We spent an interesting and educational two days on the Mekong Delta. This optional overnight excursion was offered during Viking Cruise Line‘s Secrets of SouthEast Asia cruise in March of 2023.
The Mekong Delta is a 15,600 square mile section of southwestern Viet Nam where the Mekong River and its various tributaries enter the sea. It is a vast maze of rivers, swamps and islands surrounded by rice patties.Our cruise ship, the Viking Orion, was docked about 45 minutes from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and our tour bus had to negotiate Saigon’s crowded streets on the way to the Mekong Delta.
Linh, our knowledgeable tour guide, provided an excellent narrative about the area we were passing through. She was with us through the two day trip. Many of the prevalent rice paddies contained gravestones. We were told that they were a means of marking a family’s ownership of the land.
After about a three hour ride, we parked at a major road rest stop filled with both tourists and local buses and an open market. The facilities included numerous food stalls containing a variety of produce and even cooked meals. Many of our group members bought fresh coconuts which the vendors cut up after we drank the coconut milk. A moat containing huge alligator gar fish was one of the highlights of the the location.
The Sao Hon restaurant is open air and situated next to the Hau River. Besides enjoying a Vietnamese lunch, we were able to watch folks walking on the river’s concrete boardwalk. The restaurant also contained an extensive shopping area with many bargains.
Next, we visited the Ong Pagoda. Linh told us that it was built in1894 by Chinese immigrants to worship the god Kuan Kung. It took two years to complete this Taoist temple which is the center of the spiritual life of many of the Chinese residents of the area.
We checked into the four-star Victoria Resort Hotel. lt is located directly on the Hau River and is convenient for touring the area. I found time to relax by their pool and walk along the river boardwalk. We had an early evening since Linh told us to meet in the lobby at 5:00 a.m. for our next adventure and highlight of the tour – The Floating Markets.
Our pre-dawn start was necessary if we wanted to see the bustling floating market before it got too hot and before the markets started to close. Linh told us that many residents of The Delta actually live on the boats. They lost their homes after the rivers rose. A motorized tour boat picked us up at the hotel’s pier and we were off to the markets.
You could buy an array of foods and other items from the farmers or fisherman on one of the many floating boats. How to know what they sell? The vendors hang samples of their products off long poles dangling on the side of their boats.
But our purchases focused mainly on breakfast items. Our group members bought coconuts, noddle soup, and pork buns from the vendors. The food was all cooked on the individual boats, some sturdy, some rickety. The vendors were experts in maneuvering their crafts to get close to our boat. Fortunately, Linh and some of our group had Vietnamese currency—credit cards were not accepted.
After checking out of the Victoria Hotel, we headed to Vinh Long Province to experience more of life in the region. After transferring to a local barge, our first stop was at the Vinh Long pier where we boarded small sampans for a ride up one of the numerous creeks. The boats were rowed and guided by a single person. The ride reminded me of a mechanized voyage at a Disney Park.
Next, our boat docked at a small cottage industry in the Delta. We observed the manufacture of coconut candy as well as popped rice, rice paper, and rice wine. Of course many of us contributed to the local economy with purchases in the large gift shop on the property.
Our boat then took us to Ut Trinh Homestay for a truly local Mekong Delta multi course lunch and small concert.
After re-boarding our barge, we headed to a local pottery factory. Since it was Sunday, the factory was closed. But we were able to walk through the area and experience the intense heat emanating from the semi-dormant kilns. There were a few workers in the area trying to earn some extra money.
Our exploration done, we re-boarded our waiting bus and headed back to Saigon and the Viking Orion. The two day excursion was tiring , but extremely interesting. We all felt that we learnt a great deal about the area and would recommend this excursion for future travelers.
ARTICLE BY DIANNE DAVIS AND BURT DAVIS PHOTOS BY DIANNE DAVIS OR BURT DAVIS
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