The most common reason for visiting My Tho is to use it as a base for a boat trip into the Mekong Delta.
At first glance it has terrific potential as it's just an hour or two from Saigon, has good lodgings and has a tremendous range of Mekong Delta scenery within easy reach. On the downside, all the "official" tourist boat-trips are controlled by the Tien Giang Tourist office who have set the price of tours artificially high and also restricted the tours to large, ten to twenty seat boats.
What this means is that you'll pay two to three times what you may pay in Can Tho yet be deprived of the up-close experience which can only really be garnered in a small sampan. That said, if you don't have the time to get to Can Tho, the trips out of My Tho are still worth doing -- they're just not as good, nor as fine value, as they could be.
Organised privately, a standard My Tho boat trip for 3-4 hours costs around 200,000 to 400,000 for the boat. The boat trips visit a set of fixed, somewhat contrived, destinations but the scenery more than makes up for it. You'll most likely visit Dragon (Con Tan Long), Tortoise (Con Quy) and Unicorn (Con Thoi Son) Islands -- all are known for their fruit orchards and cottage industries (coconut candy, banana liquor, ginger teas and so on), with a trip taking three to four hours depending on how long you spend at each spot. You'll also most likely be encouraged to take a meal at a riverside seafood restaurant at the end of the trip.
If you've never seen a fruit orchard nor seen coconut candy made before, then the cottage industries can be quite interesting, but the real highlight is travelling in the back canals -- especially on Unicorn Island. There, after sampling an early breakfast of ginger tea and fruit liquor you'll be transferred to a small sampan and rowed through palm-fringed back canals. This portion of the trip only takes twenty minutes -- a shame as a longer trip, through more canals, would be more interesting.
Two points worth noting. First, if you're planning on visiting the area around My Tho but venturing no further into the Mekong Delta, then organising your trip from Saigon works out far cheaper. Secondly, you can catch a local ferry from My Tho town to all three islands from the boat station on Trung Trac St, but once you reach each island you'll need to wander around a fair bit to find anything other than general Delta scenery.
If you'd prefer not to do a group tour, walk along the river front to the junction with the Bao Dinh River and you'll see a bunch of sampans moored here. Starting prices in the morning kick off at 100,000 dong per hour, with the suggested trip length being 3-4 hours. In the afternoon, once all the tour groups have bailed, you should be able to get a three hour trip for around 200,000 depending on your bargaining ability. This can be a better option as you miss the midday heat and the light is better for photos.
By Vinh Dao.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.