offering from our hotel at 900,000VND.
The market starts early, 5am and finishes at noon. This meant we were up at the crack of dawn to catch our 5.30am boat - the first time we had been up before the sun in a very long time! Each boat sells one or a variety of goods and they string up the items they are selling on a large pole for all to see.
Before the sun had come up
The floating market in action
Our driver bought a few pineapples
For some reason there were many sunken boats driving around
Homes precariously built over the river
Mike and our lady boat driver
Other than floating markets, Can Tho boasts a small, bustling night market, a couple of temples and a museum, but apart from that there's not a whole lot to do. Two nights was plenty, we were excited to get to the islands!
Nam Du Islands
From Can Tho, we took a three hour bus to Rach Gia costing 100VNDpp (~£3.50). We also paid 90,000VND for a taxi to the FUTA bus station. In hindsight we should have booked with the tourist information centre in Can Tho for 120,000VNDpp, which includes the transfer to the bus station from your hotel. In Rach Gia we enquired about a ferry to Hon Son, one of the most beautiful, and untouched of the Nam Du islands. It became apparent pretty quickly that we would not be able to go there. We spoke with three different ticket vendors, none of whom would sell us tickets. Luckily, one guy had a computer to hand and jumped on google translate... 'no foreigners' he typed, and that was that.
The only island we could buy a ticket for was Phu Quoc, with the ferry leaving the next morning. So we checked into a cheap hotel in Rach Gia and set sail to Phu Quoc the following morning, three days early for our Christmas booking.
We did have a search around on the internet to see if we could find out why foreigners were no longer allowed to the Nam Du islands, and found very little of substance. We did come across this Trip Advisor thread, however, which states a variety of reasons:
- Too dangerous
- Severe drought
- Monsoon (too wet)
So really it's anyone's guess.
We found it super easy to get about by ourselves and not go with an organised tour. The buses were easy to catch and very cheap! We spent six nights in the Mekong Delta which we felt was a little too long. Three to four nights in a couple of destinations would be plenty to get a good feel of the place.