The Mekong delta was the last step of our Vietnamese itinerary. After the very unpleasant cycling once we left Da Lat, and nearly one week in the vibrant and surprisingly enjoyable Ho Chi Minh City, we ended our Vietnamese cycling trip on a very positive note ! Here’s our itinerary, and the reasons why we enjoyed cycling there so much.

My Tho

Exiting Ho Chi Minh city was quick and easy (I never expected to write that). In order to avoid the busy QL, we took the much smaller DT826C. Unfortunately, after a few kilometers there was a sign stating that a bridge was under repair, and we had to ride a large road for a few kilometers. However, we could quickly head back to a smaller road again, and it was very pleasant ride. We started crossing small rivers, and cycling through small villages.

Around noon, we had to ride for a short time on QL50, after an unpleasant passage on the DT19 being renovated. We took a ferry in Ba Nho, and found ourselves cycling on a very small (and very bumpy) road, surrounded by rice fields and dragon fruits plants. Apart from the bad road surface, this first cycling day in Mekong delta was extremely pleasant !

Tombs in the middle of rice fields

In the evening, we had an unusual activity… indeed, at lunch time, the owner of the place where we ate offered us a huge jackfruit. While absolutely excellent, this fruit has the peculiarity of containing latex. We ended up in the balcony of our motel – where we had spread the unused forms of our Thai visa application in order to protect the ground -, lit by our headlamp, cutting this huge fruit with my poor small knife. Both our hands and the knife ended up totally sticky due to the latex, and removing it was basically hell 🙂

Ben Tre : in search of a boat trip

Cycling to Ben Tre was quick. We had some troubles finding our way out of My Tho, but after crossing the bridge passing the impressively large Mekong, we started cycling on a small and very pleasant road. The scenery was green, there were bright flowers; again, the Mekong delta proved to be much more pleasant for our eyes and ears than anywhere else in Vietnam !

Once in Ben Tre, we as usual stopped for a drink in a café; we were appalled to see children getting dropped by their mother to sell lottery tickets. Finding a guesthouse proved a bit difficult, and we ended up in a place that was a bit remote. It looked a bit unwelcoming at first, due to the lobby with a very low ceiling; however the owner was friendly and the rooms looked clean. Actually for VND 140 000 it was quite a bargain; everything worked correctly and it was very quiet.

After a quick lunch (a vegetarian version if the hu tieu, a local dish), there was some… hmmm… incident. As I started cycling, my front wheel crushed a small plastic bag containing some sauce; the bag exploded and I ended up being covered with fish sauce. My short and tee-shirt were full of it, as was the front of my bicycle ! To make things worse, it prevented my brakes from working properly, and we had to get the bicycle cleaned the day after !

We tried to locate the office of DinHo EcouTours, which I saw recommended several time for their boat tours. Alas, the numbering of the street was once again absolute madness and we gave up. We cycled a bit in the countryside East of Ben Tre, which was once again very pleasant as soon as we took small roads.

Thanh sent a message via Facebook to the owner of DinHo, and to our great surprise he replied that he didn’t accept Vietnamese people ! WTF ? I also tried to contact another company but they never replied. We decided to go to the tourism office the next day and try to book something from there.

Ben Tre’s forgettable boat trip

The next day, we cycled along the river in the South-West corner of Ben Tre; this part was actually pleasant, and it’s a pity that very few drinks are sold there as it’s a great place to hang out. We found one local tourism company selling boat trips but were quoted a crazy price (around $30 per person). A bit further, another company offered basically the same tour for one million dong for two, which is much less ($44) but still extremely expensive for a 3-hours tour. We ended up signing for it, with a very strong feeling that we were wasting our money. As there was no boat available this day, we signed up for the next day at 8:30.

We spent the rest of the day in a coffee, sheltered from the heavy rain that felt during most of the afternoon.

On the next day, we took the boat trip; overall it didn’t have much interest so as expected we should have saved these forty bucks. We visited a brick factory, a candy “factory” (which was actually a shop with a lone guy baking candy) where we tasted some fruits, and a place where depressed ladies were making floor mats. The ride on the river was pleasant, but it was basically the same kind of scenery as in Hoi An’s water coconut area. The guide didn’t have much to say, and both his accent and the noise of the boat’s engine made it hard to understand him.

