Welcome to the second part of our trip to Vietnam!
From the busy and chaotic Ho Chi Minh City we decided to explore the Mekong Delta, having only a few spare days available and having heard of the home stay options in the Islands across Vinh Long we opted for one of those.
HCMC to Vinh Long tract is only possible by bus and it takes about 3hrs: we asked our friendly hotel staff to book us 2 tickets on the day before. There are a few different bus companies operating long distance connections in Vietnam, our hotel is affiliated with the Phuong Trang.
Transportation costs: taxi from the hotel to the Phuong Trang Bus Station 100.000d, bus to Vinh Long 115.000d, taxi from Vinh Long Bus Station to the ferry 60.000d.(if you are quick enough when you get off the bus in Vinh Long a free shuttle service will take you to the ferry..if we only new!)
At the other side of the ferry we prearranged to get picked up by the staff of our home stay, which we found on ebookings for a very good deal of 440.000d per night for a double room.
The Phuong Thao homestay is set in An Binh Island, a few kilometres from the ferry crossing point, in a peaceful part far away from shops and noises. They are fairly new having opened only last year, but the owner, Phuong, is going that extra mile to help you have the best holiday possible in the area. They have dorm beds as well as double rooms all set in a large sized hut with spacious verandas outside where you can lounge on hammocks and take in the peace that the island can offer.
The verandas also serve as breakfast and dining areas. Breakfast is included within the room price. For the lunch and dinner they have a choice of 7 set menus priced between 200.000 and 300.000d per couple. The latter will surely fill you up!
As part of the stay you can also use their brand new bicycles for a ride around the islands…we can’t wait!!!!
The Phuong Thao offers 2 different tours along the Mekong Delta and its backwaters, for only 300.000d per person per tour. Each tour runs for about 3 hrs and as it takes you on different activities, I’d suggest you to do both!
We jumped on a cosy traditional styled boat that had been hired just for the Phuong Thao homestay and we started our journey through the famous waters of one of the biggest river deltas in the world! How exciting!!
The Mekong with its tributaries and the numerous canals are the main transport network here as well as representing many of the inhabitants ‘workplace’ too! Many families here live on stilt houses, or on their trading boats
It seems a journey into the past and these houses may remind you of thirld world countries, but Vietnamese in this area are fast developing thanks to their pride and tenacity that distinguishes them from other asian countries and despite their no frills lifestyle you can find much dignity, in fact we haven’t come across any child nor adult begging for money or food, which from a westerner point of view it makes them even more respectable. Aren’t they fascinating?
On this trip boat, we visited a flower pottery making factory, met a family that works in the rice fields (well…not today!!) and learnt about roof weaving before we headed back to the hotel by sunset time.
Day 2 started at 6.30 am with the second tour, that took us to see the Cai Be floating and village market. Workers rise at dawn to make the best of their trading day.
After wondering about the market and sampling their fruit and vegetable snacks we were taken on a truly refreshing 30 mins ride on one of their traditional rowing boats along the narrow and peaceful canals, far away from the buzz, where you can really breath in the nature of the jungle..gorgeous!
On our last stop before heading back we learnt a bit more about the activities down the River Delta, including coconut candy making, rice paper and yes snake spirits! By the way, did you know that a snake venom serum can work as a potent anti-inflammatory for muscular pain?!
As you can see there’s a lot to see and learn down here! But our day has not yet finished! After an abundant lunch and a siesta on the hammock of our home stay we went for our afternoon cycle adventure to discover the island on our own!
With only a sketch drawn map of the suggested roads we enjoyed the ride through the orchards and scattered shops of the island, finding relatively easy our way back before the sunset. The ride was so much fun, you can’t miss that from you to do list and despite that none of the villagers speaks English we managed to stop for coffees and snacks at the cheapest ever prices, collecting some genuine smiles from the inhabitants that are slowly getting used to having tourists about.
Only a few shops selling basic stuff including an internet point can be found in the island, for everything major like clothing, electrical appliances and fresh food you will have to go to Vinh Long…
Our next move is to the tropical island of Phu Quoc, quite a journey by land from here as you need to travel by bus to Rach Gia or Ha Tien and then get a ferry, but it is advisable to book the bus and ferry tickets at least one or two days in advance in this season.
In fact we missed our next day boat (if we only knew!!) so we stayed an extra day here and that gave us a chance to visit the bustling town of Vinh Long
Vinh Long is home to only 130.000 people but its main streets around the ferry dock can be pretty busy. After all it is an important trading town of the Southern area of Vietnam.
We stopped for a filling Pho (typical soup of South Vietnamese cuisine) at one of the street stalls, run by friendly family of mother son and daughter, with the young son being the English proud speaker and translator for all the stalls nearby. We must have been their highlight of the day as all the tourist seem to be on the islands. His English was very basic but nonetheless we set each other for some good laughs, something that is becoming more and more rare between complete strangers in the western world…
By the ferry dock you can also find the Cuulong travel tours, pop inside for some more info on what you can do in this area, including visiting different home stays and spending a night on a converted rice barge while traveling between Can Tho and Cai Be…a bit too far from our budget but if you can afford it more power to you!
The world is small even on the Mekong Delta!
Unbelievable! We went for our last cycle ride after visiting Vinh Long and miles away from our home stay we stopped for a refreshing drink in one of those family run shops…two men were sitting outside, as everyone on the Island they were non english speakers but in these days we are so excited that we could have a conversation with a plant, so we start making signs to communicate fatigue from bike riding and the joy of sipping a fresh drink…when one of them point out a sitar..we understand that they play together and with our astonishment they mention an upcoming performance at the Phuong Homestay for the night…that’s where we stay too!!! Our journey in the Mekong Delta couldn’t have had a better ending.