After Halong Bay, the Mekong Delta is probably the area in Vietnam with the most guided tours on offer. They’re pushed so heavily, in fact, that you may think it’s impossible to travel the Mekong Delta without a tour. It’s perfectly doable though, and actually quite easy. Here is how we did it: 6 nights of discovering the Mekong Delta on our own.
Day 1: Flying into Can To & transferring to Vinh Long / An Binh island
The Mekong Delta from our little ATR Turboprop plane
We had just been to Phu Quoc island (which you should really check out if you’re in Vietnam!) and our goal was to get to Vinh Long by the end of the day. It’s possible to take the ferry to Rach Gia and then a bus to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, but we chose to fly directly from Phu Quoc to Can Tho. It saved us a lot of time and cost just a few dollars more. At Can Tho airport, we jumped in a taxi and asked the driver to take us to the bus station. While he seemed a bit sketchy, he took us there on what seemed a pretty direct route – yay! I recommend Vina Sun or, if those aren’t available, Mai Linh taxis. They are a bit more expensive than non-brand or local brand taxis. But my experience has generally been good with them, and this is what I go for if I don’t have a driver specifically recommended by the hotel I’m staying at.
At Can Tho bus station, I walked around bus offices asking for tickets to Vinh Long until I found one that had a bus going in that direction and offered to drop us off. We left immediately, and to our surprise were directed to a night bus. Comfy for me, as I’m Vietnamese sized. My partner didn’t fit into the seat at all – oh well! Benefits of being ‘travel sized’. The bus ride just took an hour, and we were dropped off on the side of the road at a rather random spot outside of Vinh Long. There were plenty of motorbike taxis around, but we wanted a car as we had our big backpacks with us. Thankfully, a motorbike taxi guy managed to organize us a taxi – super nice of him.
The advantages of being travel sized… I can actually get comfortable on a Vietnamese sleeper bus!
We asked to be dropped off at the ferry terminal, as we had booked a home stay on An Binh, an island in the Mekong just across from Vinh Long. At the ferry terminal we were met by one of the guys from the home stay who made sure we got onto the ferry okay and informed his brother on the other side that we were coming. This was impressive, as we hadn’t told them at all what time we would arrive!
Ferry rides in Vietnam are always fun, but especially just before Tet (Vietnamese New Year) when the locals seem to transport just about anything on motorbikes.
Hanging out on the ferry. It’s a very short ferry ride, just a few minutes to cross the river.
Check out the kid’s chair on the bike! We saw tons of kids sitting on scooters like that.
We were picked up on the other side by one of the guys from our home stay, and taken to the home stay on his scooter one at a time.
I look really scared on that one… it was actually a great ride though, on tiny roads with no cars (they wouldn’t fit).
All in all, while there were lots of change overs to get there, the trip was easy and really enjoyable!
Day 2 – 3: Discovering An Binh island, Vinh Long and a Floating Market
Where to stay in Vinh Long / An Binh
Our bungalow set in lush gardens, with hammocks in front and an open air bathroom with shower on the left
We really wanted to do a home stay in the Mekong Delta, and chose Vinh Long because it had some good looking, reasonably prized home stays. We stayed at Ngoc Phuong Homestay, where we had a bungalow with a private open air bath room and air con.
The bungalow was very basic, but clean. The highlights were the dinners, really nice home cooked Vietnamese food in large quantities.
Crispy fried local fish which we turned into spring rolls with fresh vegetables and herbs wrapped in rice paper
Overall, Ngoc Phuong felt more like a hostel than a home stay. There was little interaction with the family and it was run like a hostel, but I still enjoyed our stay there and would go again.
Discovering An Binh by bicycle
Exploring the Mekong Delta, Vietnamese style
Our home stay offered free bicycles, so we grabbed two bicycles and rode around An Binh island for half a day. The roads on the island are mostly very narrow paths, so there are no cars, just bicycles and motorbikes/scooters. It was fun to discover and I felt a bit Vietnamese with my bicycle and iconic Vietnamese hat. We even came across a cock fight on our way. It was interesting to see all the betting going on, and I’m happy to report nobody got injured as one of the cocks chickened out and ran away – wise choice.
Vinh Long market
In the afternoon, we took the ferry across again and went to Vinh Long market for lunch, some smoothies and a bit of people watching. I love eating at Asian markets, and I really enjoyed the market here, as it’s a very authentic local market. We seemed to be the only tourists there that day. We worked our way through the market with lots of sign language and pointing, having a bowl of noodles with lots of tasty toppings for lunch. We also bought some fruit and bread to snack on, as well as some fresh aloe vera to soothe our many sand flea bites from the previous week in Phu Quoc.
The vendors at Vinh Long Market. This is a great market, very local and real, not a tourist trap. There’s a big area in the center of the market with food stalls selling soups, noodles, banh mi and smoothies. Highly recommend this place for lunch!
My Vietnamese lunch: Bun Nem Nuong, rice noodles with very aromatic pork meatballs, crispy fried spring rolls, pickled vegetables and fresh herbs. It was gorgeous!
Mekong Delta boat tour & visiting the floating markets
I hate getting up early, but it’s worth it for a sunrise like this one.
As hiring a private boat can be quite expensive, we took up our home stay’s offer to join their small guided half day boat tour the next morning. We got up at a rather nasty time of 5.30am to be on the boat for sunrise. Totally worth it though! We had a small boat with a group of 8 people plus a guide and a captain. Our tour took us to fruit farms, bee farms, and much to everyone’s delight, a candy factory which gave out generous tasting platters. We also experienced the floating market in Cai Be and transferred to small rowing boats to visit a mangrove forest.
The tour wasn’t the most exciting experience we had in Vietnam (nothing beats the motorcycle tour through the Vietnamese Highlands that we did), but it was definitely enjoyable and a nice way to spend a morning, discovering places that we may not have discovered on our own and eating lots of delicious coconut and sesame candy.
The afternoon took us back to the market for more food and a stroll around. After that we went back to the home stay to recover from the early morning wakeup and take a siesta in the hammocks.
On the way to the Floating Market at Cai Be
Spotted on our Mekong Delta Boat Tour: Getting ready to sell dried shrimp at the floating market
THIS is how you do a Mekong Delta Boat Tour in style: A small boat with a hammock at the back. You know, for resting between the exhausting stops at floating markets and candy factories
The Mekong Delta in Vietnam is famous for its candy, in large part because of all the coconut that’s grown in the area. These guys were cutting sesame candy, of which we tried a big portion!
Continue to part 2 of our Mekong Delta DIY – traveling to Ben Tre and discovering more of the Mekong Delta without a tour.