February 9, 2017
The Mekong Delta is where the Mekong River meets the East Sea in southwestern Vietnam. This “biological treasure trove” has been inhabited since prehistoric times by humans, more than 1,000 animal species and countless plants, fish, lizards and mammals. The river itself has been a valuable maritime trade center since ancient times and the Delta remains a productive agriculture and aquaculture region for the country.
To tour this incredible area, we contacted Khoa Nguyen with In Country Tours. From the start he was very responsive, working with us on the rate and picking us up from the airport. He even brought some medicine to help with John’s stomach bug and offered us nearly around the clock advice on where to eat, do laundry, get coffee… we cannot overstate the value of Khoa’s services. We booked a two-day itinerary with him to tour the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels.
We were met bright and early at The Rex Hotel by our tour guide for the day, Nguyen. Khoa said we would get along well with her – what an understatement! We loved Nguyen. She has a wealth of knowledge about her country and speaks impeccable English, which she actually taught herself. We chatted with Nguyen for the entire 2.5 hour drive, learning about the history of the area, what we were seeing and the plan for the day. There were lots of questions from John, and lots of laughs from Nguyen in response.
It’s almost impossible to put into words what an experience it is to see the Mekong Delta, so we’ll focus on the photos and try to caption them as best we can.
We drove from Ho Chi Minh City to Cai Be Village. First order of business was visiting a family-run workshop with artisans making many local products, including coconut toffee, popped rice, rice paper… we loved taste-testing everything!
Can’t take a road trip without a Vietnamese iced coffee! Thank you, Nguyen!
Making the coconut paste – everything is done by hand. Almost everyone in the workshop was related.
These women are spreading the coconut toffee paste into molds. Once it hardens, they cut it into small squares.
You have to wrap the squares first in rice paper, then in wax paper. This girl could do about 100 a minute. I gave it a try. They definitely would not hire me.
Snake wine was also made here. They let the snakes infuse the rice wine, because they believe the protein gives you strength.
No thank you! The smell was interesting.
Making rice paper.
While some snakes are used for wine-infusing, this one is considered a pet. And the rooster is considered lunch.
Very interesting to us was that they use rice grain shells as fuel for the fire!
Making popped rice, very similar to pop corn.
Popped rice. They add sand to make the pan hot, then sift it out, along with any rice shells.
Having tea while we tried all the delicious things they made.
We then boarded our boat to visit the floating markets – the vendors hang one of whatever they’re selling on a pole attached to the front of their boat, so you can easily find what you need on a crowded river market day.
Our boat for the day.
All the boats have eyes painted on the bow to scare off the “monsters” they used to believe lived underwater.
These are houses.
People live here and travel around by boat instead of cars.
John said this reminded him of Pilottown.
Church on the island.
Looks like the Mississippi River.
Happy to see recycling efforts.
The floating fruit market.
The floating fruit market.
Nguyen helping prepare our fruit samples.
Jackfruit or Durian? Be careful!
John is now obsessed with jackfruit.
Loving the jackfruit!
Fresh coconut water.
We reached Tan Phong island and enjoyed a bike ride through the villages. We rode past traditional houses and stopped to see artisans making baskets, hammocks and more rice paper. We even passed a funeral – which looked more like a New Orleans jazz second line!
Bike rider chic.
Shady parking lot.
We really liked these trees.
Our stop for another tea and fruit tasting.
Jackfruit, water apple, pineapple, dragon fruit…
John making Nguyen laugh.
I liked the dragon fruit!
View from the fruit tasting.
John was glad we picked up two fans at the last stop!
This lady is making a custom hammock from bamboo or banana leaves. It will take her almost 10 days to finish.
The hammocks are strong enough to hold Americans!
These were real fighters… they were mad! The cages are covered so they can’t see their competition.
Then the best part – we got to have lunch at a beautiful garden house. The family patriarch greeted us warmly (and insisted we take shots of rice wine before our meal – “helps digestion”) and our delicious meal was prepared by the wife. The food kept coming. We don’t have words for how unforgettable this experience was. We are so grateful.
Lunch in the garden of a local home.
First up – spring rolls with the nice paper we watched the island artisans make.
Spring rolls with prawn (we really debated whether they were actually crawfish).
Rice flower cake omelet.
An entire fried elephant ear fish! We rolled small pieces in rice paper with vegetables.
We did some damage.
So happy. And a little hot.
Our host giving “handsome” John a gift of dragon eye fruit (or longan).
Post-lunch hammock time, as insisted by the owner.
Just hanging out on Tang Phong island!
View from the hammock: the grave of the homeowners ancestors. They build them a nice “house” for the afterlife and leave incense and gifts for the spirit.
After lunch we hopped into a sampan boat for a tour of some of the many canals and tributaries that comprise the Mekong Delta.
Such an interesting way to see the Delta.
Enjoying every second. Thanks, Nguyen, for rowing!
We cannot recommend this experience highly enough to anyone traveling to the Ho Chi Minh City area. It was one of the coolest things we’ve ever done!