Aidan Lawes shares his experience of the Mekong Delta with CD-Traveller
Leaving Saigon, our group headed south-west into the vast area drained by the Mekong River, one of South East Asia’s largest and most important rivers. Starting in Tibet and flowing through Cambodia and Thailand, this vast coffee-brown field dotted with floating water-hyacinth was the sort of scene I had expected.
Most people visit the Mekong Delta either having arrived by boat through Cambodia or on a two day trip from Saigon. There’s not much in the Mekong in the way of history and culture but the area’s outstanding natural beauty repays a visit. Starting in Vinh Long, we visited the local markets… The Mekong Delta is responsible for a large proportion of Vietnam’s rice and fruit production, and I tried fruits which I had never seen or sampled before (you can’t stick to western menus when you’ve gone all the way to Vietnam). One favorite was the Jack Fruit which reminded me of banana custard. The flesh was soft yet somehow very different to mango or peach, being firmer and less layered. Fresh rambutans, a relative of the lychee, were similarly delicious, and I stocked up at the markets with a bag full to be enjoyed from the serenity of a hammock later on.
Our night in Vinh Long was spent in a homestay. This arrangement is not quite what the name implies, and is in fact much akin to an English bed and breakfast. From the Vinh Long market, we were taken on a boat trip of the river and into its offshoots. Blade shaped boats skippered by men in conical hats announced my arrival into the real Vietnam. The waters were calm, overhung by palms and fruit trees, only occasionally shaken by winds hinting that the monsoon had not fully passed. Stopping off at a fruit tree nursery, we sipped orange tea to a backdrop of local music. From there we were taken by traditional rowing boat to the homestay. The lady rowing me took a number of calls on her mobile, forcing her to row one-handed, yet she somehow managed to keep us in a straight line. The rowing style is similar to that used on Venetian gondolas, but with two oars.
The homestay consisted of a family home that had been extended to fit in further beds and facilities such as showers. Our food, which was prepared by our family, was uniformly excellent. Fresh seafood and salads containing local fruits such as pomelo (like a sweet grapefruit) accompanied by spring rolls washed down with a cold beer could not have been better.
The next day we took a boat across the whole 2km width of the Mekong River to the floating market at Cau Doc. Farmers from all over the Delta area harvest their produce, then having arrived at the market, will live on their boats for a week or so until they have sold their wares. The only way to reach the boats is also by boat, making the whole market quite a spectacle.
Read Aidan’s account of Hué and Hoi An tomorrow only on CD-Traveller