Cruising Down the Mekong River

The Mekong River Delta is not just some insignificant waterway-it represents thousands of square miles of an area rich in tradition, culture, colour and culinary excitement. If you’re in the midst of planning your tours, Vietnam has a wide range of experiences, but skipping this area would be a huge injustice. You would miss the hustle and bustle of the floating markets, and the opportunity to witness first-hand a dimension of the local daily life that is not often obvious at the get-go. But most important is the realisation of how the mighty river and the rich surrounding land impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands of souls in immeasurable ways. While there are many different types of tours, Vietnam will never fail to impress itself on the adventurous traveller’s memory.

The Floating Markets

Among the sources of unforgettable experiences as you traverse the Mekong River Delta are the floating markets-you’ll find merchants of an incredible array of local goods plying their trade on boats called ‘sampans’, while tourists try to haggle over the best price above the overpowering background noise of the market. Some of the goods being sold on these boats may surprise you: a squealing pot-bellied pig, for example, is not something you may expect to see on a boat in the middle of a river! Enterprising merchants selling small and lightweight items hoist their products on bamboo poles so that potential customers several boats away can see them. There are also sampans that serve hot noodle-based meals-these are the so-called “fast-food” sampans of the floating market, and the sense of danger that you might feel when you realize there’s a live fire right there in your wooden boat will only make your meal all the tastier! The biggest of these floating markets is the one in Phung Hiep, but you will have to be there very early in the morning (the market opens at 4am) in order to ‘catch the worm’, on these tours. Vietnam’s market life is vibrant, colourful and noisy, and these ones are no different.

The ‘Technicolour Paradise’ of Chau Doc

A busy city, but nevertheless exceptionally friendly, Chau Doc is in An Giang Province and is conveniently located at a place where the Mekong and Bassac rivers are linked. Chau Doc is easily accessible and might pleasantly ‘shock’ you with its visual character: shop fronts and most edifices are in an explosive array of bright colours, such as purple, blue and green. The people are warm and friendly and most speak passable English. A visit to this city would not be complete without an early morning boat trip (paddle boats can be rented at the park’s western end) to nearby fish farms and raft houses-imagine being on board a paddle boat gliding through a foggy, silent dawn and you’ll get what we mean when we say it’s unforgettable.

Ben Tre’s Unspoiled Beauty

Your itinerary down the Mekong River is best capped with a visit to the unspoiled beauty that is Ben Tre. Consisting of seven districts, this is a coconut paradise, home to miles and miles of breathtaking countryside. If there’s any doubt that Ben Tre is an off-the-beaten-path destination, take note that the locals speak no English-even its local tourism office find it difficult to engage in any passable English conversation. But that should not daunt you while on your tours: Vietnam is full to the brim of wonderful and unique experiences for the adventurous traveller, so be brave and dive right in.

By Suzana