The mighty Mekong is the world’s 12th longest river, and runs through China’s Yunnan province and most of the countries of Indochina — Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The river splits into a network of distributaries as it runs through southwestern Vietnam, and flows into the sea. This portion is referred to as the Mekong Delta.
I got the chance to visit the lovely Mekong Delta for a day, all thanks to Actxplorer, an online travel platform that provides unique travel experiences that gives back to the local communities. I’ve written more about Actxplorer and the tour at the bottom of the post, and there’s also a code for a 10% discount on any bookings.
The Mekong Delta supports the livelihood of the many Vietnamese living in the area — boats ply the muddy waters for their daily catch, buffaloes roam the landscape of rice paddies, and local industries like brick-making and coconut-processing use its resources. Life is different here, and a visit to the river will bring you to a slower, more calming pace to enjoy the beauty around its waters.
So here’s sharing with you the top 10 reasons to visit the Mekong Delta — they are some of the most amazing experiences I had in the Vietnamese countryside.
1) Morning Visit to the Local Market
Upon arrival at Ben Tre Town, we made a quick stop at the local Ben Tre Market. The tour doesn’t include a market stop, but we requested our driver to drop by the market as we wanted to check out the local Vietnamese durians! We didn’t get any though, as they were too big to finish all by ourselves.
So instead, we decided to explore the market. It was an experience itself witnessing the early morning bustle as the locals go about their daily activities — ladies selling colorful fruits by the side of the market, butchers chopping up chunks of meat, and the vendors calling out to us to by their wares.
2) Visit to the Brick Factory
Our very first stop on our trip along the Mekong was at the Brick Factory. Brick making is one of the most popular industries along the Mekong Delta, as resources like clay, rice husk and charcoal are readily available. The bricks are used by the locals to build houses, as well as pavements and animal barns.
During our visit to the Brick Factory, we got to witness the brick making process — from the shaping of the bricks, to the cutting and the drying. We also got to peek into the massive beehive-shaped kilns, which are used to fire and smoke up bricks using rice husk for about 30 days at a time. The visit was an interesting glimpse into the local industry of the Mekong people.
3) Sample Coconut Delights
On our tour along the Mekong, we also dropped by the Coconut Processing Plant. We were in Ben Tre after all, and the name of the province/town literally translates to ‘home of coconut trees‘. It was fun to watch the coconut candy making process — from husking the coconut, to cooking the coconut milk with malt, and then molding the mixture on a wooden tray.
The local ladies let us enjoy some of the freshly-cut soft candies; and because I absolutely loved them — I got myself tons of packets to bring home. The candies come in different mixed flavors too, like durian, chocolate, and pandan. There are also many other coconut produce for sale, like coconut oil, cosmetics and cutlery.
4) Listen to Local Folk Music
While at the Coconut Processing Plant; we were entertained with some Vietnamese Folk Music performed by some of the locals. This genre of traditional music has been around for almost two centuries and is sang by the people of Southern Vietnam along the Mekong Delta.
The singer is usually accompanied by traditional instruments, but the musicians have also adopted the Western guitar. Our guide told us that just like many other kinds of folk music, the songs were about nature, the beauty of the Mekong, and life along its waters.
5) Learn the Local Craft
Our tour along the Mekong also included a quick stop at a small traditional craft shop. The local ladies in the shop were working together in pairs, weaving mats made from jute plants. As there were not many visitors around, I asked one of the ladies if she could show me some of the basic steps, and she was ever so willing to teach me.
The mat weaving process is actually quite simple — just a couple of knots and turns before passing it on to the next person. However, it requires a lot of speed, patience and precision; and after observing these women and learning the little that I was taught, I had a higher admiration of their traditional craftsmanship.
6) Eat Delicious Tropical Fruits
There’s nothing like being offered a tray of delicious local fruits on a hot day! Most of the stops we made along the Mekong served its visitors with an assortment of tropical fruits — we had a taste of watermelon, jackfruit, mangoes, pineapples, pomelo, bananas and longans. The fruits in Vietnam are served with a spicy salt condiment, and it goes so well with some of ’em.
We were also served fresh coconuts on the boat. Imagine sipping on a refreshing coconut drink as you slowly glide along the river. Can’t get any more relaxing than that!
7) Ride the Tuk Tuk
One of the highlights of my trip to the Mekong Delta was the tuk tuk ride. The tuk tuk, or auto-rickshaw, is a common three-wheeled mode of transport in many Southeast Asian countries. I’ve sat on many tuk tuks on my travels around the region, but the cutest tuk tuk I have ever seen has got to be the one I saw while visiting the Mekong.
The tuk tuk was painted in white and light blue, with a covered front for the driver, and long seats at the back for the passengers. It looked just like a miniature-sized truck! I had a lovely time on my cute lil ride as we traversed along the narrow roads overlooking paddy fields and coconut trees that make up most of the Mekong landscape.
8) Savour the Fried Elephant Ear Fish
Now, I can’t say I’ve been to the Mekong Delta without trying some of its specialty dishes, can I? One of the most popular Mekong delicacy is the Elephant Ear Fish that can be found in its waters.
We had Fried Elephant Ear Fish for lunch. The entire fish was fried to crispy perfection, and served standing up on a rack with wooden holders. The scales of the fish were left on, and can be seen curled and flaking off from its flesh. The waitress helped us rake the flesh off from the fish and rolled it into a spring roll. I really enjoyed the spring roll with its fish sauce dip, but the flesh of the fish was so soft and succulent that it was best eaten just like that.
9) Go on a Walk through a Fruit Farm
Other than gliding along the river, we also took a walk through some of the lush greenery along the Mekong. I rather welcomed the nice, cooling stroll — it was after lunch and it was a great way to walk off all the delicious food I had.
We passed by rows of coconut trees and old village huts, as well as fruit farms with tropical fruit trees. Our guide, Luong, pointed out some of the fruits that we sampled at the river stops we made earlier in the day. I also spotted some lime trees, and had such a strong urge to pluck some of the fruits off!
10) Float along the Mekong on Traditional Boats
The most memorable part of the trip to the Mekong has to be, of course, the boat rides. The journey first started on (and later ends with) a motorized river boat, where we sailed along the Delta’s Upper River. It was interesting to note that each boat along the Mekong has two painted eyes in front of them — it is said to protect the boats from evil river spirits.
We sat on the smaller sampans to navigate the narrow portion of the river canals. Our sampan was rowed by a local lady, and she entertained us with her singing as we glided along the waters. She even gave us Vietnamese hats to wear for a more immersive experience.
Travel with Actxplorer
We visit the Mekong Delta on Actxplorer’s “Life on the Mekong” tour. Actxplorer is a travel platform that provides travel experiences while creating a positive impact to the local communities. The company works closely with locals and NGOs, and they offer unique experiences like workshops, farmstays, food tours and volunteer initiatives. Find out more about Actxplorer here.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Mekong tour with Actxplorer as we visited some places along the river that is less explored, and we didn’t encounter crazy hordes of tourists along the way. Because of that, we got to experience all the activities in a more calm and leisurely pace. The 8-hour long tour costs US$120; inclusive of lunch, transportation, entrance fees and the boat rides. The guide, Luong, not only speaks good English, but is extremely knowledgeable about everything to do with the river, and its people. My visit to the Mekong was fun, relaxing and engaging; and eye-opening too.
Get a 10% discount for any bookings on Actxplorer with this code:
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*She Walks the World went on the “Life on the Mekong” Tour from Ho Chi Minh City with Actxplorer as a guest. As always, all opinions stated here are my own.