A day in the Mekong

Mekong riverYesterday we escaped the throngs of motorbikes and people in Saigon and headed down to the Mekong Delta for a day trip. Normally we don't go in for any tours or that sort of thing when we travel, preferring to make our own arrangements or just winging our exploration, but with our Vietnamese lacking, and our time limited, we turned to the professionals at Exotissimo Travel. They arranged a day trip to Ben Tre Province, including a car and driver and an English-speaking guide.

Ben Tre Boat Trip MapAfter pick-up at our hotel in Saigon, we drove about an hour and a half to Tien Giang, where we learned about our upcoming day's adventures on the big Ben Tre Boat Trip Map. We boarded our boat for ride across the river and over to a coconut handicraft village, where we saw people making souvenirs for tourists out of coconut shells. After a look-see around the place, and a lesson in the utility of coconut, we hopped into a little horse drawn cart and headed to a bee farm.

Sticky rice wineAt the bee farm we enjoyed a snack of tasty tropical fruits and sampled tea with fresh honey. And after much encouragement by our guide, we tried some sticky rice wine, mixed with a bit of honey and kumquat juice. It was potent, to say the least. I can't imagine drinking more than the two sips we "enjoyed" at the farm.

Along the MekongAfter that, we boarded very small boats and headed up a little tributary for what was the nicest part of the tour. Tall palm fronds surrounded us on both sides as we our guides paddled up the narrow muddy river. Occasionally we'd pass people cutting down leafy stalks for roofing and loading them in their long boats. I could have stayed on that boat for a long time.

A Mekong specialtyBut then it was off to the coconut candy factory, where we witnessed a small family production of a sweet and tasty treat. And then it was back into our bigger boat again and we headed to lunch. At a nice restaurant beside the river we had elephant ear fish. Rolled in rice paper with noodles and greens, and dipped into a peanuty sauce, it was pretty tasty. But I have to say, the presentation of that scary fish on the table, with its teeth hanging out and its eyes staring at us, was not the most appetizing. We finished up, and then it was back to the boat, back to the dock, back to the car, and two hours later, back in Saigon. A nice tour, and one that whetted my appetite to see more of the Vietnamese countryside. It would have been nice to spend several days in the area, and to be able to get further away from the tourist sites and visit regular villages and daily life.