Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

On January 9, we took a bus to a small agricultural port on the Mekong River from Phnom Penh and got on a boat and headed towards the Vietnamese border with a small group of travellers headed for Saigon. Pretty early on I realised that Vietnam would be one of the highlights of this holiday.

Day 44 – 46, Chau Doc and Cantho, Mekong Delta area, Vietnam

I couldn’t help but feel the difference as soon as we left the first boat and walked across the border into Vietnam. There were still kids coming up and selling stuff or wanting to carry our bags (good luck with that) but we’re used to that. Maybe it was just me, but after doing our passport stuff and sitting down for that first ph? (beef noodle soup), I felt a sense of the positive here. After a short lunch break, we got onto the next boat, a small river boat and headed on down the Mekong River into the Mekong Delta.

We travelled down the Mekong River into the Delta region where we saw various river communities doing their thing. Lots of people fishing and taking baths in the river (not at the same time, and not naked). We were enjoying this tour somewhat for its non-touristy vibe, and didn’t originally know that there was a three day/two night option (we originally bought this ticket assuming it was simply boat transportation to Saigon), so we switched up. Accommodation was included with the transportation, all-in-all a pretty good deal for USD $39 each.

We stayed overnight at an unremarkable guesthouse on a nice hill overlooking rice fields and the nearby town of Chau Doc. That night we took a walk into town in search of my first Banh Mi (Vietnamese sub) in Vietnam. I was not disappointed. I’m a big fan of Vietnamese pork rolls (Banh Mi Heo), so much so that I must have had at least one per day during our stay in Vietnam – generally bits of meat with coriander, carrot, shallots, chilli, soy sauce and mystery spices on a French-style baguette. Often they’d put sardine paste on as well. Sounds weird but actually okay. And these rolls were damn cheap (although a bit smaller than the huge ones they make in Sydney).

Anyway, I digress, more about Vietnamese cuisine another time. In the morning we hit the road to see the markets and other happenings in the town of Chau Doc as well as getting on some small boats to see fish farms and river life. We also learned about various minority groups in the region, like the Cham, who are Muslims that have been living in Vietnam for hundreds of years, and Cambodians, who had come over as refugees during Pol Pot’s rule.

Cham lady, Vietnam
Cham villager, Chau Doc, Vietnam.

Chau Doc is a great place to see Vietnamese people doing their everyday thing and a great place to visit if you’re travelling through, especially if you want to get away from all the tourist traps of the bigger destinations.

We travelled further down the Delta into a town called Can Tho, and stayed at Hung’s Homestay located in a humble village on a small island in the Delta. Our host, Hung, lived in a large house on the river with space for about 8 guests where he and his family fed us large communal meals and showed us about the place. (He’d recently added a bunch of bungalows on the river in response to demand.)

From Hung’s we did a little walking tour of the area where we saw how the local people lived. The folks here were so friendly and the kids would come running out to play and say hello (not asking for anything!). We walked around the village and crossed a rickety monkey bridge over a small creek, and on the way back to Hung’s some old Vietnamese guys invited us onto the porch of their makeshift pub for a few Saigon beers. Conversation was lively considering they didn’t speak English and none of us understood Vietnamese, but we were still able to yell “YO!” which is “cheers” in Vietnamese.

monkey bridge
Crossing the rickety monkey bridge. Photo courtesy of Meg.

Afterwards we ate well back at Hung’s. We learnt his home remedy for all manner of ailments – cupping:

Remedial Cupping
Cupping home remedy – Our host Hung demonstrates how it’s done. Photo courtesy of Meg.

Cupping home remedy
More cupping. This got rid of Meg’s stiff neck and left some raised purple circles on her back for a few days.

On the morning of the third day we woke up to Heart’s “Alone” blaring out on Hung’s stereo at 6am, which I found pretty entertaining (but I’m sure not everyone did). We left Hung’s place behind and headed out early in the morning for the floating markets (people cruising around on boats selling goods to people cruising around on boats). By then we could see how much people in the Delta really lived on the water. During this trip we also saw a Vietnamese silk factory, a place where people made incense by hand (which is more interesting than it sounds) as well as visting a place that produced rice noodles. Meg took some great shots of these:

Incense making
Incense making shop in Vietnam. Here women are rolling scented dough onto sticks. Photo courtesy of Meg.

