I’ll write a more detailed trip report in a few days time when we’ve posted all the detailed reviews onto the site, in the meantime, as a means to escape the excrutiating Saigon heat we’ve got today,here’s some general pointers.
The route I took through the Mekong Delta, was Saigon -> My Tho -> Ben Tre -> Vinh Long -> Tra Vinh -> Can Tho -> Rach Gia -> Phu Quoc -> Saigon. The trip had originally been planned to also cover Soc Trang, Bac Mieu and Ca Mau in the far south, and Ha Tien and Hon Chong by Cambodia – the former I flicked because the rain was never-ending and I was worried about flooding, and the later were skipped because, well, I was distracted by white sand beaches on Phu Quoc and quite simply ran out of time!
I got around everywhere by bus, minibus or motorbike taxi, and did a lot of boat trips out from various towns.
In the 12 days I spent around USD400, travelling alone.
To/not to to an organised trip out of Saigon
If you’re looking at it solely from a cost point of view, it is simply impossible to do the Mekong Delta for less than what these tours go for. It seems 95% of people are seeing the Delta this way. Outside of Phu Quoc, I met in total two foreigners who were seeing the Delta independently – yes, two. Meanwhile, when I visited one of the “homestays” in Ben Tre province that the Delta tours use, I saw (and I’m not exaggerating) in excess of 200 backpackers at the one restaurant. They would not have all signed up for the same tour but rather, they’re not told that they’ll be eating at the same place at all the other tours.
In my opinion, it comes very much down to a “value for money” issue. You can do a three-day tour from Phnom Penh to Saigon that is all inclusive, with overnight accommodation in Chau Doc and Can Tho, including boat trips in both and trips to other more “contrived” attractions – coconut candy factories, fruit orchards etc, and the whole thing will go for under USD30. If you do the same trip yourself, using local transport and staying in moderately priced guesthouses, it will cost you at least double if not triple.
There are two main reasons people head to the Delta – to see the floating markets and to see the general riverside scenery – you do not need to do a Delta trip to do this. All you need to do is go to Can Tho, and organise your own boat trip in a tiny little rowboat (seats 2 will cost $12-15 for the boat for 4 hours) and then you’ll see both the markets (which are excellent) and experience the back canals, and while it will still cost you more than doing a Delta trip ex-Saigon, you’ll do it independently – which can be half the fun.
For some though, the tours are an ideal vehicle to meet other travellers and to not spend much money – and that’s probably why I met so few independent travellers – the bulk of visiotrs to Vietnam are seeing the entire country in a month and they simply don’t have the luxury of time to spend two weeks in the Delta, which brings me back to my frequent mantra – especially appropriate for Vietnam – Less is More.
Spend more time seeing less of Vietnam, you’ll thank yourself later and of course you’ll have a good reason to make another trip here (and another one after that).
So, if you’re doing it independently, here are a few tips:
With the minibuses, try to catch them from the bus station rather than flagging them down on the street. Nearly all the bus stations have the prices clearly displayed at the ticket office – buy your ticket there rather than on the bus – you’ll avoid 90% of overcharging problems then.
In nearly all cases the fare from a bus station outside of town into “town” is not more than 10,000D, but the drivers will regularly ask for 50,000D (or more). Just ignore them and walk out onto the street and hail a bike there.
If you’re comfortable on a motorbike, hire one with a driver and just ask him to drive you around the countryside. I organised one to drive me around for four hours in Ben Tre province – I paid him $6 (plus lunch) for the ride and it was excellent value – crossing ferries into obscure parts of the province – ricefields, people just going about their lives etc.
Bargain reasonably with boatmen, but remember the prices of petrol of soared and the estimates in your guidebook may not reflect the price increase – you don’t bargain with Qantas when they slap a fuel surcharge on!
Get up early. The light is great then, plus the big buses often only leave early in the morning.
If you’re going to Phu Quoc (which I absolutely recommend), bear in mind that if the weather is bad the boats do not run, and may not run for days. To fly from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc is about 270,000D and the flight takes 20 minutes – it is worth every dong! Bear in mind the flights fill up quickly – especially on weekends – book early.
Do not, under any circumstances, try to reach Phu Quoc by fishing boat from Ha Tien. These trips are dangerous, the boats do sink and people do drown.
Lastly, be sure to leave enough time to soak up sun on Phu Quoc – it is lovely!
Anyway, that’s it for now, I’ll write a more detailed report with fares etc in a few days.
Pity you didn't make it to Soc Trang and other more remote area's, if only to encourage other people to get off the beaten track. Hardly anyone gets into the heart of the delta, the central highlands or the north-east, but sticks to the Open Tour routes and the organized "backpackers" tours.
This is not new, has always been the case in Vietnam, due to the relatively high cost and people's unawareness of what's out there. Who knows Ha Giang is the most beautiful province in Vietnam ???? Anyway, looking forward to the rest of your report !
#3 ReneHanoi has been a member since 3/7/2006. Posts: 54
I'm back in a couple of weeks, and then down to Soc Trang, Ca Mau etc.
It's a shame the Open Tour things skew people's destinations so much -- I think a lot of their business thrives on the fears people have about public transport -- that it is expensive (it's not), unsafe (it's not), full of theives (it's not) and overcrowded (ok well sometimes) -- and all of those criticisms, except for the cost issue can just as easily be levelled at the open tours -- which are often appallingly overcrowded.
But anyway - get down there, live a little, experience the country -- that's what it's all about!