During our research into doing a Mekong Delta Tour and the fact we had come close to booking a Mekong Delta Tour before (the timing wasn’t right), this meant we already had plenty of information ready to have a look through.
So it was easy for us and our whole tour could be booked through email with our local travel agent using our card to pay, rather than using cash, which, at times, is unusual when you live in Vietnam.
Researching for a Mekong experience uncovers so many choices and companies that offer their services.
We wanted a more local experience that just wasn’t getting on and off a bus and we end up finding one to suit us and also the kids too.
The Mekong Delta Tour we booked was basically travelling on carts, motorbikes, bicycles and a mix of river cruises on different boats for us in and around the areas of Ben Tre and Can Tho which is part of the Mekong Delta area.
Maybe that is something I have to explain first and give you a few Mekong Delta Facts before I outline what we did on our Mekong Delta Trip.
Where is the Mekong Delta?
The Mekong Delta is an area in the South of Vietnam (South West of Ho Chi Minh City) that covers twelve Vietnamese provinces.
This is the region where a vast network of rivers, streams, canals and creeks meet the mighty Mekong River as it makes its way to the sea after its traversed six countries to get there.
The Mekong Delta area covers over 40,500 square kilometres and depending on the season, this area can have a good portion of it covered in water.
So when you look for information on “Where is the Mekong Delta” or “What is the Mekong Delta” you will get information that covers a big region of Southern Vietnam.
But generally most people will know what you are talking about if you discuss booking a Mekong Delta trip.
Read on below and I’ll let you know what we did on the first day away in our Mekong Delta Tour.
Starting with the travel time from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta, finishing with getting to the hotel in Can Tho and at the bottom will be all of our Mekong Delta itinerary listed for you, if you want to do the same tour.
Travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta
Our bus and our tour guide arrived at 8am and it was time for us to leave the hum of the city behind us for a few days.
Ben Tre is basically south of Ho Chi Minh City and it takes about 2 hours to get there by bus if you leave from the Thao Dien (District 2) area like we were.
This travel time is dependent on the traffic and also where you are living in Ho Chi Minh City as it can be pretty hectic getting out at the best of times!
The roads were pretty good heading south out of Ho Chi Minh City with the standard wicked overtaking maneuvers and dodging motorbikes taking place often.
Our Mekong Delta tour guide was very knowledgeable and also helpful with plenty of information for us throughout the whole trip.
So it’s definitely worth paying a bit extra to have someone around that knows about the Mekong area and more.
We were the only family on the big forty seater bus as it was the off season, so make sure to check your seasons before you leave.
You may arrive in the wet season and that would be a different type of Mekong Delta tour to what we had, you’d be putting your raincoats, umbrellas and gumboots to good use!
Onboard the Xe Loi
So we arrived on the outskirts of Ben Tre and parked on the side of the road ready to get onto our next mode of a transport which is called a Xe Loi.
A Xe Loi is quite common transport in Vietnam, they are everywhere through Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Ben Tre and all of the other places we have visited so far.
They have a motorbike front and have a carry tray on the back usually which can be all different sizes.
The Xe Loi is used to transport people and objects and we have seen them pretty stacked in our time over here with everything from ice to farm animals.
Once I saw what looked like a whole house full of furniture on the back of one going past us in the city!
We had the choice between both a Xe Loi or bicycle for this part of our tour, but it had been raining a fair bit so we decided to choose the Xe Loi.
The Xe Loi took us through back paths and tracks on our way to the canal to catch our boat to cruise the rivers.
So it was lucky we didn’t use the bicycles this time, it would have taken twice as long and also there were some pretty rough tracks we would have had to negotiate through as well.
On the way to the canal we saw coconut groves, farm houses, rice paddies, shacks as well as plenty of people too going about their daily business and of course, most will wave out or give you a friendly Xin Chao too.
There are so many moments, when we have started to explore Vietnam more, that I have thought to myself “Why do we lead such complicated, hectic lives consuming and hoarding as much as we can?”.
We got rid of so much “stuff” and downsized before heading off into our Vietnam adventure and I’m sure we will downsize on our “stuff” again as well when we settle back into normal life again.
Minimalistic seems to suit us better as we get older.
Mekong Delta River Cruise
A boat called the “Mango Cruise” was waiting for us on the water and we made our way aboard.
It wasn’t a small boat and it did cruise quite nicely along the smaller river heading towards the main river as you can see in the video.
The boats seat about twenty people and have a toilet onboard too which is handy.
There were refreshments and fruit ready for us when we boarded as well which was nice too after quite a few hours travelling.