Incense drying in the sun
Incense sticks drying in the sun. Photo courtesy of Meg.

rice noodles
After the liquid rice mixture is poured and cooked it is set in the sun. Photo courtesy of Meg.

The last leg of the trip was by bus (with a slightly annoying barge ferry episode) into Saigon, arriving in the late afternoon in the middle of the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker area.

Day 46 – 48, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City (also known as HCMC and originally and still quite often referred to as Saigon) is a large busy city with a lot of traffic, pollution and as malodorous as any large city in South East Asia. Yet I really liked the place. We stayed in a decent hotel room for US$12/night off Pham Ngu Lao which is a big tourist spot and is mentioned a lot in the Lonely Planet. The people here (and so far Vietnam in general) are really friendly and laid back. English is quite commonly spoken by the locals if you are anywhere near a tourist attraction.

Generally, I thought Saigon had a good vibe. We didn’t do much here but relax, enjoy decent food (of course I got my daily fix of Banh Mi) and a few beers in some cool bars. If you visit Saigon, visit Crazy Lam’s and go to the top floor bar and you might meet Crazy Lam himself. We sat at the bar and got chatting to the bar owner (Lam, a knowledgable, fun loving local) who gave us a free glass of wine and a bit of food. We also met a generous Canadian fellow who was sampling some of the local stuff. My tip is to always sit at the bar if you want interesting things to happen.

While we were chilling out in Saigon we caught up on things like laundry and getting in touch with friends and family, blogging and snail mailing things we didn’t need back home. After our adventures at Saigon post office we managed to very briefly visit the War Remnants Museum (once upon a time known as the Museum of American Atrocities). It was pretty interesting but we only had enough time to zip through and take a bunch of photos. Here are a couple:

American tank
An American tank on display at (not attacking) the War Remnants Museum.

Journalist's camera at the War Remnants Museum
Journalist’s camera at the War Remnants Museum. An American journalist was the owner of this trusty camera. It saved his life when he was shot, the bullet being caught in his camera.

At this point our plan was to spend the next three weeks making our way north to Hanoi and then getting a plane to Hong Kong which was where our next pre-booked flight was. So while in Saigon we organised our flight from Hanoi to Hong Kong and also bought an open bus ticket to Hanoi. This is the second best way of getting around Vietnam. Basically, you can buy a ticket allowing you to visit various cities (travelling in one direction) at your own pace Рyou just need to let an agent know the day before you want to travel. So we got a ticket that would take us to six cities, from the South to the North, (Saigon, Da Lat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hu̩ and Hanoi) for USD $21.

That’s the second best (but definitely the cheapest) way to get around Vietnam. The first best way is to get yourself an Easy Rider motorcycle guide (woo nice site!), which we did from Da Lat, our next stop from Saigon. More about that next post

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  1. Nice photos. I’m jealous, I’ve always wanted to visit Vietnam.

    BTW, that’s a M107 self propelled gun, not a tank. Just sayin’.

  2. Carl, you closet military buff! Thanks for the tip.

    You should totally go to Vietnam, it\’s cheap and it\’s easy to get to from Australia.

  3. Hi – can I just ask do you feel Vietnam is a good destination for cheap holidays? Were there any downsides to your stay? What about crime/safety there are there any problems in that regard? From reading your post it really does look like an awesome holiday destination, thank you

  4. Yeah it’s a brilliant place for a super cheap holiday. Especially from Australia as the airfare is pretty cheap compared to coming over from Europe. In terms of crime and safety, never had a problem in the time we were there. Maybe the odd scam (I hear), but we never got robbed or felt threatened in anyway.

    Go there!

  5. Jezza isn't a Lezza
    May 11, 2007
    4:21 pm

    Yeh man – There’s a place in vietnam where you can hire a rocket launcher and take out a cow!! hahahaaaaa that’s awesome. Cheap too. A vegan friend of mine put me onto it.

  6. Hey Jez… yeah I bet hey, in Cambodia the dudes at our hostel kept trying to sell us trips to the firing range to shoot machine guns and bazookas. I don’t think they’re vegans though…

  7. Sounds like a great place for a visit, sounds to me like you had lots to do as well, their nothing worse than going on holiday and being bored!!