When I set out to travel through Asia on my own, I never once expected to land up riding a motorcycle, let alone venturing off the beaten track into the Mekong Delta. I am only 7 weeks into my trip and would certainly not call myself an expert on a motorcycle. I was taught by a friend in Pai, Thailand and have since ridden them in Nha Trang and Dalat… so whats that 3 times? I must admit the adventure and the thrill of riding motorcycles in Vietnam will never get old. A few weeks ago I had met up with a great group of travellers from all over the world, and we have been travelling the south of Vietnam together for nearly two weeks at this point. However everyone began separating in Ho Chi Minh City, some flying to Paris whilst others had to get to Cambodia before visa’s expired. It was down to two, just Tash and I, and we had heard that it was possible to rent a motorcycle for an extended length of time from Hotel XOAI in Can Tho which was only a ±2-3hr bus ride outside of HCMC. The Ben xe Mien Tay bus station runs the buses to Can Tho which is ±8kms outside of central HCMC and so we opted to catch a taxi from our hostel Vietnam Inn Saigon. The bus ride was a relatively pleasant late afternoon trip, putting us into Can Tho after dark, luckily it offered taxi drop-offs to our hotel. You know you are nearing or in the Mekong Delta because every few kilometers you cross giant bridges spanning large sections of the river. Leading into Can Tho is a raised suspension bridge which gave me an incredible glimpse of the city. The view of the city from here felt like a scene from Tron with blue & red glowing neon lights.
Can Tho would become our base for a 4 day loop out into the Mekong delta by motorcycle. The hotel was happy to put our main luggage into long term storage, and so with just day packs between us Tash & I set off toward Vinh Long some 40km away which would be our first stop. We had to leave one of our passports in Can Tho as a ‘security deposit’ on the motorcycle, luckily we didn’t need it later. The road out to Vinh Long is one of the larger highway routes through the Mekong so expect bigger trucks, buses and other traffic along the route. It also means that the first day riding doesn’t offer many great sights itself. We did find a big cemetery near Long Ho that looked to be filled with old war memorials and graves which was rather fascinating… until the guard dog woke up and decided he didn’t like the look of us.
Vinh Long turned out to be a very small, but busy little town. We encountered a funeral procession and so we drove on further down the main road looking for the home-stay we had found listed on TripAdvisor. Sadly our search was turning out to be a bit of a dead end and so the backup plan was always to just find a local hotel. It wasn’t long before we found Hotel Thien Kim but decided to ask whether they knew where we could find the Ngo Sang Home-stay the receptionist tried her best to explain and pointed down the road. The road just led down to the river so we pulled a U-Turn. Just as we did a chap on a motor cycle pulled up next to us with a pamphlet for the Home-stay saying it was across the river on the island and he would arrange the ferry fee as part of the Home-stay’s Dinner & Bed deal. The home-stay is on a beautiful little ‘island type’ section of the Mekong with small motorcycle wide concrete roads running through thick jungle between small houses. Its an absolutely stunning area and well worth spending time exploring. Hire a bicycle and explore the rambutan plantations and local streams where kids play. I must admit the home-stay is less ‘home-stay’ and more of a house built to accommodate easily 12 tourists with ±6 rooms with two beds in each. Its a great though, surrounded by jungle, and rooms made from woven palm leaves. Dinner was a fantastic deep fried elephant fish served with vegetables and rice wraps for you to make your own spring rolls. The mornings here are incredibly peaceful, jungle birds calling, the odd local passing and the distant sound of boats navigating the river. I would have loved to have spent an extra night on the island but our journey required us to move on to Ben Tre.
