Wednesday, April 5, 2017

1 Day Adventure in the Mekong Delta (My Jungle Experience)

The Mekong Delta is the quintessential Vietnamese experience - rice paddies, bamboo hats for everyone and relaxing canoe rides.

mekong delta one day adventure

The Mekong Delta, which lies on the southernmost tip of Vietnam, is a lush area of greenery and waterways. Offered with the option of 1, 2 or 3 day tours, we chose the 1 day tour seeing as it was not so far from where we were staying in Ho Chi Minh City.


We were picked up bright and early at 8am from our hotel lobby. The scenery changed fast as we escaped the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City to the quaint countryside. There were less motorcycles, less trash on the side of the road and the lifestyle in the area was more laidback and carefree in general.

Have you ever wondered why Vietnamese rice tastes so good?... Our guide cheerfully asked us. As we stopped on the side of the road she carefully pointed out two red rectangular structures in the far left of the rice paddy in front of us. These are tombs... she began to explain. APPARENTLY it is customary for country people who work the land (such as farmers) to bury their family members in the land to "watch over the property". Rice paddies are also a popular place for graves because it is said it will make the rice taste better (not sure if she was being serious or not).

mekong delta rice paddy and red tombstones


After an hour we made it to our first stop. We stepped off the bus and rickety old bikes were cycled to each of us. I was fortunate that mine was in working order - a few others had seats the wrong way round and peddles missing!

We cycled for about 45 minutes through the farm land and dirt roads. The locals were more than enthusiastic to see us and the children eagerly chased us down the road. I realised that while wealth may be scarce in these areas the locals weren't lacking.

biking on farm near mekong delta


Our next stop was the Vinh Trang Buddhist Temple. Overlooking the elaborate surroundings are 3 large Buddha - the standing Buddha at the entrance, the giant laughing Buddha and the sleeping Buddha that you can half see on the middle right hand side below.

vinh trang temple and pagoda fat laughing buddha

The best part of the temple was the intricately designed pagoda - a mix of Chinese, Vietnamese and Khmer architectural styles. The bonsai gardens and lotus pond inside and surrounding the pagoda created such a peaceful atmosphere. While I wouldn't go out of my way to come here for a day trip it was the perfect place for a 45 minute rest stop.

vinh trang pagoda mixed architecture inside


Our next stop took us to the gateway of the Mekong Delta for lunch. We enjoyed a casual lunch on another farming area where we were surrounded by wild animals, plantations and the sounds of nature. Afterwards we took a boat to Unicorn Island, which sits at the entrance of the Mekong Delta. I think this is as far as most tourist groups go into the Mekong for a 1 day trip from Ho Chi Minh City.

vietnamese farmer near the mekong delta


Apart from being somewhat of a tourist trap with stalls selling the same tourist crap you can find everywhere else, there were a few cool things we were shown that sustains the local population. We were escorted to a coconut candy factory and shown the process of making the addictive candies that are encased in rice paper (really hope I can find these back home!!).

coconut candy factory on unicorn island


We walked to our next stop - a folk music show accompanied with some delicious native fruits. I really enjoyed the fresh fruits, especially the ones I have never tried before like the star apple below. I did feel awkward when we were almost forced to tip the performers, I feel like this is something that should have been included in the tour price.

purple star apple vietnamese fruit


Bee keeping and snake farming are two other industries this area is known for. After looking at how the bees make honey we were given a black tea concoction with honey and kumquat juice. Sooo delicious! I hope I can make it myself tasting so good.

Snakes are heavily consumed in Vietnam, most popularly in snake wine and whiskey. We had the chance to handle a python which was fun (and a bit scary).

me with python on unicorn island


Finally we made it to the best part of the day - canoeing down the river. The scenery was exactly how I imagined the Mekong. There were loads of boats and we got to escape the humidity for a short time under the canopy of trees hanging over the river.

boats on the mekong delta river


After getting off the canoe it was time for us to head back to the big city. I really enjoyed seeing the casual side of Vietnam, it was like another world away from the big city. The only thing that irritated me was the constant badgering to buy souvenirs or tipping by the locals, but for a full day trip of $15 USD I don't think I have a lot to complain about.

As far as I know, most full day group trips to the Mekong Delta are very similar to this one - we constantly saw the same groups of tourists being bussed around to the same places as us. If you want to see the floating markets you would have to do a 2+ day tour, but since we had time constraints this was enough for us.

me with sleeping buddha and on boat to unicorn island

Image attribution:
"Evening Falls Over the Mekong" by Julia Maudlin // CC BY 2.0 *
* changes were made to the original materials

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