The Mekong Delta is a popular weekend getaway from the bustling southern hub of Ho Chi Minh City. What is there to do in this maze of rivers and rice paddies? Here are our favorite activities.
A trip to the Mekong Delta would not be complete if you forgo visiting the floating markets. It is interesting to see how the residents of the Delta have built their life around the water—living their daily lives, working, eating, earning money, and even doing their shopping on the water. The floating markets have existed for over a 100 years, and were formed to meet the needs of the locals while the land infrastructure was still at its infancy.
There are six floating markets in the Mekong Delta. They are: Cai Rang, Cai Be, Phong Dien, Nga Bay, Nga Nam, and Tran On. These are scattered around the different provinces of the Mekong Delta. Cai Rang is the biggest, most popular of all and also the most easily accessed. It is located in the Can Tho province. The market opens around 03:00 a.m. but reaches its most lively around 05:00 a.m. In this lively and crowded trading atmosphere you will find mostly fruits and vegetables being handed over from one boat to another. Each market boat has a giant pole erected at the front, displaying samples of what they sell.
Feast on Mekong Delta specialties
There are so many wonderful dishes to try in the region, and even some you would consider weird. 70% of fruits consumed in Vietnam are grown here, so make sure you fill up on as much dragon fruit, pomelo, coconut, mango, rambutan, jackfruit, banana, mangosteen and durian as you can. By the way, you can even eat these fresh from the tree if you pay a visit to a local orchard. Some popular ones include Cai Be Orchard, Phong Dien and My Khanh. A tour of a fruit garden is a great help to support these farmers’ hard work and livelyhoods.
You should also enjoy the fresh cuisine. Bun ca is probably the most popular in the region—a fish noodle soup. Other dishes to try are hu tieu sa dec (pork noodle soup), banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake), lau mam (salted fish hot pot), mud roasted chicken, and giant grilled gourami fish. If you want something on the weird scale, try rat meat. It tastes like chicken. If that’s not weird enough for you, eat coconut worm. Alive.
Swim in the swamps and try net fishing
Swamps are a lot more fun to swim in than pools, and children in Vietnam love doing it. From September to December is when this activity is at its best because the water levels are higher during this time. Swamp swimming is a particularly favorite play time activity of children in the area, especially on hot afternoons as a great way to cool off. You will also probably come across some locals partaking in net fishing. They will gladly welcome you and let you have a try and your catches will be cooked for dinner.
Tan Chau (An Giang), Tan Hong (Dong Tap) or Tan Hung (Long An) are the three most famous places for swamp swimming.
Cruise on the river, take a sampan ride
A popular image when you Google the Mekong Delta is a small wooden boat (sampan) being rowed through a palm tree frond lined river canal. Boats are definitely the best way to explore the maze of rivers that makes up the Mekong Delta, and residents actually use these boats as taxis.
From Ho Chi Minh City, make your way over to Ham Luong River in Ben Tre. This is a big branch of the Mekong River and here you can board a boat to make your way through the tributaries of the region. Stop over at anything that looks interesting—rice paddies, fruit orchards, specialty production houses and river restaurants/cafes. The locals are extremely friendly too and may invite you to their homes.
Visit our favorite little coconut candy lady
Many residents of the Mekong Delta specialize in producing goods such as rice paper, coconut candy, bricks, handicrafts and the like. They even open their homes for you to visit, look around and buy items if you wish. One of our favorites is a wonderful lady named Tu Ha who makes the world’s best coconut candy. She is 62 and lives by herself doing what she loves, and part of that is sharing with the rest of the world her delicious sweets. She spends her days making different kinds of candies from coconut and ginger which are packaged and sold off to buyers. She is always open to teach you what the process is like, so go with a local who can help translate. Don’t miss out on the coconut rice wine! Take some back home—it’s delicious, and strong.
To get to her, just tell the boat driver “Co Tu Ha” and they will know. If not, follow the map linked below. She will certainly be the highlight of your whole adventure.