Ben Tre viewed from the river

Tra Vinh’s surroundings : Mekong Delta at its best

Very few tourists make it to Tra Vinh, which is a pity as the area surrounding this city is absolutely beautiful and incredibly pleasant to cycle. The first ten kilometers after Ben Tre took place on a QL, which was boring. However, after crossing the bridge leading to Mo Cay, we took a small road named Cong Ly which follows the river. We saw an incredible quantity of coconut that day : they were being cleaned, cut off, loaded into boats… An incredible amount of warehouses and factories were lined up along the river, and they all processed coconuts in one way or another.

We cycled a bit on the QL60 again, then took a small concrete road to escape it, and found ourselves in a very peaceful and green area. We passed small villages and plenty of coconut trees; what struck me the most was the large amount of flowers in front of houses and along the road. It was a very pleasant change from the boring central highland south of Da Lat !

We spent most of the day cycling very small roads like this one, and it was one of our best cycling days in Vietnam.

Pure. Cycling. Pleasure.

Tra Vinh is a small city, rather quiet compared to most other places we visited. There are many pagodas there; we appreciated the picturesque Chua Ong Met. Chua Phuong was less interesting but paradoxically provided better pictures thanks to the late afternoon light !

Tra Vinh temple

Plenty of food opportunities are located on the side of Tran Phu located West of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. We also had excellent Sinh To (smoothies) at Coffee Hoai Bao located in this street. It’s a mom-and-pop café; the owner was very nice and we actually decided to go back there for our morning coffee the next day.

Vinh Long and An Binh

Cycling to Vinh Long the next day was a bit less interesting, also still very nice. We crossed countless bridges and saw many ricefields, however we couldn’t take as many small road as the previous day.

In Vinh Long, we took a crowded ferry to An Binh, and headed to a homestay called Ngoc Sang. For VND 450 000 we got a double room, vegetarian dinner and breakfast.

The room was very basic and tiny, so it was though to spread all our bicycle panniers; moreover it was hard to hang our clothes. The bathroom was shared but very clean.

Dinner was excellent and the servings were large; the first day we had spring rolls, tofu with rice, nems and several fruits for dessert. On the second day, we had a huge banh xeo, several tofu dishes, one mango/papaya salad… it was again excellent and we were absolutely full.

Breakfast was okay but not incredible : fried eggs and bread with some banana and dragon fruit, plus some jam.

Apart from the small size of the room, another slight drawback of Ngoc Sang is that it features many rooms. As a result, the dining area can be noisy, and the chill-out area will often be full at the end of the afternoon. However, the great food and the friendly staff made our stay there very pleasant overall !

Exploring An Binh

We spent the next day cycling more or less randomly around An Bing. Most roads were just large enough two motorbikes; there was very little traffic so it was a very quiet day. Like in Tra Vinh’s surroundings, I was struck by the amount of flowers. We also saw an incredible variety of fruits : papaya, mango, dragon fruit, and many other I couldn’t name. The only drawback of cycling this area is that the roads were often bumpy; but apart from that, it was once again an excellent day. After Tra Vinh’s surroundings, this was my second favorite place in the Mekong delta.

Crazy bridge in An Binh

Cycling to Can Tho

We had to cycle the QL for a small distance in order to reach a smaller road; unfortunately I totally messed up and we spent much more time than necessary on the dreaded highway. Indeed, I missed the exit we were supposed to take. We had to pass a very long bridge, then couldn’t easily turn back. I decided to try and take a nearby ferry; alas, the service was discontinued so we had to head back to the other side of the QL and follow it until we found an entry. We took the bridge again, and I missed the second opportunity to exit in the right direction. It was really starting to get on my nerves, but we had one more try and this time it worked !

We were rewarded for our patience by a very pleasant scenery and peaceful cycling (and also one smoothie 🙂 ). It was yet another very pleasant cycling day in the Mekong delta; while once again there was no spectacular place, the cycling conditions were excellent and the scenery very enjoyable.

Can Tho itself wasn’t very interesting; it’s a large and touristic city, two aspect we usually don’t enjoy much ! Our hotel was nice, however; we stayed in Xoai Hotel, where we also booked a boat trip for the next day. The room we had booked was very small, however as we used their services to book the boat trip they upgraded us to a larger room for free. It was comfortable, quiet and well designed. The staff spoke English, and was very smiling and helpful; that’s a rare occurrence in Vietnam ! The only negative aspect of our stay there was a small “incident” with the air conditioner, which started leaking water in the middle of the night.

