I have a certain attraction to water. To its ability to calm, to heal, to provide nourishment and to sustain life. So when I was trying to decide on a day tour to take from Ho Chi Minh, it only felt natural that I would end up floating down the 12th longest river in the world.
To fulfil my Huckleberry Finn fantasy, I joined A Travel Mate Ben Tre Mekong tour, guided expertly by Saigon local “Jack”. Accompanied by two delightful German girls, our two hour journey to the Ben Tre region was peppered with facts about South Vietnam, including the fact that there are at least 6 kinds of coconuts grown in the region, they export over 5million tons of rice per year, and that there are over 11million people living in Ho Chi Minh, zipping round on over 8million motorbikes. So you weren’t just imagining in, there are a bloody lot of scooters trying to narrowly avoid knocking you to the ground.
The Mekong itself is estimated at over 4,350kms and weaves its way through from China, through Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.
First stop on our adventure is a local brick making workshop, who produce thousands of bricks each year for the province, (in our case) rain, hail or shine.
As the rain threatened to drench us to the core, we hopped on a motor boat, fresh coconut in hand, to begin our putt putting down the mighty Mekong. I’m unwittingly in Vietnam during rainy season, but don’t let that put you off, activities are still possible no matter the weather.
Expertly guided into the docks of a coconut plantation, we learnt about the many, many uses for every single part of the exotic fruit, including coconut milk and oil from the flesh, baskets, bowls and other home wares from the husk, as well as its ability to be used as a water purification system. My personal highlight was the coconut candies made on sight, which were swiftly purchased for consumption at a later date (ie. one day later. I have the self restraint of a golden retriever). A local fruit tasting of jackfruits, rambutan, vibrant dragon fruit and dragon eyeballs (the name is not a coincidence), followed by honey tea, well and truly satisfied any lingering sweet tooth. And look at those pooches!!
Back on our trusty river craft, we then headed to a local village home for a weaving demonstration and my very first experience of a “non-believer alter”. With two women working on each mat for two days, and huddled in a permanent crouch position, it’s hard to believe each mat only sells for a measly $4USD. And I know you’re wondering about this alter business, aren’t you? Largely agnostic in this area, their once religious alters are decorated with all sorts of trinkets, images and always decorated with coloured flashing lights. I knew I was a non-believer for a reason!
A tuk tuk continued our journey on to a local river-front restaurant for what is still one of my best meals in Vietnam to date. A full fried fish is presented and then expertly carved up and fashioned into fresh rice paper rolls, supported by a chicken noodle soup, fried banana leaves (which were hastily consumed), rice and veg.
Bellies full and happy, we ended our Mekong adventure with a short ride in a traditional wooden row boat, very reminiscent of ones also used along the Amazon river.
Relaxing, informative and delicious, I can highly recommend spending your day rollin’ down the Mekong Delta.