A tour through the Mekong Delta – By bike and canoe through Vietnam’s largest river

This article is about a one-day tour through the Mekong Delta. We start with some interesting facts about the region. This is followed by a detailed experience report of the tour.

The Mekong River

The Mekong River is an approximately 4500 km long river in Asia that flows through six countries (or seven, depending on how you count). This makes it the sixth longest river on earth. The Mekong has its headwaters in the inaccessible highlands of Tibet. From there it flows on towards China. Afterwards it forms the natural border between Laos and Myanmar. Together with the Mae Nam Ruak River, which flows into the Mekong, it also marks the three-country corner between Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. The Mekong then continues to flow as a natural border between Laos and Thailand, passing through Laos and back to the border. Then it turns towards Cambodia. It flows through the country and finally flows into the sea as a wide delta in Vietnam.

The Mekong is the main transport route in many regions. In Laos, it is currently receiving its first dam, which is not without controversy. In addition, it is the center of agriculture in many countries due to its fertile alluvial sediments. Depending on the region, the water level of the Mekong can fluctuate by up to 15 meters between rainy and dry seasons.

History of the region

The region of the Mekong Delta was only sparsely populated until the 19th century, as the humid area was repeatedly hit by epidemics. It was not until the French colonization that rice cultivation was intensified. Today, the Mekong Delta is the southern rice chamber of Vietnam and one of the main agricultural areas for fruit in Vietnam.

The Mekong Delta region used to belong to Cambodia and was incorporated into Vietnam only under Nguyen Dynasty, which also built the famous palace in Hue, at the beginning of the 19th century. Accordingly, there were repeated disputes over the territory. These escalated fully when the Khmer Rouge, a guerrilla group and later totalitarian military dictatorship of Cambodia repeatedly invaded the region and abducted and killed countless Vietnamese. Also during the Vietnam War, the Mekong Delta was one of the regions where numerous battles between US troops and the Vietnamese Nationalist Liberation Front NFL / NFB took place. Accordingly, many images widely seen in the media were of a rather gruesome nature. In recent years, however, the region has visibly quieted down and normal life has returned.

The tour

Booking

We have booked the tour through Airbnb. Fortunately it was possible to postpone it again for two days after booking, because Max got the flu in the meantime.

The tour cost 84€ per person. The price includes breakfast and lunch, the canoe and the bike, as well as transportation and a guide. In Ho Chi Minh there are relatively many tour offices. It is possible that you could have gotten a comparable tour cheaper in one of them. Exactly the same tour, however, is probably not offered so often. At least we have seen no other tourists on a large part of the route.

Our group consists of eight people.

The journey from Ho Chi Minh City

We will be picked up in the morning at 7:00 in front of our accommodation by a minibus. Then we drive 2 hours from Ho Chi Minh City towards the coast. Our destination is the small town of Cái Bè, right on the banks of the Mekong River. First, our guide tells us a little about Vietnam and especially about agriculture in the region.

In addition, one sees colorful graves between the houses again and again. The relatives are buried near the houses so that their spirits remain with the family, we learn.

For a large part of the trip, however, silence reigns in the bus. Most of our passengers are still dozing a little.

Breakfast

On arriving in Cái Bè, we first go to a small place called Cafe Sông Mây. After we had driven through rather dingy streets, the quite respectably prepared garden surprises us nevertheless at first.

Each of us gets a glass of cold tea and a larger glass of iced coffee. To eat, we have bánh mì, which are typical Vietnamese sandwiches.

The boat ride in the Mekong

After that, we go through the village to a jetty. There a large boat full of canoes is waiting for us. Instead of benches stand Folding chairs on board.

Our captain, a short elderly man welcomes us aboard. welcome. He apparently doesn’t speak English and is quite quite silent.

Now each of us gets a typical hat like the ones the Rice farmers wear and a waterproof cover for our cell phones.

Then one by one we are allowed to take the wheel of the boat and sail a little way along the river, while our guide enthusiastically takes photos of us. The captain stands thereby always in our proximity and eyes our driving skills skeptically.

The canoe trip in the Mekong side arm

After about half an hour on the boat, we pull into a quiet side arm of the Mekong. The river here is only about 15meters wide. The canoes are lowered into the water and one after the other climbs a bit shakily from the big boat in the small boat around.

There is a slight current that leads to an unholy mess with the canoes at first, until we all figure out how to steer and stay the course.

Max and I are sharing a boat. Also another couple and our guide and a tourist occupy each of the heavier and less maneuverable double canoes. The rest of the tourists have single canoes.

Then we start rowing. The big boat follows us at first at a little distance, then it overtakes us and slowly sails ahead of us.

