We spent most of our week in Vietnam in urban areas – Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, and HCMC – so I was pleased to fit in a day in the Mekong delta countryside. Andreas and I don’t take a lot of guided tours, but sometimes it’s the best way to see a place if we have only a very short time. My friend Amy recommended Water Buffalo Tours, who offer private tours in and around Ho Chi Minh City. It turned out to be a very fun day.
We started with a Cao Dai temple. Cao Dai is a syncretic religion that combines elements of Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Islam, and Confucianism. It was founded in 1926 and is now the third most popular religion in Vietnam. Interesting fact: Victor Hugo is one of the saints.
Next we visited a market. I love markets, and this one did not disappoint.
We stopped for a quick refreshment in a cà phê house (betcha didn’t know I can speak Vietnamese! I can say beer, too… bia).
We left the town and drove to a bike rental shop/refreshment stand in the countryside. From there we set off on two wheels along quiet roads and paths.
We stopped at the house of the tour company owner’s uncle. Here we got a glimpse of rural life in the delta. The uncle and his wife raise goats, ducks, and vegetables in the yard of their two-room house; they also own a part in one of the large rice paddies across the road.
As we continued our ride we saw tall windowless buildings surrounded by high fencing, with large speakers on the roof playing bird calls. These are swiftlet nesting houses, for the collection of the valuable nests used in making Chinese birds’ nest soup.
We didn’t fall in while crossing a monkey bridge.
It would have been fun to cycle around all day, but it was early afternoon and getting hot. We enjoyed some fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice back at the bike shop.
We took the van to a restaurant next to the river, stopping on the way at a fish market to pick up some fresh shrimp for our lunch. I guess when this outfit promises a private tour they really mean it, because we were the only customers at the restaurant. From the well-stocked bar I’d guess they do most of their business in the evening.
The restaurant cooked our shrimp and about eight more dishes to go with it. Everything was absolutely delicious.
Our last stop was the water itself. The Mekong River splits into many distributaries in the delta, and we rode in a motorized wooden boat across one of these. We saw all types and sizes of vessels on the river – water buses and taxis, barges, fishing boats. Many boats had eyes painted on the bow, which our guide told us are there to ward off water monsters.
The boat dropped us off across the river where we transferred to a sampan. A tourist thing for sure, but at the end of this busy day we enjoyed the quiet ride along narrow waterways through water coconut groves.