Coconut Processing Plant
The first stop for us was to a coconut processing plant where they still husk the coconuts by hand.
The Mekong Delta is well known for its coconut industry and the Ben Tre area has the largest coconut growing area in the Mekong.
You pull in and tie your boat to the local jetty’s here in the Mekong, some are good and some not so great and this just adds to your experience having to get on and off the boats no matter the quality of the jetty.
We walked past the brick kilns on our left and headed to the coconut processing area that was all under cover.
While the workers went about their business we heard the story about the family who owns this business and saw the husking of the coconuts for the local market.
The man husked the coconuts for the whole time we were there and it’s pretty hard work.
As you can see in the photograph below, the coconuts are everywhere and he smashes the coconut down onto the spear sticking out of the ground.
He then throws the husk into a separate pile and the coconut into another and barely skips a beat reaching for the next one.
They use the discarded husk for a variety of things including burning them to help with the brick making process in the kilns as you will read below.
In the future, we were told, as part of the cleanup of pollution in the Mekong Delta area, they won’t be able to burn the coconut husks as freely as they do now.
There are many of these coconut processing plants and also the brick making factories along the river edge in this area, so there must be a big demand for bricks and coconuts!
The coconut has many uses after being harvested, here are some of them for you.
- Coconut sold whole to be used for drinking and fruit
- Separated coconut flesh sold to food manufacturers
- Coconut candy is made from the flesh to be sold locally and further afar
- Using and selling of coconut husks for brick kilns and for use in agriculture
It takes three years for a coconut tree to bear fruit, if the coconuts are picked when green they have sweet juice so these are the ones you can buy all around the Mekong Delta for drinking, if they are left for longer on the tree the coconut turns browner and has a thicker flesh content when harvested and opened.
As you can see there are many uses for the coconut and what the coconut is used for is dependent on when the coconut is picked.
Brick Manufacturing Factory
Next, just outside the coconut husking area we had a look through the brick factory which included a diesel brick maker and the two kilns where they dry out the bricks.
Although they didn’t fire up the brick maker you could still see how it would work by putting the clay into one end and the complete “soft” brick popping out the other end.
It’s pretty amazing to see the way they still make the bricks and then stack them into the kiln ready for drying.
And as you can see below, the kiln was still full of bricks when we were there.
The Mekong Delta area has a lot of resources that are perfect for the production of bricks, this includes the local clay and also the natural fuel resources needed to run the kilns too.
They put thousands of bricks into two kilns they have here for drying and these kilns can operate for 30 days straight before they are left to cool for a few days.
From the brick and coconuts we headed off across the river to look at a local Rice Noodle making factory.
Rice Noodle Factory
We had to moor the boat at another brick making factory and walk through it to a minivan that were waiting for us to drive us to the next factory.
Rice Noodle making is quite amazing and they sell these noodles, in the end, into the local market too.
This seems to be a common theme in this area, they make and either sell or barter products to others to get what they need and want.
The rice paper is out drying all around the area of the factory, so it is the first thing we see when we enter the street.
Imagine living in a country town and driving home from work, when you turn the corner to your house and every fence and every available piece of vacant land in the area is covered in drying racks with rice sheets laying on them in the sun.
This is what it is like when we arrive here, rice sheets are drying, everywhere!
We headed inside and start to see the process they go through to make the noodles.
First they soak the rice and over time the rice forms into a clumpy rice paste, these rice clumps are put through a machine that rolls it into sheets, then they are cut into lengths and laid onto the drying racks.
These are then either taken outside to dry or lent against each other (making an upside V shape) over a fire that they build in between the gaps.
With these fires everywhere inside, it’s even hotter inside than it is outside.
We had to keep a good eye on the kids because there are moving objects, fires and flames everywhere in this factory.
There is a massive stock of firewood outside ready for them to use as well, they use this to boil the rice and also, like I have said, to help dry out the sheets inside.
When the rice sheets are dry enough they run them through a noodle maker that slices the sheet into the long stringy 10mm thick noodles and then they put them into plastic bags ready for delivery.
This machine is hand wound and I could imagine, with the volume of noodles being made, that the staff wouldn’t be able to this job for long periods of time and have to swap over consistently.
We hung around inside watching all of the staff going about their business for a while, but the vans were waiting.
Morning Tea in the Mekong Jungle
So we said goodbye and headed off to our next stop which was morning tea with a local family who used local produce to feed us, fruit, sweets and honey tea.
This experience was different in itself as we had to walk through a small community after getting out of the van, across a few small bridges to an undercover area to eat.
