I went to Saigon, Vietnam for two principle reasons: to see the CuChi tunnels (the tunnel complex used by the Viet Cong to thwart American forces in the 1960s), and the famous Mekong Delta river, that runs through several countries before ending up in Southern Vietnam, but in particular, the ‘Floating Markets’. My most incredible Saigon experience was, in fact, an impromptu visit to the Remnants Museum, but I will leave that story for another time.
I booked a tour through the local post office, a French colonial heritage building. The next day, I joined four tourists (an Australian couple and a Vietnamese couple) in a minivan and headed for the Mekong.
There are at least two types of Mekong Delta river tours that your can book from Saigon. A one day tour which brings you to Can be, the nearer town about two hours north from which to access the Mekong, and a longer, two day tour which includes going to a busier floating market early the next morning (from 4-8am as they sell to business owners) after staying overnight in a homestay. As I hadn’t researched options in advance, I had no choice but to accept the shorter tour as my stay in Saigon was limited.
About fifteen minutes away from our arrival at Can be,e we stopped at a rest stop, which really was a souvenir shop. The rain was bucketing down, literally, and we had to make mad dashes in and out of the venue. There, I sat with our guide, and he explained that although he now lives in Saigon, he originally lived in the Mekong Delta region. When we arrived at Can be 15 minutes later, the Vietnamese couple took so many photos that as we all boarded our tour boat at the pier, we all patiently waited as they took dozens of photos. After they embarked, we pulled away in search of the nearby floating market. Our narrow boat was captained by a happy Vietnamese lady who wore a traditional straw, cone hat. She laughed and joked a lot with the guide and Vietnamese couple but spoke no English.
Our guide took us to a honey producing shop, a factory producing all things coconut and we stopped by a floating fruit shop as we passed through the scanty floating market. The Vietnamese owner had exotic fruit, which she cut up into generous tester portions. This was the first occation that I tried Durian, a custard-textured fruit, and Jackfruit, from the same fruit family. I purchased some sliced Jackfruit for 20,000 Dong ($1.00). The Vietnamese lady on our tour also bought fruit, and between the testers, my fruit and the fruit the Vietnamese lady shared with me, I ate more fruit in one afternoon than I had eaten all year!
The guide informed us that vendors from many countries travel up and down the Mekong Delta and they can travel anywhere. There is only one rule: don’t weigh down your boat with too much merchandise. Transgressors receive huge fines.
Lunch was very plain, but the live singing entertainment in the jungle setting was an outstanding experience for the whole tour group. Of course, we were encouraged to eat more fruit as we watched the local performance.
For the final part of our tour, we went to a local island where we followed our guide over a tiny bridge to a lady waiting by a a traditional row boat. The local children knew our guide and followed us as we headed down to meet our lady captain on the river bank. She promply gave us some traditional Vietnamese hats to wear!! She and the Vietnamese couple took charge of rowing the boat down a narrow river and although the experience was short, I was thrilled that we did it.
Ten minutes later, emerging where the river meets the Mekong, we rejoined our larger boat and guide, and headed back along the Mekong to Can be, where we boarded our minibus and returned to Saigon.