Exploring the Mekong Delta – 2 days from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The Mekong Delta: a maze of rivers, rice paddy fields and simply a great spot to emerge yourself in the Vietnamese culture to see how the locals live, outside the buzzing of Ho Chi Minh City.
We did exactly that, experiencing a homestay with with local family to learn more about their way of life on a 2 day, 1 night tour with Innoviet Travel. It was exactly what we were hoping it would be, yet at the same time, nothing like we expected it to be. It is certainly an authentic experience!
Our highlights of the 2 day tour
There were two things we were most excited about, the first was the homestay and the second was the Cai Rang floating market. We felt these two parts of the tour were the Mekong in our mind. In addition to these, you get to experience…
- a bicycle ride through the rural villages seeing pagodas (similar to a buddhist temple), tropical orchards and rice paddy fields
- incredible hand rowing boat ride through the canals
- cooking lesson at our homestay – we made spring rolls!
- visiting a local market
Two day Mekong itinerary
Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City – My Tho – Vinh Long
We were picked up from our hotel at around 7am and were ready for the 1.5 hour drive ahead of us to get to what is known as the ‘gateway to the deal’ My Tho. There were only 4 of us on the tour which meant we had heaps of room in the mini van to spread out. The van was comfortable and plenty of drinking water was made available.
We stopped in this local village where there was this narrow bridge with kids playing – they were so excited to see us and pose for a photo!
We then visited some locals who were working on a coconut farm. Working in extreme heat, the skilled workers peel up to 2000 coconuts for as little as $10 – $12 USD per day!
In My Tho, we enjoyed a tuk-tuk ride where we reached our first stop!
We visited a local family who provided us with some local tropical fruits (pineapple, dragonfruit, bananas and mango).
The fruit in the Mekong is probably the nicest, freshest fruit we’ve ever eaten!
We even got a fresh coconut each!
The next part of the tour on a hand-rowing sampan was amazing!
If you’re not sure what a hand-rowing sampan is, imagine a gondola in Venice, then bring it down to basic form which is used for local Vietnamese families along the Mekong. In our hand-rowing sampan we glided through some amazing canals, taking in the scenery, wildlife and vegetation. It was one of the most peaceful parts of the tour, I only wish it had lasted longer!
It was time to move on to our next destination which was Vinh Long. It is here that we met our host family and were provided with a traditional Vietnamese lunch. Now, for those of you who know Jenna, or have read a few of our posts, Jenna is a particularly fussy eater and doesn’t eat Asian food (yes I know – WEIRD!!).
To be fair, she really gave it a go and finally admitted that it actually wasn’t as bad as she had in her mind! There was so much food! The one thing we learned was that when they Vietnamese put on food, they put on enough to feed a small army. We had pancakes filled with shrimp and noodles, chicken, seafood, rice paper rolls and many other things.
If there is one thing to learn is how to say “Mot, hai, ba, YO!” which translated is simply “one, two, three, yo! Basically guaranteed to enjoy that beer or local rice wine in a synchronized manner. If this doesn’t make sense, it’s the Vietnamese’ equivalent to saying Cheers, Prost, Na Zdorovie and so forth. The drinks (soft drink and beer) were available for purchase – but it’s just so cheap in Vietnam that it’s basically free.
Jenna isn’t that coordinated when it comes to bicycle riding either, which was the next part of our day! We spent the next 3.5 hours cycling 20km through quaint villages, rice paddy fields, pagodas and breathtaking orchard paths.
Luckily, Jenna managed to stay on her bicycle! As day one draws to an end, it was then time to head back to the host family where we were able to cook dinner with our hosts. We made some crab spring rolls and our host family showed us how to roll them and how to cook them in their outdoor kitchen.
After our 20km bike ride, we were all pretty exhausted so had a pretty early night as we had to be up early the next morning.
Take a look at our Day 1 highlights video!
Day 2: Vinh Long – Can Tho – Cai Rang Floating Market – Ho Chi Minh City
We woke up on day 2 nice and early for a 6am start, which also happened to be my Birthday! There is something special about waking up in a foreign country on your birthday… no gift can ever outweigh the ability to be able to travel, especially on your birthday. That, is the best gift of all.
We bid farewell to our host family and we were off to Can Tho.
It was a short drive to get to Ninh Kier Wharf and we jumped into our local boat to get on our way to the floating market.
The Can Tho floating markets are the largest wholesale floating market in the Mekong Delta! They start trading at around 5am and finish up at midday. It is understandably busy busy busy!
Floating down the river towards the market, you get to see how the locals live, see houses built on stilts over the water, it is truly incredible.
And when you reach the market, it is certainly a wow factor. The floating markets sell a heap of products and whilst you’ll of course find tourists, you’ll be pleased to know the locals still frequent the markets as well! We also stopped here for breakfast which was either a traditional crab or pork soup, or you can opt for an egg baguette if you prefer.
Back on the boat for our journey through the markets. A helpful hint – the traders hang their products on a long pole high above their boats, so if you’re looking for some pineapple all you have to do is look up and find a long pole with a pineapple!
Our guide did explain that this does become somewhat problematic when a trader is wanting to sell his boat, clearly you can’t dangle a boat from the top of a long pole! So, if you see a long pole with a palm leaves at the top, he’s not actually selling palm leaves, nor palm trees, the trader is actually selling his boat!
Be sure to take with you some local Vietnamese Dong so you can buy a cold drink from one of the market stalls. It is so hot here, so buying an icy cold drink is a great idea, you can even get yourself a beer. I always say that if you’re on holidays it doesn’t matter what time you crack open your first drink 🙂
It was then time for us to leave the hustle and bustle of the floating market and stop by an impressive land market where we were able to watch locals buying their fresh meat for the day.
