If you take a stroll through Saigon’s backpacker district of Pham Ngu Lao you’ll notice that the landscape is full of travel agents. They are everywhere. Although they all offer tours that will take you throughout Vietnam, their specialties are trips to the Cu Chi Tunnels and tours of the Mekong Delta. When you’re looking at tours of the delta most guides will push an overnight one, and those can be great, but Saigon is usually the first stop on a bigger tour of the country in which every night counts. Day tours through the Mekong are available with most guides and from hotels, usually at a ridiculously low price, and can actually be pretty fun. Here’s a rundown of what a typical day tour to the delta may look like.
You catch an early morning, air-conditioned bus from Pham Ngu Lao, on which you will ride for about 90 minutes each way. The trip used to take longer but the opening of a new highway in 2009, which happens to be closed to motorbikes, cut off an entire hour. Usually you’ll be in a group of 20 or so, though sometimes there can be more, especially during the high season. Many companies offer private tours but they are much more expensive. After a pit stop about 45 minutes into your ride, you reach the city of My Tho. From here you hop onto a boat and start cruising the Mekong.
The boat takes you to the island of Con Phuong where you get to see a little bit of Vietnamese culture albeit on the touristy side. A fruit tasting is prepared, with a range of fruits like jackfruit, pomelo, and durian, after a short walk past some souvenir stands. The sampling of fruit is a warm up for a walk through a small orchard where several of the types of fruit you tried are grown.
Through the orchard you will be led to four-person rowboats piloted by ladies in conical hats. If you didn’t bring your own hat, the ladies have you covered with spares. Amazingly these pilots navigate the boats down narrow, traffic-congested waterways, a fun experience with pretty scenery, but the area really is packed full of boats. That alone wouldn’t be so bad — but every boat that passed by nearly crashed into us to ask for tip money. I’m not exactly sure why they wanted the tip, as they were just getting in the way…
When you empty back into the larger river, the boat drops you off, and your pilot too will ask for a tip. You are then guided to a table area where you can try orange, honey, and jasmine tea and honey wine. You can also hold a piece of honeycomb covered with bees. Try not to drop it on the ground like the kid in our group did.
Next, you hop on another boat, this time motorized, and head back into a lush green stream to find a spot for lunch. The tour fee includes a decent lunch of pork, rice, and vegetables but drinks are not included. If you are feeling more adventurous the restaurant’s menu may offer delicacies such as squirrel and crocodile, which you can try for an extra charge (we advise skipping the snake). After lunch you have 45 minutes of free time to relax in a hammock, go for a walk or grab a bike and pedal around the village. Then it’s back on the boat, then to a bigger boat, then back to the bus for a straight shot to Saigon.
The tour will last from 8:00 to 17:00 and should cost somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 VND, which includes lunch minus drinks. It will take up your whole day but is worth it for a little taste of the region. You’ll get back with plenty of time to hit the bars!
If you’ve got more time on your hands, there’s no reason to do a tour other than to save money and time. Ben Tre, My Tho and Can Tho are all good bases for exploring the Mekong Delta independently.
By Angela Schonberg
Last updated on 18th September, 2014.