In early December 2012 I did a 11 day scooter trip through the Mekong Delta with a couple of friends. While I'll be blogging about it on the Vietnam Blog in detail in the coming weeks, I thought I'd post a map and a few pics from the trip to perhaps get a few feet itching.
Below is the map of the route we took. While I was tracking the entire trip by GPS, the Everytrail iPhone app I used has crapped out on me and I can't retrieve the route nor any of my waypoints -- EVERYTRAIL I AM NOT HAPPY -- so I've redrawn it in Google Maps for your info. The town names in red are where we stayed. You can see the more detailed map on Google Maps here.
The overall route was Ho Chi Minh City -> My Tho -> Ben Tre -> Tra Vinh -> Soc Trang -> Bac Lieu -> Ca Mau -> Cape Ca Mau -> Rach Gia -> Can Tho -> My Tho -> Ho Chi Minh City.
The entire trip was by scooter, except for the Ca Mau to the southern cape bit which was a return trip by boat. Where possible we stuck to back roads.
Anyway, onto the pics -- I'll post then separately by town with a few little comments along the way.
This was our first overnight stop - this is probably the most popular town for tour groups to visit for a taste of the Mekong Delta and while it gets busy during the day with bus tours, in the early morning and evening, there are very few tourists about.... and the sunsets are great.
One the sun has left, grab some squid...
Followed by a seafood steamboat at the riverside night market and wash it all down with a couple of chilled 333 beers. Big day tomorrow
The boat trips all do a similar jaunt, running through back canals and visiting candy factories and the like, but if you go early (easy to do if you're staying in My Tho) then you dodge the crowds and you have it all to yourself.
But before you do the boat trip, walk up to My Tho's morning market -- it's a great one.
Then do the boat trip!
Next stop Ben Tre!
Ben Tre .
Ben Tre is far less-visited than My Tho but it is also possible to do boat trips from here (or rent bicycles) to explore the surrounds.
It also has lots of rice.
The town itself has a great wet market (I half-expected the pig's eyes to open) but other than that isn't awash with stuff to do.
The boat trip from Ben Tre is a far simpler affair and the morning I did the trip I didn't see another tourist boat in three hours (I think we were just about the only tourists in town). So if you're looking for something more unadulterated, Ben Tre is the better option for a boat trip.
Next stop, Tra Vinh!
We took a pretty, umm, scenic route to Tra Vinh and were very lucky to find that there was a ferry at the end of the bumpy 10km dirt road we had to ride along and not just a sign telling us to go via Vinh Long.
I like ferries though, especially in the afternoon light.
The further into the Delta you go the more Khmer it becomes and in the case of Tra Vinh, the Khmer influence is obvious especially in the temples. It also has a small amount of traditional trading houses scattered about too -- such a shame so little of this is left across Vietnam.
As with Ben Tre and My Tho (and, well, just about every town in Vietnam) the wet market is great - especially if you like 56,432,312 varieties of dried fish.
There are temples scattered around town and in the surrounds -- the Khmer theme is obvious, even to a temple novice.
It also has a ridiculous number of coffee shops. We left Tra Vinh very well caffeinated.
Next stop, Soc Trang! (tomorrow - need to do the newsletter now!)
The trip south from Tra Vinh to Soc Trang took us to yet more ferry crossings and the boats seemed to get smaller and smaller. There was ZERO signposting for the ferries but between my set of Apple Maps on the iPhone and Dave's Google Maps on his Samsung we figured it out -- neither was perfect!
While the boats got smaller the scenery got better, and while the locals managed to fit a good 30-40 motorbikes into the above boat, once we got going the scenery was lovely. This boat kicked off on a tributary of the Mekong before entering the far larger river.
The above ferry deposited us on a smallish islet and it was a 15 minute burn across the island along a narrow concrete path to reach the second boat -- we just followed everyone else and before we knew it bade the island farewell and were on another ferry to near Soc Trang proper.
Soc Trang itself is a busy little canal-side town where every local appears to own about 16 motorbikes. The downtown traffic was nuts and a real wake up call to the much lesser-trafficked roads we'd become used to. As with Tra Vinh, Soc Trang is known for its Khmer temples and, in particular a bat temple, but even just walking around there were some pretty and interesting buildings.