The original plan had been to navigate from Vinh Long north round and through Cai Be and stick to the main roads, but plans were changed and we decided to stay on the island and attempt a more direct route east along the Mekong. This was a great decision, it led us through some of the most amazing parts of the delta. We rode along narrow concrete streets, over rickety old wooden bridges and sailed across the river on ferries. It really gave an incredible perspective of life in the Mekong delta and set the tone for the rest of our trip. On arrival in Ben Tre we realised that we had indirectly driven past our next home-stay in My Tho, this was due to our route change from Vinh Long. We searched and search for the homestay, driving down many a dirt road and eventually feeling rather lost we headed back toward Ben Tre. We opted for a simple, but comfortable room in a Hotel on the out skirts of the city on Dong Khoi Rd. Whilst searching for the home-stay we noticed a river tour available so planned to return the next day. The deeper into the delta we traveled the greater the language barrier became. Ben Tre offered us one of our most entertaining nights trying to order food. This is especially difficult when you have a vegetarian with you. We were pointing, using google translate and no matter what we ordered that evening we never fully got what we were expecting. The beer was perhaps the most accurate order. We landed up having a rice & deep fried tofu dish which was delicious, but upon trying to order another of the same we got a chicken dish with noodles. We had to laugh. A few of the locals had been ordering Oysters with wasabi and so I took the risk and ordered one too. I had never seen an oyster served with an ice pack on top of it. The waitress was shocked when I tried to remove the ice pack and proceeded to prepare the oyster for me, putting on perhaps an entire tablespoon of wasabi. I tried it but just could not handle that amount of wasabi and the oyster promptly landed up back on my plate :p I finally finished it after scraping some of the wasabi off 🙂
The mekong river tour was brilliant! Sure we paid a little more for it, since it was just the two of us and we had our own boat and personal guide. The tour took us down the river to a coconut sweet factory where they make sweets similar to fudge from coconuts. What is absolutely amazing is how every part of the coconut is used in the process, the fruit & milk eventually become the sweets and the husks are dried and used as fuel for the stoves. The guide walked with us through the village showing us local plants & fruits, how rice paper (Banh Trang) was steamed, rolled and dried. Included in the tour was a short stop for a tasting of some of the local fruits, rambutan, dragon fruit, etc. Our guide was great, incredible knowledgeable and really enjoyed being with tourists as it not only gave him a second income, but helped him practice his english. We traveled from there down to some canals that run perpendicular to the mekong and paddled through an amazing part of the delta surrounded by thick spiny, almost cactus like, shrubs. The tour took a different turn from there as we climbed back onto our larger boat and crossed the Mekong to the Phoenix Island ‘Con Phung‘ which has an oddly deserted area built by The Coconut Monk who originally claimed he could unify Vietnam in just a few days.
We had to make it to Tra Vinh by the end of the day, so shortly after our tour had ended we hopped on the bike again and began the next 70km leg of our journey. The days had been overcast, hot and humid with a constant threat of rain but often just drizzling for a few minutes instead of giving any real down pour. Our route offered two options long or short, we chose short. Turned out that the road on google maps was in fact a dirt road and considering the semi wet conditions of late it was more of a mud road than anything else. We slipped and wiggled our way down the road for a good few kilometers dodging potholes and giant puddles. Simply hoping that at the end of that road we would find a ferry across the Mekong. We hedged our bets and kept pushing on, hoping we would not have to turn around and get back to the tar road. It paid off though, and we found ourselves waiting with the rest of the locals at a make shift pier. We used the opportunity to stretch our legs, wash off our ponchos in the river and just clean up a bit. Despite the mud it was worth it. The dirt road adventure took us deep into rural Vietnam, its a beautiful lifestyle in my opinion… an off-grid adventure in survival-ism deep in the jungle. Absolutely love it.
There is not much to be said about Tra Vinh, the Vietnamese towns were all beginning to look rather similar. It was quite fun exploring the few Khmer temples that Tra Vinh has to offer especially when you know you will soon be at Angkor Wat seeing this similar architecture on a much grander scale. The local market was in full swing with every conceivable fish & animal life you could imagine. We made sure to have some local Pho Ga and stopped for my favorite the Vietnamese Coffee at Nha Xua Coffee. We stayed at the recommended Phuong Dong Hotel in the heart of Tra Vinh, it wasn’t wholly unpleasant but could have been a little cleaner with better bedding.
Next stop, back home to Can Tho! We had the choice of taking the main roads home, but by now knew that they simply did not offer the sort of adventure that Tash and I were after. The back roads are smaller, and certainly less busy with the odds of finding a petrol station just slightly less, all worth the adventure. The last day turned out to be hot and sunny, luckily just around the halfway mark we came out of the forest at a T-junction in the road and found a make shift cafe. If you’re planning the same route I highly recommend stopping here for a coconut juice and take a few minutes break on the hammocks. The owners are super friendly 🙂 We ended safely back at Hotel XOAI in Can Tho where we found our luggage and passport had been kept safe. We spent one last night in Can Tho before our adventure continued to Chau Doc and finally into Cambodia.