A Perfect Half-Day in the Mekong Delta

August 29, 2014 by | Filed Under: Authentic Experiences, Culinary, Travel

Two hours outside the electric, neon rush of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the Mekong Delta: 40,000 sq km of rivers, streams and islands where the Den and Sau rivers (local names) meet the ocean. Half-day tours of the Mekong Delta take travelers through farmland, mangroves, and jungles that seem to have more in common with an Indiana Jones film than an industrial seaport.

Boats in Mekong Delta Vietnam

The tour begins on one of the two large rivers that make up the main branches of the Mekong Delta. The river is wide, deep and suited for the large transport ships that haul bricks and coconuts by the ton. Roughly 20 million people live in the Mekong Delta surrounding these rivers.

For many locals, life hasn’t changed all that much in the last hundred years. Broken bricks line the muddy banks of a local brick-making factory. Here, a family-owned enterprise has been using the same large brick kilns for the last hundred years. The bricks, made from the second layer of rice paddy, are cast then cooked in the kilns reminiscent of ancient pagodas. The bricks are then transported throughout Vietnam along the river, providing construction materials for homes and businesses.

Brick making factory in Vietnam's Mekong Delta

Further down the river, off the main branch, in the palm mangroves a family makes coconut candy. The Vietnamese family does everything themselves: husking the coconuts, scraping out the meat and processing the coconut milk. They combine the coconut milk, with salt and sugar and heat the mixture in large pans to make a coconut toffee. Peanuts, chocolate and variety of other ingredients are then added to make the different flavors. On a nearby table, the mother works cutting and packaging the candy into little squares, offering samples to visitors.

Quiet abode in the mangroves in Mekong Delta Vietnam

Visitors then jump back in the boats and move upstream to one of the large islands in the center of the Mekong Delta. The islands, inhabited by local farmers and fishermen, are dense with jungle. Small, shallow irrigation ditches run alongside the roads, like little moats around the houses, and provide river water to the lush tropical palm forest, fruit trees and vegetables grown on the island.

After a short walk, visitors stop by a local mat weaver. Here another Vietnamese family sits weaving together reed mats on large man powered looms. A grandmother and granddaughter work together silently in a quick and deliberate pattern sliding in new reeds and weaving them into the mats.

Then it’s time for lunch. Visitors are taken on a tuk-tuk deep into a village tables are already pre-set with silverware and tablecloths, cold beer and soda with little beads of condensation rolling down the side of the can. For a typical Vietnamese lunch, guests get a taste of the day’s catch: large fried elephant ear fish (filling for spring rolls), marinated catfish and large prawns cooked in butter with a squeeze of lime and a dash of salt and pepper.

Succulent Mekong Delta prawns for Vietnamese lunch

After lunch, a Vietnamese villager is waiting in a longboat to take guests on a ride upstream. The only sounds belong to the surrounding jungle and the guide paddling. The tour ends with this leisurely voyage to one of the main passages where a boat is waiting to take visitors back to the mainland, away from Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.