Exploring Indochina: Mekong Delta Tour (My Tho – Ben Tre)

We were supposed to join the Mekong Delta tour starting at 7:45 am but exhaustion got the best of us. Good thing Chanh was able to book us for the next pickup at 8:15 am. We learned that day that guides pick up tourists from the hotels before heading to the bus.
 
By 8:30 we were already aboard but we still picked up more tourists along the way. I think at about 9:00 am the bus was already full so our guide introduced himself.
 
IMG_2172  This is our guide, Zett. (I hope I got his name right)

 

TOUR GUIDE JOKE #1: “Okay, good morning. Today, we go to Cambodia. Everybody here going to Cambodia right?” *insert cricket sounds here* (I bet some got worried there for a second. LOL)

Zett then gave us an overview of our itinerary for the day.

A sheet of paper was handed for us to sign our names, nationalities, number of days we’re taking the Mekong Delta tour (multi-day tours are also available), and the hotel we’re staying at because this is their way of collecting payments from the hotels.

About an hour or so, we arrived at our stopover: a hammock restaurant. We took a break for 15-20 minutes, went back to the mini bus, and traveled again for more than an hour.  We passed by some rice paddy fields and, again, Zett made a funny remark (not entirely a joke since I believe part of it is true).

TOUR GUIDE FUNNY REMARK #2: “In Vietnam, cremation is very expensive so people bury their dead in the middle of rice paddy fields. This also makes Vietnamese rice very good. And today, we have rice for lunch.” LOL

Zett proceeds to tell us more about the Mekong River. If you don’t know yet, the Mekong runs through six countries: China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Simply put, it is the lifeblood for most of these countries.

Half an hour later we arrived at the dock. Here, the group was split. Those taking only the 1 day tour were asked to bring all belongings while those taking the 2-3 days tour can leave their bags on the mini bus.
 

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The dock
We were given this map. You can see the four main islands namely Unicorn, Dragon, Phoenix, and Tortoise.
 

Did you know that there’s a huge demand for Mekong sand? Tons and tons of sand from the Mekong are exported to Singapore.

TOUR GUIDE JOKE #3: “Please stay together and follow me. The island is big. Easy to get lost. If you get lost, you become a farmer forever.”

Within a few minutes, we arrived at our first destination: Unicorn Island.

First stop was at a beekeeping farm. Zett showed us the bees still in their artificial honeycomb plates.
The queen bee’s in there somewhere so you definitely don’t want to mess with the tour guide.

We sat down and were served warm honey tea with some banana chips, candied ginger and peanut brittle (?). Of course these are just samplers and the main goal is for you to buy these products.IMG_2194IMG_2193
I don’t think anybody from the group bought a single product so they unleashed their pet python. LOL
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Of course I’m just kidding! But ain’t she purty? :p You can have a photo op with her.

We then went on to the highlight of the trip (at least for me) – the rowing boat trip! We took a short trek and passed by a hamlet and some souvenir stalls along the way.

NOTE: If you don’t want your fingers to be squashed, keep your hands inside the boat!

Here’s a short video of our boat experience:

NOTE: The boat rower will ask you for a tip.

We went back to our bigger boat and headed to Ben Tre where we visited a coconut candy shop. Zett explained how the coconut candy is made.

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Step 1: Getting the coconut meat.
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Step 2: He shows the machine they use to squeeze out the coconut milk. He says one needs strong arms for this. This is also why their men don’t need to go to the gym. :p
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Step 3: The coconut milk is put on the mechanical mixer. When there’s no electricity, they use the coconut shells as tinder. One also has to manually mix the coconut caramel mixture.
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Step 4: The hardened coconut caramel is cut and individually wrapped by speech and/or hearing impaired women. Of course after all of this, you will be encouraged to buy some products.
After the tour here, we took a smaller motor boat and went through the canals to go to the local restaurant for our lunch. 

Elephant Ear Fish which, really, just looks and tastes like a bigger version of our tilapia. It was good though. For me, the best part of our lunch were the fresh spring rolls that this lady made at our table! Super yummy

NOTE: Lunch is included in the package but this only includes soup, rice, vegetables and chicken. If you would like to try their famous Elephant Ear Fish, you have to shell out an additional VND150,000. Good thing we shared a table with this Japanese lady so we were able to split the cost.

Zett then talked us into taking the ‘speedboat’ back to Saigon instead of the bus. He said if we take the bus, it will arrive in Saigon by 7:00 PM but by boat, we’ll be there by 5:30 PM. Since we’re already tired, (remember we just arrived 2:00 AM and did the Mekong Delta tour on the same day) we decided to take the boat instead.

THE CATCH: We need to pay an extra USD10/VND210,000 per head for the boat trip. He says that was already discounted because the original price is USD15/head. (In fairness, this is indicated on the tour overview Chanh sent me)

After lunch, Zett asked us to join his colleague’s other tour group so we could go back to My Tho to listen to some folk singers while eating fruits. After that, he will take us to the boat that will take us back to Saigon

Folk singer and musicians who entertained us

We were served some tea and fruits (jackfruit, bananas, pineapple and chico (also called sapodilla)).

NOTE: Tip is also expected so better prepare some small bills.

Finally it was now time to go back to Saigon. We took a ‘speedboat’ and I can say that I actually enjoyed it. Although there was nothing much to see along Mekong aside from tons of sand being extracted, it was very nice to feel the wind blowing on my face while we were ‘cruising’. It was relaxing and we were able to nap comfortably. I woke up and as we were nearing Saigon, we passed by some houses along the river bank. It was nice to see kids coming home from school riding small boats smiling and waving at the Westerners on our boat.

And just when the sun was about to set, we were able to snap a picture of Saigon’s cityscape. 

When we reached the dock, there was already a van waiting for us. This took us back to Pham Ngu Lao. The guide sincerely thanked us for visiting Vietnam. He says he hope that we encourage our friends to visit his country as well.

For the price of USD10/head, the Mekong Delta tour was worth it. It was a good way to see the countryside and provided a bit of escape from the hustle and bustle of the Saigon streets.

K

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