Just like any major waterway, the Mekong River was an essential transportation, trade, military and economic location for several countries that it flows through. From China, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam – the mighty Mekong river is revered.
There are several tours that go on the river. From small personalized tours with the local that you can book yourself via an app (WithLocals – available on iOS and Android) and then there are the usual tour offices that you can go on with several other people on a bus and a big boat or you can go on a private tour that has all the trimmings and comfort. I tried contacting the locals using the app but it seems that the tour guides there do not respond in a timely manner. I don’t really like being in a huge crowd and being pressured into moving at a set time so we decided to book the tour with the hotel we were staying in. It is pricier but we were in complete control of our tour. I love the Park Hyatt staff and service! But that’s in another post.
From Ho Chi Minh city, it takes about an hour and 45 minutes to get to My Tho, the town nearest the river. From there, you take a boat going to Ben Tre, a village that is called home to about 4,000 people (or so I have been told by our really cool tour guide, Long). Here, the people have adjusted to the influx of tourists, setting up small tables and chairs for a quick break with jasmine tea sweetened with natural organic honey and backyard grown kumquats. You are also treated to a small feast of fresh local fruits: guava, watermelon, jackfruit, mangoes and papaya! I got really excited with the langka (jackfruit) and the guavas! They reminded me of my childhood when we had a guava tree and a jackfruit tree growing on our front yard.
You can then visit the different homes in the village and see the produce that they make and maybe even buy some. There was a small crocodile farm and a small coconut candy factory. A walk through the village made me all reminiscent of Pangasinan. It was both a new and unique experience but somehow quite familiar as well.
A short horse drawn carriage ride takes you to the edge of smaller river where a small traditional Vietnamese boat takes you back to your bigger boat. This short trip down a smaller offshoot (is that what you call that smaller river vein?) of the river is quite peaceful and idyllic. It gives you the experience of how traditional Vietnamese fishermen would go to the main river to fish; or to the floating markets where they sell their wares or buy stuff they need. Unfortunately, we came in a bit too late so the floating markets were already closed.
The best time to go do this tour is anytime during November to April. The rest of the months are actually the monsoon season for Vietnam and because of the rain, it is not advisable to take the river tour.