There are many many tour agencies in HCMC offering many many different types of tours to the Mekong Delta – a water world where boats, houses, restaurants and markets float along the rivers, canals and streams that flow through the region. There are one day tours from and to Saigon but you then spend 4 hours of the day on a bus, and there are 2 day/1 night tours that also include the option of a homestay for an extra cost, again going back to HCMC. However, as I wanted to head to Cambodia afterwards and didn’t really have any desire to come back to HCMC, I booked a 3 day/2 night tour that ended with a speedboat into Phnom Penh, booking it directly with TNK Travel agency and paying 1,710,000 dong upfront (£62) to include the homestay on the first night and the fast boat (you can pay less for a hotel instead of a homestay and less for a slow boat). As I am travelling solo there was also a single supplement cost of 130,000 extra for the hotel on the 2nd night but I said I would pay this myself when I arrived at the hotel in case anyone else on the tour was riding solo and wanted to share a rooms do save this cost.
I was picked up from my hostel in HCMC at 8am on Day 1 but we had to pick others up on the way by foot and then head yo the bus station. Our bus left around 9am and I struck up conversation with Tine, a Danish girl also travelling solo but only doing the first two days of the tour. Our first day was mainly spent in Ben Tre, cruising along the waster on a riverboat to get from place to place.
We went to An Khanh where we took a quaint and peaceful canal cruise on a hand-rowed sampan amongst coconut trees, to a family business that produces coconut candy. We saw the process from beginning to end, from raw coconut to solid, wrapped coconut candy, and got to sample the candy warm before it set, and then the final product (plus I got to have a try at wrapping the candy, which they go with such skill at lightning speed).
At the same place we had the option of having a large snake draped over our shoulders, which I jumped at – channelling my inner Britney Spears I felt totally calm (as did the snake) until I put its head near mine to pose for a kissing shot (classic), over-thought it and had to remove the snake before I panicked! We then cruised to a hut where we sampled local fruits and honey tea (I normally hate tea but this was delicious, probably because it was so sweet). Our inclusive lunch was pretty basic (rice and tough-to-chew pork) before we went to Vinh Trang Pagoda where I saw the happiest Buddha statue I have ever seen (and my favourite thus far) and got the wonderful opportunity to witness Monks mid meditative-chant.
We were then taken to our homestay at Mr Hung’s in Can Tho, which is used so often and by so many tourists that it felt a bit more like a guesthouse, however Tine and I were delighted with our bungalow and the dinner we shared with our group was amazing. First they showed us how to make the Spring rolls and deep-fry them, then we were presented with what we had cooked alongside delicious green beans, steamed fish, tofu in tomato sauce, rice, noodles and dipping sauce. It was so so tasty and the homestay is worth it for this alone.
After a brilliant sleep (other than the early start) we woke at 6am for a breakfast of baguette and jam before taking a boat to Cai Rang Floating Markets. The sun was beating down and the local market vendors in full swing by the time we got there, with our boat constantly bring surrounded by the market boats for them to then attach their boat to ours by hook so they could sail along with us and make sales. There were boats (floating markets) with various things for sale but the most common seemed to be watermelon, pineapple, fresh coconut water and Vietnamese coffee. There was so much energy between our boat and their boats, and a lot of fun passing money and goods from one boat to the next. It was so cool and an experience I would definitely recommend.
Afterwards we cruised to a hut to see how vermicelli is made, then onto another stop wh I tried barbecued rat – it tastes of like chicken but with more flavour – before having lunch at a local restaurant.
Afterwards we then took a bus to Chau Doc – this is where those on the 2 day tour going back to HCMC left us. In Chau Doc moved onto small boats to cruise through Tra Su forest where we discovered storks, cranes and other tropical birds, some nestled amongst the river plant life (which, if you hadn’t known was on water, looked like a field). It was completely still, quiet and natural – I felt so at peace here.
We were later taken to our hotel, Hai Chau, where I paid 110,000 for a single room supplement (20,000 less than with the travel agent) and checked in to a lovely room all of my own that had, well, not quite a bath – ok, not at all a bath, more of a shower with a deep foot area that might bathe a baby, but into which I stuffed a flannel down the plug hole and filled up with shower gel and hot water and then wedged myself into, hanging my legs out over the side so it felt a little bit like a bath for my back at least. It was enough of a bathe that I felt I was thoroughly cleansed and I washed my hair for the first time in over a week and combed it for the first time in well over a month. I went to bed feeling refreshed and half normal. Oh and that evening I had street food where I had no idea what they were selling or what it was called but I watched a woman make a dish for another customer, then pointed at the dish and back at me – I think it was some sort of congee dish with pork, and actually rally tasty. I need to point and eat more often.
We woke on the final day at 5:30am for breakfast on the hotel top floor, consisting of baguette with scrambled eggs and an iced coffee, before taking a boat trip through the floating village to visit a fish farm to see how they raise their fish in their floating houses, and then on to the Cham minority with their traditional village.
At 7:30 we hopped onto our speedboat that was heading for Phnom Penh and were shortly presented with visa application forms and arrival/departure cards. The guide on the boat then asked everyone for 34 USD for their visa but, having read up in advance, I knew that on all the buses/boats you get on to try to cross the border, those working on board will charge you a fee to do it. Knowing it should be 30 dollars I refused – even though he had presented it as the only option – and said I would do it myself. We first stopped at the Vietnam departure point and I (with 3 others going all DIY and rogue) had to wait for all the other passports to be stamped first before getting mine stamped, but everyone else and the boat had to wait for us anyway. We were back on the boat for 5 minutes before reaching the Cambodia arrival point where we had to apply for visas – again, the 4 of us had to wait for all the others who paid 34 USD to go first but we then went up and only paid 30 USD, and then everyone had to queue anyway to get their arrival stamp and pass over their arrival card. So I saved 4 dollars and it took the same amount of time and effort, I just had the dislike of the Vietnamese guide who didn’t get 4 dollars off me (another gripe – the locals can literally hate you, refusing to speak to you and acting disgusted, if you do not give them money – whether to purchase something from them or not, in this case – when they want you to).
All in all it was a pretty easier border crossing and by 10am we were on our way again to Phnom Penh by speedboat…