I am sure we were the only tourists at the market. They were selling everything from fresh meat, fruits and toys for kids. It was definitely an eye opening experience.
Our next stop on this busy, yet fulfilling day was at a local fruit orchard. Here we walked around and tried our luck on the bamboo walkway over a pond with plenty of fish (look closely and you’ll see them along the surface). I walked across no problem of course 😉
We then enjoyed some fresh fruit.
Our second stop on the tour before heading back to Ho Chi Minh City is by car to Ninh Thuy Ancient House. Built in 1807, this house is nothing short of stunning. The facade of this house, designed with French architecture is uniquely incredible with a combination of East and West and is also one of Can Tho’s most popular tourist destinations.
The furniture inside was also in pristine condition.
It was time for our last stop which was lunch. This was at another homestay residence and the amount of food we were provided again was insane! You certainly don’t leave feeling hungry. The family even came out and offered me some homemade rice wine – let’s say it was an interesting experience!!!
Mot Hai Ba Yo!
Our drive back to Ho Chi Minh City is around 3.5 hours from here, arriving back at around 5pm, in time to check in, have a shower and head out into the city for some dinner and enjoy the nightlife.
Take a look at our Day 2 highlights video!
What’s included in your tour
- Complimentary hotel pick up and drop off in District one (check with Innoviet)
- Transportation including car, boat and bicycle
- English speaking guide
- Drinking water
- Entrance fees and activities
- Tropical local fruits
- Meals as per the itinerary (1 breakfast, 2 lunches and 1 dinner)
- Homestay in Vinh Long (could be a twin share or communal room)
What’s not included in your tour
- Additional drinks
- Personal expenses (e.g purchases on the floating markets, toy shop etc)
- Tips for your guide and drive (see below)
- Travel insurance
- Bus to Rach Gia / Ha Tien / Chau Doc (if required)
What’s the homestay like?
Probably one of the most authentic parts of our holiday in Vietnam! Being able to stay with a local family and living like them and with them for a night is truly eye-opening. It is a real home, with real food and real people. We were able to see how they work, live and eat!
Rooms are communal or multi-share dormitory style rooms, and occasionally limited private rooms. Each room has a traditional Vietnamese mattress, sheets, blankets, mosquito net and a fan. Western style bathrooms and toilets are shared between guests. At our homestay (they differ depending on the size of the group), it was really lovely. Full bamboo flooring and walls, mosquito nets (you need these!) and the rooms were pretty private. The bathroom was clean and tidy as well.
What to pack for your two-day tour
Here are a few things you need to remember to pack on your two-day trip:
- Mozzie spray
- Toiletries (essentials such as toothbrush, toothpaste, towel, soap, shampoo, deodorant etc)
- Comfortable shoes / sandals are appropriate for girls
- A small backpack. If you can leave your bulky luggage at your hotel, and bring a small backpack the would be ideal. Otherwise, you may be able to leave these bags in the car (again – best to check with Innoviet Travel)
What to wear on the tour
Innoviet does not have a specific dress code for their tours. However, please be respectful when traveling to another country. Outside of the major cities, it is important to try to dress a little more conservative. If you’re not sure what this means, for girls in particular, clothing that covers your shoulders and knees would be ideal. You could consider a maxi dress with a lightweight scarf, or a t-shirt with some nice cotton or linen pants. Remember, it does get hot so dress for the climate as well.
How much to tip your guide/driver
This is such a common question to ask when travelling to different countries. How much do I tip? What’s acceptable? What is considered an insult?
Firstly, always carry extra local currency on you for personal emergencies like additional food or water.
Drivers: The standard acceptable tip for drivers are US$1 – US$2 per day (per person). If you have had a standout driver though, always feel free to tip a little bit more.
Your Guide: Your guide is who makes or breaks your tour. Are they knowledgeable, were they attentive, did they answer your questions? If you’ve had a guide that has been fantastic, an acceptable amount is US$3 – US$5 per day (per person).
It is important to note that tipping is not compulsory in Vietnam. If you have received poor service, you do not need to tip. But, if you have received good or excellent service then a tip is welcome.
Note: It is considered an insult if you tip with coins, very small denomination notes and/or ripped or dirty notes.
Why choose Innoviet Travel
There are so many tour companies around and it can sometimes be hard to pick who to choose. We chose Innoviet Travel simply because of their first two promises on their website:
- NO Tourist shopping or traps
- Non-touristy areas
These particularly caught our eye because the number of times we’ve been on tours and we feel like we’ve been taken somewhere only for the guides to get commission on sales. More often than not, it is to places we don’t even want to visit and there are busloads of other tourists there as well.
I can’t speak highly enough of Innoviet Travel. They delivered on their promise and we loved every minute of the tour!
Additional important information
As per Innoviet Travel’s website, families with children under 4 is not recommended. For safety reasons, they do not provide small bikes for young children who are under 12 years of age, as local traffic behaviour is quite different to that from the West or developed countries. Children between 4-11 years are required to sit on the back of the bike, baby seat for bicycle is provided.
- There will be quite a bit of driving on this tour as we have to cover a vast region.
- The trip concludes in Ho Chi Minh City at around 5-5:30 PM (default) or Can Tho at around 1:00 PM where you can take a bus to Rach Gia (3 hours) and boat to Phu Quoc (2,5 hours). Please take this into account when making onward travel arrangements.
Here are some more photos from our 2 day tour.
“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” – Anna Quindlen