Vince defies conventional wisdom of taking a bus tour and leads a squadron of easy riders out from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta for a floating breakfast at the river markets…
“You ride only in Saigon, or you take motorbike outside Saigon?”
“No, no. Only in Saigon.”
The odometer on my bike was broken, so even if they knew the mileage, there’s no way they’d know how far we took them. So the next morning we were on the highway, starting a nearly 200km ride to Can Tho, the largest city in the Mekong delta region of Southern Vietnam. I figured as long as we got the bikes back in one piece, all would be well. The squadron included myself and German Julia on my bike, American Franklin and Swiss Sascha on two other bikes. We’d heard great things about the Mekong delta and its “floating markets” but hadn’t had much time to do too much research – that was part of the adventure.
A couple hours outside of Ho Chi Minh City we stopped for a water break – I got salty lemonade which turns out to be delicious – and we were approached by a fellow foreign motor biker. He asked if we had sunscreen, which in lonesome traveler speak translates to: “Hey do you guys want to be friends?” Yes, we did have sun screen, but no, we didn’t want to be friends. So we robbed him and left.
Just kidding… and then there were five. Canadian Ryan was now part of the unit and we rode into the wind, just like that, +1 brave soldier.
Being out On The Road in Vietnam was a blast – it was significantly less stressful than the heavy traffic of the city, and the countryside has some beautiful stretches. The road-side restaurants along the way had very limited menus but made up for it with the dozens of hammocks, turning short pit-stops into slightly longer than expected nap-time. It just makes so much sense! I really want to introduce the hammock-restaurant to stretches of American highways (patent pending).
After getting lost several times, we eventually made it to Can Tho just after dark, and managed to find a hotel with essentially no idea where we were or where we were going. After having dinner at a little restaurant called “Mekong,” which was delicious and cheap, we ran into a woman who convinced us to get a boat to the floating market at 5:30am. I don’t think I’ve been up before 8 am in five years. How she convinced me to agree to that is something that should be studied by business negotiators at Fortune 500 companies. She convinced us that you have to get down the river to the market bright and early to catch the action.
It ended up being a great decision; the city was dark and quiet as we walked to the water, and the little motorboat ride down the river at sunrise was peaceful and gorgeous. To be honest I didn’t know much of what to expect at a floating market, but I assumed some sort of hover-craft would be involved. Suddenly we were amidst small- to medium-sized vessels, bobbing about each other, linking up to transfer cargo between them. Our guide/driver cut off the engine and rowed us between the boats, some selling watermelons and pineapples, others offering all kinds of fresh seafood. It seemed to be primarily larger commodity wholesale, but the vendors were happy to unload individual items to us as well. I grabbed some pastries from a baked goods boat, while Canadian Ryan flagged down the watermelon cruise liner. We also linked up with a coffee vendor who managed to transfer a few cups of steaming coffee to us while bobbing back and forth alongside our boat (without spilling a drop). Surprisingly we only saw one or two other boats with tourists in them. It seems to be one of those tourist spots that is well known enough to be easily accessible, but also out of the way enough so that it’s never overrun at any particular time.
The next day we managed to get back to Ho Chi Minh City with slightly less delay, but just as many hammock naps. The roads were slightly harrowing, dodging between trucks and other motor bikes, but our faithful steeds carried us back unscathed (the one and only casualty was Sascha’s rearview mirror, which had been fastened on with a rubber band). The lesson learned here is that if anyone tells you to get on a bus tour from HCMC to Mekong delta tell them you once heard a tale of a few road warriors who bucked the system and took matters into their own hands.
Nice one Vince, but if like the Editor, you a) can’t drive and b) think motorbikes are heavy horsepower deathtraps you might prefer to check out Tucan Travel’s more conventional Mekong Delta tours. They leave and return from Ho Chi Minh City and offer a real insight into local life as you visit a myriad of small businesses like floating market stalls, a rice paper and sweet making place, a ceramics factory and a bonsai garden where you can hold a giant snake, taste local fruits and drink tea – or snake wine. You will also ‘enjoy’ an authentic homestay (ie. back to basics!) and an early morning cruise on a sampan boat.
Meanwhile, sticking with Urban Travel Blog, do stay tuned for more of Vince’s adventures as his journey takes him to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore next…