Hotel Xoai, 93 Mậu Thân, Xuân Khánh, Cần Thơ

Boat tour around Can Tho

We signed up for a 7-hour boat trip, which we paid $42. It started before 6am, so we had to be in the hotel lobby at 5:30 in order to get a taxi to the harbor. Oh, the pain !

Floating markets used to be a very important aspect of life in the Mekong delta. Unfortunately, now their activity has been dramatically reduced as most goods are transported by road, thanks to many new bridges. As a result, the floating markets at both Cai Rang and Phong Dien featured very few boats. There were nearly more tourist boats than local boats !

On the other hand, discovering life on the river from the boat was very interesting. We saw people washing their clothes or their hair in the river, but also (and more surprisingly) washing meat and vegetables before cooking them !

The boat trip included two stops; one at a rice noodle factory, which was extremely crowded, and one at a homestay where we could “enjoy” an overpriced drink or meal.

Overall, the tour in its current form isn’t totally satisfying. A 3-hours  custom tour including only a boat tour on the narrower parts of the river would be much enough. There’s no need for the two stops which are designed only to extort money from tourists, and unfortunately the floating markets aren’t worth it anymore.

Paradoxically, my favorite shot of the boat trip was the last one I took right before we were back at the harbor. It features decaying houses and a great colors contrast. (On a more global note, I’m really not satisfied with the pictures I took in the Mekong delta; there were too few of them, and their quality was so-so. Moreover, most of the shots I took at the market were blurry as it was too early).

Colors contrast in Can Tho

Sa Dec – a peaceful city

We enjoyed this small city so much that we spent a whole day there. I’ll dedicate a small post to it as soon as I catch up on writing 🙂

Cycling to Long Xuyen : another great cycling day

We left Sa Dec on the DT852, which is bordered at first by many industries and warehouses and thus not interesting. However, after a very short ride on the QL80, we took a small road going along a river. The morning ride was once again pleasant and quiet. We saw several “monkey bridges”, which show how precarious the living conditions can be there !

"Monkey bridges" are common in the Mekong delta

The afternoon ride was sometimes bumpy, and overall less interesting, but still nice.

Long Xuyen itself was boring. It took us a long time to find a correct accommodation; the first hotel we visited didn’t have any double room left, one motel was too expensive, and so was a second hotel. We rode a long time before seeing another accommodation, and the next hotel we visited didn’t allow foreigners to stay. Finally, we visited Helen’s hotel and it was okay; however, we were requested to show the Vietnamese translation of our wedding certificate in order to be allowed to stay ! Luckily we had expected that kind of crap, and had a copy stored on our smartphones.

Next step was finding an ATM to withdraw money, and as usual it was painful. One random ATM refused the transaction as there was no paper left to print the receipt; the second one was from DongA and refused the withdrawal for no reason. We ended up withdrawing money from another bank, but the fee was 3%, twice higher than at SacomBank 🙁

Cycling to Chau Doc

Yet another peaceful cycling day in the Mekong delta. The shortest way to reach Chau Doc was a QL, but we decided to take smaller DT instead. On that day we took three different ferries, a record for us !

During the morning, we didn’t see much nature, but went through many villages. One striking thing was the large number of wooden houses with a tiles roof; it was a much welcome change from the usual corrugated sheet seen everywhere ! Moreover, they very were well maintained and often painted in nice blue colors. Was this still Vietnam ? 🙂

A cute blue wooden house

The afternoon was also surprisingly quiet; there were mostly rice fields, whose bright green color were as usual very pleasant. One good thing about cycling in the Mekong delta is that the scenery was different each day, so even after one week it was absolutely not boring to be there !

While I read very positive comments about Chau Doc, we didn’t really enjoy this city. Maybe we were just in a hurry to leave Vietnam !

Overall, Mekong delta was an excellent place to cycle

Contrary to nearly anywhere else in Vietnam, we highly recommend cycling the Mekong delta ! It was a very easy place to cycle due to the flat ground, and following the rivers made the high temperature much more bearable. Passing countless bridges, crossing rivers by ferries was also a lot of fun ! In addition, we found people much more friendly there than in other places in Vietnam; also, nearly all budget accommodations we found were great.

Our favorite places in the Mekong delta were Tra Vinh’s surrounding; cycling An Binh’s small roads was very nice too. On the other hand, it’s hard to recommend the floating markets tour; while being by boat on the river was very pleasant, the floating markets are unfortunately basically dead.

 

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