I gave myself a gift – a trip to Mekong Delta on Aug 16, 2015 with The Sinh Tourist.
(Note: Part II will be Mekong Delta motorbike trip from experience of my friend).
I paid 249,000 VND for it. And for me, it’s much better than a BBQ buffet at a Japanese restaurant which cost 339,000 VND. Much worth the money.
I used service of The Sinh Tourist (TST) before and kind of know their style so I didn’t call to book the trip in advance, just come in the last minute.
And it was really last minute. I arrived to their office nearly 8:30 and that’s the time the trip depart according to their website. There were 2 big buses and look like no more seat available. I was telling that I can’t park my motorbike there to go for my trip and need to find elsewhere to park it. I went to a place along Tran Hung Dao street to park my motorbike (paid 5000) then ran back. I paid 249,000 VND for the ticket while the price on their website was 189,000 VND but it’s understandable because it was weekend. The time on the ticket was 8:45.
I saw a big bus, but was instructed to get into a small one. Finally, I was known that there were 4 buses for this trip, 3 big buses 45 people each and 1 smaller one with 7 people. The two other big buses (no. 1 and no. 2) departed already. They are one team with one guide. While bus no. 3 and no. 4 (I was belong to bus no. 4) departed by 8:45 and is one team with one guide.
I was with 4 Chinese barely speak English and a young couple from UK in the bus, we were given a bottled water and wet tissue for free. The tour guide told us the schedule and activities and carefully ask if someone can’t eat something, if someone is vegetarian. The lunch is given for free, so he need to ask for its preparation.
On the way going, the only problem was the aircon was too cold for me, but too hot for 3 Chinese at the back, who want to sit together. I had a chat with the young UK couple and the driver. I got an useful info from the driver that the bus terminal of TST is just at no. 167 Tran Nao street, District 2, very near my place. So next time I want to go, I just need to come there to ask any driver a favor of a free ride to their office. It will save my time and effort of traveling to their office.
According to the driver and the person at the boat station I met later, TST has around 100 people working 2 shifts in their head office at HCMc. In the peak time, this Mekong Delta trip may extend to 6 big buses, which they usually divide into 3 teams and lead them to not be conflict with each other. For weekday, with same service and not so much crowded, this trip costs around 180,000 VND only.
Side story: This isn’t my first time at Mekong Delta. I’ve been there 5 years ago for a business trip in one month. In which, I was in 6 provinces (An Giang, Ben Tre, Can Tho, Dong Thap, Tra Vinh and Vinh Long). And I was in Ben Tre province just last week, attended a birthday party of an 11 years old boy which is big look like they organized a wedding, not a birthday party. This is my first time to go with a tour. Although there wasn’t much excitement like the first time in Mekong Delta, but it’s good to be there again.
We arrived at An Khanh boat station at no. 8, 30/4 street, My Tho city, Tien Giang province around 10am. There are 4 islands on Tien River part which runs between 2 provinces: Tien Giang and Ben Tre. They are named: Tortoise island (cồn Quy), Phoenix island (cồn Phụng), Dragon island (cồn Long) and Unicorn island (cồn Thới Sơn). The boat brought us via beautiful scenes of Mekong river then arrived at Diem Phuong restaurant. This restaurant is around 10000 m2 large and on Phoenix Island.
On the way going, there were few floating houses raising fishes (red tilapia, basa). The tour guide introduced about how people their doing the business, depth of the river, the way people catch natural fishes. They introduced by English first then Vietnamese later. By Vietnamese, he told more information, since it’s easier to tell. There are things which cultural, historical, social – related which may cost ton of time to explain by English. So for local, we know more about the decoration – the “eyes” on the boat, the differences of wording between the North and the South, benefit of water hyacinth …
Tour guide introduced to us functions of many products from woods and coconut from souvenir store. It’s understandable, beside helping tourist to understand the products, TST and the tour guide also should help the restaurant with their business.
I then bought a set of 10 postcards for 20,000 VND which I later found out at Nguyen Hue bookstore, HCMc that it just costs 9,500 VND only. However, here I can select postcards I want, so it’s still a good price for me.
We then proceed to a place where people make rice wrappers. When we were walking through the small lane with trees surrounding, I felt like I came back my grandparents’ house, village, just different that this time I pay for it.
Tour guide introduced about how the rice wrapper was made, then we tasted some cakes there and they are so good. I bought one set of 10 pieces for 30,000 VND. (And now I’m learning to grill them with microwave oven).
Then we went to the restaurant to have lunch. 6 people at one table, those who don’t eat meat are at one table. The people joined the trip are: Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, French, English, Chinese Vietnamese Canadian (people who are Chinese by blood, was born and grown up in Vietnam then immigrated to Canada), … They mostly came as a group of family members, relatives, friends, looks like only me and one English guy went alone.
Each table is served with one set of 6 fried spring rolls, one fried giant gourami, fish adobo and pork adobo, stir fried kang kung, vegetable soup. The fried giant gourami is to be rolled with rice noodles, lettuce and some other herbs to become a fresh spring roll and eat with a sauce. There was a waiter at each table to roll for us, and each person got 2 rolls.
Side story: When I saw the fried fish and impressed with the way it was served, I asked what’s this fish. People told me it’s gourami. Just the previous day I saw it in the market and told myself that I would try it one time, and the next day I eat it. It happened to me sometimes when I think about something, then I have it. Kind of amazing.
After lunch, I took a quick visit around the restaurant, there is a newly built ancient house style with lots of tree and bonsais there.