I think the one below may have been a cinema of some sort as HÃ Viá»‡n means theatre (I think), but it was a very interesting styled building -- today nothing more than a backdrop to a coffee stall (recommended!)
The most central (and visited) pagoda here is really quite beautiful inside and reminded me of wats I had seen on previous trips to Cambodia, especially Wat Maha Leap in Kampong Cham -- the painted pillars here were lovely.
Like everywhere else there is a solid morning wet market and the one at Soc Trang just goes on and on and on.
There were loads of snacks available here, but in the end I went for a sweet taster -- the lady preparing it for me almost wet herself with laughter when I asked for some -- really friendly people here.
Next stop the thriving metropolis of Bac Lieu!
I think it would be fair to say that Bac Lieu probably wouldn't be at the top of anyone's "must see" lists for Vietnam. It is best known for a bird sanctuary, which felt almost abandoned when we were there and the main pasttime seems to be getting married -- the hotel we stayed in was hosting seven weddings one after the other on the day we left and did at least four the previous day -- it was a complete madhouse.
Aside from the birdpark, the only other real highlight was finding a disorientated Vietnamese gentleman, in his underwear, standing outside Dave & Lauren's room. No, no pic sorry.
While early December isn't the best time to visit the bird sanctuary (they mostly migrate elsewhere by late November) the scene was pretty grim. There was though a watch tower that you could climb that gave better views and I assume is ideal for bird watching ... when there are birds around.
The whole riverfront area of Bac Lieu was being reconstructed when we visited which really added to the charm of the place (not!) but there are still a few fragments of older buildings about -- not for long though I imagine.
Would I return here? Not in a hurry, but it does make for a convenient spot to break the trip from Soc Trang to Ca Mau.
Next stop - Ca Mau!
Ca Mau is the southern-most province of Vietnam and the same-named capital was a far bigger town than we expected -- it is a city. It sits as the junction of a few canals and rivers and we were here to take a boat to the southern-most tip of the country, Cape Ca Mau.
Being there are a few canals, there are boats everywhere - sampans, ferries, freighters and all in between. If you're into boats it can be pretty interesting, especially in the early morning when the market is humming and there is a lot of boat action going on.
One way to observe it is to go down to the market area and just get a boatman to paddle you around for a little while -- sort of like a make-your-own-floating-market-trip
We were there to get a boat, a boat all the way to the southern tip of the country (well you get a motorbike for the last couple of kilometres) and believe me, once you've done it, you'll never need to do it again.
Here is the ferry -- it takes roughly 2.5 hours there and maybe 3.5 hours back.
The boat can get a little crowded and do your best to sit near the front. The following photo was taken after about 20 people had left -- I counted 47 people onboard at one stage.
It was not a particularly comfortable trip.
But it is rather fetching once you get to the end, and the last 45 minutes on the boat is very very pretty -- it was a shame I didn't have enough room to lift my camera to take a decent pic -- ahh the memories...
So that was a full day written off to reach a point on a map. No need to repeat. What is much cooler though is U Minh Thuong National Park which we visited the next day enroute to Rach Gia. The ride there was great -- the whole area is interwoven with canals and it was especially scenic.
Once you reach the park itself you hire a boat to take you to two vantage points, one to see birds, the other bats. At the later your guide will helpfully wake up all the bats by smashing a sheet of corrugated iron with a shovel! It is well worth seeing both points -- unless you're a bat.
More wetlands and our boat.
Despite our visit being out of season, there were plenty of birds around -- I have no idea what type of birds, but they were there!
After seeing the birds, you switch boats and head up another canal to a bunch of trees where all the bats hang out (haw haw haw). There you'll find the bat-waking equipment.
It works a treat.
Once you have woken up the entire bat population of U Minh National Park you're then permitted to head back to the ranger station and head on to Rach Gia!
As we stopped at U Minh National Park on the way to Rach Gia is made for a very long day and by the time we decamped we didn't have time for much but a stroll around town before sunset. Rach Gia can deliver very pretty sunsets.