Our group, including us are not necessarily the most talented canoeists. Occasionally, we ram into each other. Once a canoe also lands in a bush on the shore. But the current is only weak, the river as a whole is very calm. The only obstacles you have to avoid are water plants. However, they also forgive it if you accidentally run over them.

Along the river there are always small houses. From time to time we meet fishermen. We see wooden poles, with which more land is to be wrested from the river. The farmers try to increase their cultivation area. If a strong flood should come once, it will meet them all the stronger, but with it nobody calculates here.

The river trip is beautiful and fun. Deep insights into the life at the Mekong we did not get thereby, but for it wet pants.

The floating market of Cái Bè

 From the canoe, we head Back onto the boat. We go down the Mekong River back into town, however, we do not go to the jetty, but to one of the floating Markets.

In the past, boats were one of the fastest means of transportation in the region. The boats were used to bring fruit to the markets and sold directly off the boats.

Today, most goods are transported by truck and the floating markets are only relics, which are enjoyed mainly by tourists. enjoy. A few traders have also built a business selling Deliver fruit on cell phone orders to houses on the shore.

We don’t encounter many fruit vendors anymore. Most of the boats moored here on the river are homes of poor families who can’t afford a bottom.

However, there is still a very nice fruit boat here. We sail side by side and step over as we come to a stop. An older lady hands us a fruit plate as we come aboard. There is Dragon fruit, jackfruit, star apple, pineapple and melon. We get the We are shown the corresponding fruit. On request we may also try a green fruit fruit that is lying on board. It looks like a green oblong tangerine, but has a firm, fibrous and somewhat floury flesh. Our Favorite it will not.

After that, we head back to the jetty.

The bicycle tour from Cái Bè to Câm Son

We walk a short distance back to town. There we get bicycles. They are very modern mountain bikes in excellent condition. In addition, we get usable, but somewhat dilapidated bicycle helmets and a plaid cloth, where we do not know exactly what to do with it. Our guide makes a scarf out of it. Since the sun is shining straight pretty intense, we make without further ado headscarves under the helmets from it.

Then we get going. First we drive a piece along the main street of the village. Here it is dusty, a bit run down and there is a lot of garbage on the side of the road. However, this changes when we turn into the residential areas. Suddenly, there are loud cute little houses in neat gardens around. The roadsides are planted with ornamental flowers and also the garbage keeps within limits.

Children playing in the gardens are always shouting joyful “Hello” towards us and are happy when we wave.

Our first stop is a Buddhist temple. There, the statues are briefly explained to us, we are each handed a bottle of water, and the rest of the route is explained.

One of the participants of the tour has never ridden a bike for a longer time and has trouble keeping up with the group. So we slow down a bit and keep waiting for her and her partner. Eventually our guide rides ahead with us and then back up a bit every now and then to get her.

Lunch in Câm Son

After a total of ten kilometers of driving, we arrive at a small local restaurant called Quan Phuong.The place serves pho, a Vietnamese soup. Choices are fish, frog, beef or vegetarian soup. You can also try sausage, which is typical of the region.

As a vegetarian, I get vegetable soup with mushrooms and tofu. Along with that I get fried tofu again extra, a plate of pac choi and rice. Max gets a soup with beef, rice and a sausage. In addition we all get a huge plate with lettuce leaves and lots of Thai basil. Thai basil. What we should do with it, however, is not clear to us. not.

We chat a little with our fellow travelers. Our guide tells us that the people in the neighborhoods here all own their land. They are proud of it and therefore pay more attention to the surrounding area.

After about an hour for lunch, we head back.

The bike tour part 2

 This time we ride a slightly different route back.Here again we meet many enthusiastic children and beautiful front gardens. For a bit we also ride along banana plantations. Most workers along the way greet friendly.

Finally we leave the residential area again and turn onto the country road. Immediately we meet again the hectic traffic, the garbage and numerous potholes. More than once trucks cut us off and it is overtaken, honked and pushed.

As we take a break, we notice that our Newbie cyclist and her partner are missing. Our guide rides back the way we came to look for them. We are currently waiting on the side of the road. The minutes pass without that we see them. So we wait and wait… Almost ten minutes pass until our guide shows up with the two in tow. They seem a bit meek. But the group takes the waiting time with humor and we celebrate, that they have that they have reappeared at all. We take them into the middle of the group for the last Middle of the group to bring them back to the bus in one piece.  

The return trip to Ho Chi Minh

Finally, we arrive back at the starting point. I hope a little that we get a coffee again. But we get only a Bottle of water in the hand pressed, give the bicycles and can again visit a WC.

Then it goes also already again back in the direction of Ho Chi Minh City. Since we now come into the rush hour, the return trip takes much longer than the trip in the morning.

We reach our hotel at dusk. We are a little exhausted, but we had a lot of fun today. Even my pants are dry again by now.

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