After really enjoying our time in Ho Chi Minh we decided to head down south to the Mekong Delta to experience rural Vietnamese life and to see the famous floating markets. We had a couple of option on where to go, Ben Tre, My Tho or Can Tho. We chose the latter, Can Tho, as it was furthest away from Saigon, so we figured it would be more rural. This is because there are lots of days trips from Saigon to Ben Tre and we wanted to get off the tourist route a little bit. Also if we didn’t enjoy it, or wanted to see more, we could stop off at Ben Tre or My Tho or our way back to Saigon.
First off we had to find a way to get to Can Tho. I cannot recommend the Phuong Trang (also called FUTA) bus company enough. They provide:
- Shuttle bus from their office to the bus station.
- Water, wet towels and WiFi on board.
- Shuttle bus from the bus station of arrival to your accommodation.
This is all included in the price of the ticket, 100000 Dong (£3.30) to Can Tho and the bus takes anything up to 5 hours, depending on traffic and roadworks and it makes a 15 minute toilet stop with plenty of food options. First off make your way to Le Hong Phong street to the Phuong Trang bus office. We thought we were looking for a bus station but if you walk down the street there is an orange building with PHONG TRANG written in green writing. This is where you buy your ticket and catch the shuttle bus to Ben Xe Mien Tay, where your main bus departs. You can go straight to this bus station if you wish but its a bit of a way outside the city. We caught a taxi from the main backpacker part to Le Hong Phong street for 33000 Dong (£1.10). Not many of the taxi drivers speak English so if you write down “number 231, Le Hong Phong street” and show it to the driver this should get you pretty much there. When buying your ticket they will write down your seat number and bus number for you so you can find your bus when you get to the bus station. They will quickly usher you onto the shuttle bus for a 30ish minute drive across the city. Our bus left at 12 and the buses leave pretty much every hour so you will never be waiting too long. Before going make sure you book at least one night at a hostel in Can Tho and have it written down so when arriving you can again use their free shuttle service to get to your destination. At 14:00, after 2 hour our bus stopped in a Phuong Trang bus station so everyone could stretch their legs, use the toilet and grab some food. There is plenty available including fruit, bread plus a wide selection of drinks including hot and cold coffee. Remember the number of your bus or watch where it goes to park as its never in the same place when you go back to find it! After 15 minutes its back on its way and we rocked up in Can Tho at 16:00 hours. As you get off the bus you’ll have a swarm of taxi drivers shouting at you and waving you down, but just walk over to the Phuong Trang office, show your hostel address to the guy on the door and you’ll be squeezed into another shuttle bus for the 3km trip.
We chose to stay in the Mekong Delta Inn, which was the cheapest hostel by far on hostelworld. There were only 4 hostels available on hostel world ranging from £5.50 to £60 a night. We obviously chose the £5 a night hostel and stayed there for three nights. We read reviews that you get a great free breakfast but I was informed by them that their kitchen wasn’t working. This was a bit of a disappointment. We were in a 12 bed dorm and for the 3 nights we stayed there was one other person in the room. It’s a very quiet area in terms of tourists, about a 40 minute walk from the main tourist section, but is where the locals live. No one spoke a word of English, there were street stalls and cafes everywhere and it was a very interesting experience. Our only option on the first night for dinner was to walk up to a street vendor and point to some food. Here, like Saigon they serve the French bread, but I have no idea what meat they put inside. I think I avoided the pigs ear but I’m not to sue. The other thing to note is its impossible to buy a beer in the cafes on the side of the road, they all just serve coffee. This isn’t a bad thing, but I ordered a coffee 4 times and got 4 different styles of coffee. I’d recommend, as one of the first things you do, to catch a taxi to the ‘touristy’ section for just under 50000 Dong by the metre, and go to a restaurant with an English and Vietnamese menu. Here you’ll pay a bit more money for your coffee, not much, but you can take a photo of the menu and then go back to the local part and drink some lovely coffee for over half the price, 10000 Dong (£0.33), either by showing them the photo or speaking some poorly pronounced Vietnamese.
The ‘touristy’ section is basically down by the Ho Chi Minh statue by the river. It is a nice part to walk around but everything is over twice the price of where we were staying. There are a few accommodation options here but it depends what you want to experience, a tourist section or a truly Vietnamese experience. It is here you can visit a few temples, a military museum which has nothing in English and catch your boat to the floating markets in the morning. If you have Maps.me there is a star attraction called ‘extremely persistent naggy women’. We had no idea what this was but was intrigued to find out. When we headed down there, it was literally a line of extremely persistent naggy women trying to get you on their boat tours for the floating markets the following morning. I found this all very funny, as someone had sent a suggestion to maps.me and it had been accepted. For the floating markets you have to do a tour really, unless you have your own boat. However there are a few different options. You can go on a big boat, with a roof and an English speaking guide. For a little bit more of an authentic experience you can go on a smaller boat with an English speaking guide. Or for a truly authentic experience you can go on a small 3 to 4 person boat with a local Vietnamese guy who will take you to the floating markets and down the picturesque, if not a little dirty, backwaters so see the Vietnamese going about their daily lives. We organised the latter through our hostel. It cost $10 per person, including a taxi down to the waterfront. We were picked up at 5am, dropped at the waterfront then made our way over to a boat, by 05:15 we were on the water, seeing the sunrise and making our way towards the markets. The floating markets were more of a wholesale market for the locals, with big sticks pointing up above the boats with the products they were selling. There are smaller boats zooming around where you can buy a selection of food and drinks, including hot coffee for 12000 Dong. We didn’t by any food however as the day before we visited the Co.op Mart to buy some breakfast and some food for the trip as I didn’t know what would be available and I needed back up for my diabetes. In the Co.op Mart I bought: 2 cans of diet coke, a snickers, 1 bottle of water, 5 bananas, some instant beef noodles (just in case), a big pack of breakfast biscuits, a pack of crisps and 3 250ml cartons of fresh orange juice. All of this costs me £5.70 and meant I had breakfast and some back up if my diabetes started playing up. After the floating markets we stopped at a rice noodle factory, with the chance to buy more food and then carried on down the backwaters for a round trip back to our starting point. The backwaters were lovely but could have been so much nicer. 5 times we had to stop to unravel plastic that had caught around the propeller. It’s a shame that the river isn’t kept clean, but at the same time you can see that the Vietnamese have been living off the river for hundreds of years. At one point there was a man in the water up to his chin reaching under the river banks. I can only assumed he was trying to tickle some river trout, a way of catching fish with your hands. We were back on land at 9am where three of us split a cab back to the hostel for £0.50 each.
The following day, after our third night we decided to head back to Saigon for a night before visiting the beach resort of Mui Ne, more about that in my next post. To get back to Saigon our hostel reserved us tickets at the bus station. We told them we wanted to catch a bus at 10:30 so we were picked up at 9:45 by a shuttle bus, whisked off to the bus station and paid 100000 Dong (£3.30) for our 4 hour bus back. The Mekong Delta, and especially the local part in Can Tho is definitely worth the trip, but not for too long. I’d say 3 nights is more than enough, giving you time to explore the town one day, and explore the markets and the backwaters the other.