We then returned back to the boat, it ran into a small lane of the river which the tour guide keep calling it “tunnel”. Plants along the river got into the boat. People went to the bow of the boat to take pictures. The couple in the picture are from England, the boy is a police and the girl is about to finish her Business study. It took them 3 years to prepare for this trip (Vietnam – Cambodia – Thailand), mostly to save money. The girl told me that, food here are very nice and fresh, they don’t usually have fresh things in Europe.
We then got into a “coconut house” where products from coconut are exhibited. The tour guide explained how people processing things from coconut: the tree, the leaves, the fruit, everything can be used to make souvenirs, household items, coconut oil, coconut candies … Again, the introduction in Vietnamese was longer, and in English was shorter. In Vietnamese, we have heard more about 4 types of coconut.
We then were introduced how people taking care of honey bee, we had change to keep the beehive by our hands. Just to not drop it.
We then were served some tea with honey, people there offered us to buy honey, queen bee milk, pollen. The tour guide introduced how healthy honey is, and how is the quality of the honey here.
We then transferred to smaller boat, 4 to 5 people on one boat. There are Vietnamese conical hats for you to experience and to cover sunlight. It was just a 15-min ride, and since I was the only Vietnamese on the boat, the boat rider who was a woman spoke to me a lot, that since 9am until that time, she got 2 boat rides only, which she will get paid less than 30,000 VND for the two boat rides at the end of the month. The boat riders here are mostly expecting tip, since the pay is too small.
We then were being served hot tea in a teapot with 5 kinds of fruit: watermelon, pomelo, longan, rambutan and dragon fruit. At the same time, there were people sang for us, the 1st and 2nd songs were ancient songs, the 3rd and 4th song are kind of modern songs.
The first song was Dáng đứng Bến Tre, it tells about this province, famous about coconut, the girl from here with long hair, and the war it passed by, the older history, then the changes after the war. There are lyrics from this song which were in me since I was a child: “Ai đứng như bóng dừa, tóc dài bay trong gió… Có phải người còn đó là con gái của Bến tre?” means: “who standing as the shallow of coconut tree, the long hair is flying in the wind … Is that the girl of Ben Tre?”. And: “Mỗi lúc đi xa, dừa ơi ta nhớ lắm nghe! Vườn trái trái sum suê, biển khơi tôm cá đầy ghe… Nhớ con sông dài Hàm Luông bến ta quen ghé. Lại nhớ tóc ai dài, còn mang dáng đứng Bến Tre!” means: “every time when I go far away, coconut, I miss you so much! The garden full of fruits, the sea, the boat full of shrimp and fishes … I miss the long river Ham Luong which I usually visit. I also miss the person with long hair … ” Anyway, the translation doesn’t make sense of how nice it is, just give you an idea of what are they singing about if you listen to it.
The second song was Dạ cổ Hoài Lang, you can start hear it from 1:10 in this Youtube link or here. The song was written since 1918, the content was about a wife missing her husband. This song was sang by “đờn ca tài tử” style. It was granted as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
I don’t really remember the 3rd and 4th song. A basket was given to each table expecting tips. I don’t know if the singers enjoy singing the same songs everyday, for people who are tourists, don’t understand that much or don’t pay attention that much about what they are singing.
We then experienced horse wagon riding. 6 tourists and one female groom with one horse. Although it was a new experience for me, I felt pity for the horse. Anyway, that feeling doesn’t help anyone.
We passed by Tan Thach temple, Chau Thanh district, Ben Tre province.
We then walked onto a high and small bridge, made by wood and just mean for walking, got into a place making coconut candies.
We bought some delicacies there, then went back to the boat to return to the boat station, then got into the bus to go back to Ho Chi Minh city, the trip is finished. The bus got into the highway with a fee, so it was really fast (an hour and 40 minutes) and pleasant with nice view. We arrived at HCMc by 6pm.
All in all, it was worth the money. I experienced different things, although each thing was little, but it was good.
Even if you organize the trip by yourself, it would cost more than that, you need to pay for buses, boats, foods … You have chances to meet new people from different countries in a tour. But in a tour, obviously you will see what many other people see, you need to follow the schedule, don’t have your own time and adventure. So it’s up to each person’s preference and time limit.
Mekong Delta trip by motorbike. Ha and Viet.
Ha is my close friend, and Viet his her life partner.
They had a 4-day motorbike trip to Mekong Delta last Aug 22 (departed by 8am) until Aug 25 (arrived by 6pm).
In which, they
+have been to 7 provinces,
+ riding total of around 800km,
+ spend total around 3.5 million VND, in which around 250,000 for gasoline, 410,000 for accommodation (first night: 80,000, 2nd night: 150,000 and 3rd night: 180,000). The rest are for foods, drinks, entrance tickets and other expenses.
Some spots of their trip were:
+ Tram Chim National Park: They met a group of 4 other people and they rented a boat together. Rental fee is 500,000 VND for 15km and 800,000 VND for 21km. They selected 21km, the couple shared 300,000. They were on the boat in 2 hours.
Their experience: best time to visit this park is: Oct-Nov when the special rice here can be harvested at night and nights only; or Jan-Mar when the birds come back to the park to lay eggs.
+ Vinh Sang Eco Tour: Fishing crocodile (you pay 5000 VND to buy one piece of pig lung as bait for for the crocodile to play with them), riding Ostrich (20000 VND/time).
+ Bang Lang Stork garden: Entrance fee: 10,000 VND. They had lunch here. One set of 2 storks, either grilled or hot pot style is 120,000 or 150,000 VND.
+ Cai Rang floating market: not much to see by this time, since the fruit season is ended. Boat rental: 150,000 VND for riding from the market; 300,000 VND for riding from Ninh Kieu port.
+ Note: here you can have a rest by noon time at hammock cafe, just need to pay for your drinks, very cheap (one coconut and one orange for 23,000 VND), then you even can stay 2-3 hours there.