Indochina Adventure (Part 8) – Up the Mekong Delta

A traffic-jam of Sampans along The Mekong Delta

When visiting Vietnam there are certain musts and a trip to The Mekong Delta is one of them!

Now back in Saigon having flown south from the dreary and wet north central area we were more than ready for a hot and sultry trip by boat up this famous river delta.

The nearest access area to the Delta when based in Saigon is from the small fishing town of My Tho. So very early in the morning we set off from our hotel in the French quarter of Saigon delta bound!

The Tien branch of the Mekong River divides the towns of My Tho and Ben Tre 43 miles southwest of Saigon. This is where visitors can hop aboard boats and explore narrow, mud brown waterways and fertile islands sampling cottage industries and local crafts. We though had opted for a more full-on experience with a small band of likeminded travellers who were also after more than the standard tourist experience.

We opted to use the services of ‘Intrepid Traveller’ a well known agent which promised to deliver a small group adventure along the lines of what we were all after.

Our Ferryman taking us up and into The Delta

Upon arrival into My Tho we boarded a private longtail boat which was charted to our party for the day. A short boat ride took us across the busy waterways to visit our first island, an island with lush tropical gardens where we would have a chance to sample tropical fruit locally sourced on the island. We wandered around the quiet island oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the boats forging their way past us, up and down the busy river lanes all around.But we were ignorant cocooned as we were within the thick jungle undergrowth of our island paradise.

Locals waiting for a ferry along the mighty Mekong

Boarding the boat once more we now made for another small island where coconut candy manufacture took place under palm roofed huts. This was the cottage industry of choice on this island and was in full throw as we arrived. It was here that I had a way, way too intimate meeting with the resident Boa-Constrictor – who I was assured had been raised by the villagers from birth – and had categorically not crushed a human being to death for many a year! A welcome piece of knowledge as the snake began to wrap itself tightly around my torso to the obvious amusement of the many locals and tourists alike!

Escaping the constrictions of the Boa I managed to sample some of the delicious coconut being produced and found a strange addiction almost instantly, what was being added to the candy, well I wouldn’t like to guess, but dam it tasted good, dam good indeed!

Leaving the main trail of tourists behind we were now guided down a narrow palm fringed track deeper into the surrounding jungle. In a clearing not far beyond the coconut huts we stumbled upon the sound of revving engines, the engines of several parked up Xe Loi’s (motorized carts). Helmets optional we sped off along the jungle trail in short convey and at great speed. The Xe Loi is one of the strangest contraptions I have ever travelled in. It’s a kind of crossbreed of motorbike, buggy and cart pimped to the owners personal and sometimes questionable taste. They are pretty nippy though and we careered along at speed through palm plantations and coconut tree shaded dusty tracks, tearing through villages and past bewildered livestock including crazy chickens who scattered before us and bemused water buffalo wallowing in the paddy fields.

Our Xe Loi and the Hall's Angels (Vietnam style) who drive them

A skill quickly learnt (out of necessity) was how to duck the razor sharp leaves of oncoming palm throngs which threatened to decapitate the unwary at every available turn – optional helmet now looking like a non-option at all. The dust kicked up by the lead Xe Loi continued to smother our faces as we sped along struggling to hang onto the metal roll-bars of our hurtling carts.

After what seemed like an eternity our Hells Angels type band of bikes rolled up into the yard of a fisherman’s hut where it looked like dinner would be served. The setting was surreal, deep in the jungle in a bamboo hut under the mottled shade of tall palm trees. The dinner though looked real enough, too real for me! Elephant Fish! Let me tell you this, to a fish-a-phobe Elephant Fish is about the last thing you want to come face to face with, EVER!

Face to Face with an Elephant Fish

After a fairly frugal lunch on my behalf (due to the above fish shenanigans) we wondered what could be next up on the agenda. Sure enough it was the highlight and main event for many. A chance to be punted along the narrow tributaries of the Mekong in a traditional Sampan.

The narrow bamboo pier that jutted out into the water used for boarding the sampans now became the stage for a series of comedy escapades as nearly everyone struggled to make a gainly transition from land to water. The Sampans turned up on cue like London buses – in three’s – and we all attempted to alight for the next part of the days unique and crazy adventure.

Catching the Sampan deeper into The Mekong

French visitors to The Delta, the waterways can get busy

Drifting along in the narrow waterways surrounded by palms was truly a memorable experience. For several minutes I think we all felt a very very long way away from home (it sure wasn’t Kansas! or even Essex for that matter!). The sun beat down on us and glistened off the water’s surface reflecting strong UV Rays into our squinting eyes. Unrecognisable wildlife flew above and around us, a constant chirping could be heard all along the tropical rushes and foliage of the riverbanks. We drifted slowly along all fully immersed in our own little unique adventures.

The women do all the hard work punting you along the channel ways of The Delta

I’m confident in stating for all of us that none of us wanted this part of the adventure to end. But end is did as we disembarked from our sampans and boarded the private longtail for the last time for the short trip back across the delta to My Tho and eventually onward back to a sweltering Saigon.

You can see more photos from my Indochina Adventure on Flickr by clicking on this linkhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets/72157629031722105/

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