Life on the Mekong
Cut off from the relentless pursuit of modernization that defines the rest of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is a unique and timeless place. Life here revolves around the big river and the infinite network of canals and tributaries that drain away from it and flow back into it. The river feeds bamboo forests, vast rice fields, coconut plantations and other staples of South East Asia. The sight of conical-hatted farmers tending their land at dawn is common as you pass lazily down the river.
Often considered the gateway to the Mekong, My Tho is the closest Delta town to Saigon. Therefore, it’s a popular spot for day trips as well as for those going further in the Delta. For better and for worse the town doesn’t offer much to tourists. It’s a sleepy provincial town that can be a good rest stop for a day or two. From here you can catch boats and buses going further into the Delta.
Can Tho is a massive province that provides the bulk of Vietnam’s rice. An intricate network of rivers, canals and bywaters feed both the rice paddies and fuel the way of life here. This area of the Delta has the most picturesque and colorful landscapes and people. It is here that you will find the trademark floating markets operated by people whose entire lives revolved around the river. It is well worth spending two days or more here and really seeing and experiencing as much as you can.
Cai Rang and Phong Dien Floating Market
The floating market is a hallmark of South East Asia that every traveller should experience. In true Vietnamese style, the day starts early—between 5 and 7 a.m. Once you’re on the water, the real action begins.
The floating market is essentially a stretch of boats selling anything and everything that life on the river requires. While handicrafts such as conical hats or ladies head scarves are available, this not really a place for souvenirs. Instead, locals come here instead to buy quantities of goods, mostly foodstuffs, they need. This helps you will an idea of what commerce in the Delta looks like and has looked like for centuries. Floating markets are available throughout Vietnam, but these two are among the largest and most popular.
Ben Tre Coconuts
Much like its neighboring cities, Ben Tre is a stretch of beautiful landscape that typifies Southern Vietnam. Massive palm triees line the banks of a narrowing offshoot of the Mekong that locals navigate in flat bottomed boats. Life is slow and that’s the way they want it.
However, what sets this area apart is its unique relationship with coconuts. With more than 40,000 hectares of land, and a wide range of coconut species, Ben Tre is considered to be the coconut capital of Vietnam. Keep an eye out for Keo Dua—a chewy, sticky coconut candy that is extremely popular.
For those who are looking to get a taste of the local culture, cuisine in the Mekong can be quite interesting. Local favorites include:
- Ca Kho To This speciality of Can Tho consists of sea bass caramelized in a clay pot served with steamed rice and clear soup. Simple, yet delicious.
- Snake For the more adventurous try snake. This local delicacy tastes, believe it or not, a lot like chicken. What makes it interesting though is the wide range of dishes that can be produced from the animal such as “thit con ran” which is snake blood mixed with rice wine.
- Banh bo These tiny rice flour and tapioca cakes are not unique to Vietnam, however the Delta puts a special twist on them by sweetening them with coconuts, sweet potato, sweet onions and mint.
- Bun Rieu Again, this dish can be found throughout Vietnam, and in some variation in neighboring countries. However, in the Delta this dish is served with a wider range of choices than usual. Choose from soft shell crabs, prawns, fish and the ubiquitous blood pudding. Combined with the freshest vegetables you’ll ever find and it’s a mouth watering surprise.