It was about this time that I realised I had lost my paper notebook -- it must have fell out of my pocket, most likely at U Minh. It was a rather disappointing development.
Crying into my beer aside, Rach Gia is a popular jump off point for Phu Quoc Island and while we were not going there (no time) I did go and take a look at one of the unfortunately named "Superdongs" -- so if you were wondering what a superdong looks like, now you know.
The next day we headed to Can Tho but we took a totally random backway in order to avoid the main roads. It took forever, but was one of the highlights of the trip.
Much of the ride was on dirt roads, occasionally only wide enough for a motorbike (or goat) and the trip had many ups and downs.
Next stop Can Tho!
Excellent taster of the blogs to come - I look forward to reading them. Also - I think I actually recognise that bridge in the last pic as one that we may have gone over. I'm going to have to dig out my pics to check now!
Lots of great pics... but Stuart I noticed they were all shot in the day. How was the nightlife in any of these places? Anything worth mentioning? How was the riding? Bikes look lightweight, but I understand there are cc constraints in Vietnam.
#10 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
This was our last overnight stop before a hellish nine hour ride back to Saigon (last two hours at night -- not recommended!) Can Tho is deservedly popular for its floating markets, the easiest of which to reach is Cai Rang -- I'll get to that in a minute. Like most Vietnamese towns you don't need to look far to find the clash between old and new.
Which is a shame as a few strips maintain the more classic style, at least in appearance.
While at night the same strip sets up as a venue for some good streetside snacking.
But Can Tho is all about the floating markets, and while I'd visited all three of the popular ones previously, this time I just went for a quick couple of hours to Cai Rang floating market. Was it worth it? Absolutely -- just start early -- I was in a boat by 4:30 am... 5am would have been fine -- as in the pic below we were still waiting for the sun to come up!
Or pineapple perhaps?
My boatman shouts me a pineapple.
Cabbage? Assorted root vegetables?
Ok, that's a deal.
Down on your luck? How about a lottery ticket?
And that's the wrap!
Post floating market, it took up four hours to ride to My Tho, where we grabbed another meal, then a very long five hours back to Saigon, including a 45 minute delay while I had my rear inner tube replaced -- the only problem we had with either bike on the entire trip!
Was it a great trip? Yes. Would I do the same route again? Ahhhhhh maybe -- many of the places we went are certainly not on the traveller highway, and there is a reason for that!
BUT if you've already done the highlights and you're looking for a more unadulterated Vietnam with even more friendly, welcoming people than what you'll find elsewhere in Vietnam, then this is a region worth exploring -- and we really only touched on the surface.
A big thanks to to my travel companions Dave and Lauren -- I'm sure they'll be blogging about the trip as well - you can see Dave's travel blog here and Lauren's travel blog here. Check them out, just don't believe anything they say about me
I'll also be blogging the trip in a lot more detail and obviously updating our coverage for Travelfish on the region. You'll just have a wait a bit longer for that, as I slipped a disk on Boxing Day so am pretty limited in how much writing I can do! (Yes, that's why I've been so active on the forum -- I can do it from bed!
One final pic - I love Vietnam!
@busylizzy - I'd be VERY surprised if it was the same bridge ... but I'm sure that isn't the only ridiculous bridge in the Delta!
@madmac - Nightlife pretty limited. Can Tho has a bit of a scene as does My Tho, but Ben Tre, Tra Vinh and Bac Lieu (aside from the weddings!) was pretty dead. Ca Mau has a busy scene on the northern outskirts of town but we were too shattered to check it out.
The bikes were 125cc autos, very common bike in Vn and has a surprising amount of omph for a bike of that type. The speedlimits are low, generally 30/40km in town and 50/60km on the open road -- must be policed heavily as we saw few ratbags (compared to say Thailand). Because neither of us had Vn licenses we stuck to the back roads to dodge police issues -- in practise were only pulled over once (I was speeding) and the office waved me on. Hiring is more complicated than in Thailand, will be blogging about it at length later on.
the amphibian markets, and while I'd visited all three of the accepted ones previously, this time I just went for a quick brace of hours to Cai Rang amphibian market
#13 mariajames has been a member since 29/9/2012. Posts: 57