If you read my first post on Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll know I’ve embarked on a two week trip of Vietnam starting in the south. After exploring Ho Chi Minh, our next stop was the Mekong River Delta.
The Mekong River Delta is about an hour and a half drive outside Ho Chi Minh and is a network of rivers, swamps and islands. Many of its inhabitants live on boats and make their living off the river. You’ll find fishing, cargo boats and floating markets.
We got off the bus at a small harbor and jumped on a tour boat. After thirty minutes cruising down the river we stopped at a floating market. I suddenly felt like I was in a discovery channel episode. The floating markets were really interesting to see. The market was busy with locals buying and selling.
I think one of the things I liked most about this trip was the authenticity. Have you ever felt like some of what you see on a trip appears to be done exclusively for tourists? This was not one of them. One cool thing we learned was that every vendor has a stick with the items he’s selling attached to the top of it so you know if you want what he’s selling. The boat captains aren’t actually the farmers either, they buy the crops from the farmer and then bring them to market to sell.
At the floating market we tried the Durian Fruit. Woah. Our tour guide told us that it “smells like hell but tastes like heaven” and encouraged us all to try it. I purchased some from the vendor and watched as she used a machete to cut the fruit in half and shell out our portion.
Our guide was correct, it smelled horrible! I almost backed out but for the novelty of it decided to push ahead. It’s a goopy consistency that not only smells unappealing but looks unappealing. I put the spoon in my mouth and felt my gag reflux take hold of my body. Not only does it smell like hell it tastes like hell. It was incredibly gross. The locals there love it, it’s in candy and ice cream and you can buy it everywhere, but I could not stomach it. It honestly made me feel sick and I’m not a squeamish eater (as you’ll find out throughout the rest of this post).
After the market we went to a unique factory and shop called Cuu Long.
We watched workers there make rice paper, coconut candy, and rice sticky candy. We also took a shot of snake infused whiskey, a popular drink thought to increase virility.
After the factory we hoped back on the boat and traveled to a tea house on one of the islands. What an amazing experience! We were served several courses under a veranda in the middle of the jungle. I had battered fish, chicken, pork, rice, and fried spring rolls. Everything was delicious.
From there we hoped onto traditional wooden boats supplied with fresh coconut water for our refreshment. We were brought to a different island where we were to stay for the evening at a homestay.
There appeared to be a lot of different homestay choices for tourists on the island. What is a homestay you ask? It’s basically like a hostel but in more of a traditional house setting. A family lives there and operates the homestay. There were individual rooms for couples and then dorm style rooms for males and females. There were also bikes available for guests to use (which we did) and hammocks to relax in. I noticed most of Vietnam is set up for indoor/outdoor living with open doors, tile throughout and no screens or windows.
That night they brought in musicians who performed traditional songs for us before serving some local dishes including snake, rat and balut eggs. I didn’t try the balut egg but I did have some rat and snake. The snake still had the skin on it and all the bones, and while it tasted fine in its curry sauce was too much work to eat bone free. The rat was actually delicious in the flavorful sauce they cooked it in. We also had pork, beef, shrimp and rice, and the mud fish that we caught ourselves earlier in the day.
The accommodations at the homestay were the most basic of all of our stays but honestly it added to the adventure of the whole trip. We had no AC and hardly any separation from the elements apart from our mosquito nets. No trip to the bathroom would be complete without multiple geckos running about and in the morning it wasn’t four AM before the roosters (which roam freely all over Vietnam) started crowing.
A well regarded pet in this area is the Python because as our guide Kevin told us, “it’s cooler than a dog or cat.” We were allowed to take turns holding the snake. I was not interested, I’ve never loved reptiles, but some of the other people in our group were brave enough to help hold it. It was a huge snake!
I think overall everyone had a great time on this portion of the trip. I know that’s when I started to feel connected to the country and its people. The Mekong River Delta is not to be missed with its green jungles, maze of rivers and waterways, and friendly people.