So we were sitting amongst lots of houses with animals and people everywhere so you see all of their shacks and small buildings in the area.
The morning tea was delicious and the flavours too were pretty amazing.
Sometimes buying from a big supermarket in a big city means you don’t always get the best and fresh fruit.
I can say after living in Vietnam for a while the fruit is absolutely amazing in taste, texture and freshness too!
After polishing off what we could and the kids trying to fill their pockets with lollies, we headed off and walked for a short time to a creek where our next mode of transport was ready for us.
Mekong Delta Canal Cruise in a Sampan Boat
This was a hand paddled sampan boat.
As you get onboard it feels quite tipsy, you can only sit single file and the weight has to be spread evenly to prevent tipping.
You can see from the photo that they paddle the boat from the front and there is another person steering from the back as well, so once the boat starts to move it glides through the water quite effortless and easily.
What a great experience it was being paddled down the thin stretch of water out onto the main river looking for wildlife and dodging overhanging foliage.
The funny thing was that after they paddled through the creek and dropped us off to our main boat, they dropped their engines off the back of the boat, fired them up and speed off.
The irony wasn’t wasted after the tranquil slowness of a paddle through the creek to all of a sudden drop the motor and roar off away from us as fast as they can!
Mango Home Riverside for Lunch
So it was time to relax for the next part of our Mekong Delta tour, enjoying the main river while cruising on our larger boat to have lunch at the Mango Home Riverside or as the sign says upon arrival Mango House.
It’s a pretty cool eco-friendly resort and the food coupled with the setting made for an amazing lunch experience too.
We are vegetarians so this was catered for in the meals (there were many courses) and the kids meals were massive too, let alone the ice cream they had at the end.
When you are travelling on a budget, like we have been when we moved to Vietnam, you appreciate good food when you finally get some and the food at Mango Home Riverside was amazing!
After our meal and a bit of lounging around we headed to the back of the resort for the next part of our Mekong tour which was a bike ride out to see Mr. Sau Tuong who is a retired Vietnamese soldier who now lives the simple life in a village not too far from this resort.
Bike Ride in the Mekong
Our bike ride wasn’t too bad as it was on concrete roads most of the way until we got close to his house.
The house had wooden walls, had dirt floors and the kitchen was out the back of the house.
We were invited in and got to meet his wife and watch her make crispy rice paper in the kitchen.
They supply rice paper to many of the locals in exchange for money and other food and also boiling on the stove (fire lit between brick on a bench) was a health tonic they also make for local selling.
We spent quite a bit of time there and he showed us around his piece of land, chickens and all of his other buildings out the back.
What a great couple they were and it was nice of them to open their modest home for us, teach us and show us around.
I’ve seen photos of other people making rice paper in their house and it hasn’t changed much over the years and they still seem to be doing the same thing which is good.
Then it was time to say goodbye, get a few more photos and head back to Mango Home Riverside on our bikes.
Here is a video for you with the last part of our bike ride back to the resort.
The bikes came with kid friendly seats at the back so it was easy for us to get around with the family and for our little one to catch up on a bit of sleep.
The country side in the Mekong Delta (and in Vietnam country generally) is very green and it is hot and muggy when we visited, so we certainly were getting a sweat up riding.
River Cruise to Ben Tre
And so it was time to get back onto our boat for the last part of our first day Mekong Delta tour, so time for our last Mekong Delta river cruise we were on our way to Ben Tre to get picked up for last bus ride to Can Tho.
The town looks pretty nice from what we saw briefly and we saw the hotel from the water that an Australian built and still owns we were told.
Below is a video of the river and you get to see a bit of Ben Tre and also the houses that line the river.
Ben Tre is the main town in the Ben Tre Province that covers quite a big area of the Mekong Delta area.
We didn’t spend much time in Ben Tre town to explore what it has to offer but reading about it now, there is plenty to do here in the town if you wanted to stay a night before heading off to Can Tho.
Driving from Ben Tre to Can Tho
Driving from Ben Tre to Can Tho takes about three and a half hours and our bus was waiting at the jetty ready to take us.
The drive took us over two bridges that were only recently completed, the Rach Mieu Bridge and the Can Tho Bridge that is the last piece of infrastructure you see as your reach Can Tho.
This photo below is from us travelling across the first bridge just out of Ben Tre (Rach Mieu Bridge) and you can see all of the floating and pole houses down below.
The bridges themselves are relatively new structures and have their own bit of history behind them.
Many of the bridges built in Vietnam (including the ones in the Mekong Delta area) are built in conjunction with other countries, so there are many built with Australian and Japanese influence.
The road between Ben Tre and Can Tho isn’t too bad compared to others we have travelled on, there were still a few dodgy overtaking maneuvers though which is standard.
This video below for you is from the bus heading out of town and it lasts about a minute.
You can see all of the workers finishing for the day about half way through with hundreds of motorbikes coming out of an exit, this was a common occurrence whenever we travelled too.
You will see too the local electricity and telephone cables are all above ground and everywhere as well as the mix of residential housing and businesses that we usually saw travelling out of most of the place we visited.
I can remember it was just on dusk as we arrived in Can Tho and booked into our hotel as I took a few photos approaching the bridge because of the amazing colours behind it.
Arrived in Can Tho
Can Tho is the biggest town in the Mekong Delta area and you can tell when you first arrive.
We booked into our hotel in Can Tho and decided where everyone was sleeping, we set out to find something to eat and also, as per normal a bit of exploring.
The main street had lights all down it still from the last celebrations, it was still pretty busy traffic wise.
Not Ho Chi Minh City busy but still pretty busy none the less.
Vegetarian Food in Can Tho
It took a while to find a vegetarian restaurant or a place that served vegetarian food, but we found one in the end and it was huge and very full.
They made all of their own food and as you will see in another video below there were plenty of choices and the food was cheap and plentiful.
All of the cooking was done outside of the restaurant in another area and then brought through to us and the other patrons for eating.
The hardest thing when you travel outside of the main centres, like Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon is they don’t speak much English and everything is written in Vietnamese.
Which is understandable as we are in Vietnam!
So we had to consult our Vietnamese language book a few times to look up a few of the words and also conveying our order and how many units was hard too.
We got there in the end and they only missed one plate that we ordered, but this didn’t matter because the meals were so huge.
Another funny thing about this restaurant was the way they tally up the bill at the end for you, they take the order, bring it out and at the end they come and look at the plates again and charge you based on what they see, not on what you ordered originally.
Lucky for us they did it this way because of the missed plate, so it was easy for them to see they hadn’t filled our order.
The pricing of the meals that you can see above are about 45,000VND which is about two dollars Australian.
To feed our family and have a lot left over for Dad to polish off cost us about eight dollars Australian.
You could eat for less by dining with the street vendors but there isn’t any guarantee about food quality and the increased risk of food poisoning.
That’s why we still use the rule of going to busy restaurants and also being vegetarian’s help lower the risk slightly as well.
So with full bellies we paid our bill and left to go for a walk before bedtime.
Back to the Hotel
Can Tho felt like quite a safe place to walk around early evening and there were plenty of people on the streets too, not too many tourists that we could see.
You still have to be vigilant with your safety when travelling and we were still on the lookout while walking around the streets.
We made it back to the hotel, a big day again with many memories.
This below is the view from our hotel room at night, as you can see the lights are still up from a recent festival and also in the distance is the river.
Quite a quiet place and not really much happening around the main street at night traffic wise, certainly a lot different to the mayhem of Ho Chi Minh City.
It was time for sleep to prepare as we are off to see one of the many Mekong Delta Floating Markets , the Can Tho Floating Markets to be exact and also to visit the Can Tho Wet Market while we are here before we head back to Ho Chi Minh City.
Keep an eye out and bookmark my this as I will be writing about Day 2 and linking it from this page.
Thanks for reading, the Mekong Delta is a beautiful part of Vietnam that should be seen and travelled if you are ever visiting.
If you have any questions?
Leave them in the comments section below , I’ll be only too happy to answer them for you.
What we did today
- Picked up from Thao Dien, Ho Chi Minh City for our Mekong Delta Tour
- Travelled by bus to Ben Tre Province in the Mekong Delta
- Rode a Xe Loi through to the river
- Caught a Mango Cruise boat to cruise the Mekong Delta rivers, creeks and canals
- Visited a Brick Making Factory and Coconut Processing Plant
- Went to a Rice Noodle Factory
- Ate locally made fruit, snacks and tea undercover with the locals
- Rode a Sampan Boat through to the main river
- Had lunch at the Mango Home Riverside eco resort
- Rode a bike out to see how Crispy Rice Paper was made
- Boat ride through to Ben Tre town
- Bus trip from Ben Tre to Can Tho
- Booked into Hotel in Can Tho
- Ate a vegetarian meal at a Can Tho Restaurant
Where did we travel to?
Then we headed to Ben Tre Province and in the end Ben Tre.
Finally we travelled from Ben Tre to Can Tho.