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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Vietnam | Motorbike Trip to Mekong Delta

Although we had been to the Mekong Delta at the beginning of our trip, we decided to do a second version of it for a few reasons. First, because we had really enjoyed our time in that region; second, because we had lost a majority of our images of our time there when our camera was stolen in Thailand; and finally, because we thought it would be fun to try a multi-day/overnight motorbike trip for the culmination of our trip.

Hitting the Road to the Mekong Delta

We rented a Yamaha bike for $6 per day and got going around 10 a.m. after doing a few errands in Ho Chi Minh City. After the 10 or 11+ bikes we have rented, Alex has become a certified Asian driver. He navigated through the crazy streets of the city like a pro. Kristin was just glad that she wasn't driving -- it was pure craziness! There is constant honking of horns, but the interesting thing is that each vehicle has a different sounding horn. There is the short beep-beep of the motorbikes, the da-dwa-da-dwa-da of the trucks and the hill shrill pitch of rrrrreeeaaa of the buses...almost like a horn sound for each type of emotion, like happy, sad and angry. The motorbike ride provided us plenty of opportunities to see the many things and items that people transit on their bikes in Vietnam. We saw everything from entire families, to goats, to pigs, to large trees, to inter tubes being carried on the bikes with a variety of attachment methods being used. For all the images check out the ‘Things on Motorbikes’ blog post.

We traveled for about an hour before stopping at a rest stop on the side of road for some sore bum recovering time. We ordered some drinks and then relaxed for about 15 minutes. The best thing about the rest stops in Vietnam is that they have hammocks hanging out under the shade. We really thought that this concept should be implemented back at rest stops in North America.

We got about 2 hours outside the city to My Tho and stopped for lunch. I thought I would do the point and mystery meal method and get the dish called "Lau" and Alex ordered some Pho Bo (Beef Noodles). Luckily though as we were about to order an English speaking Vietnamese man showed up and we asked him to ask the ladies how much the items cost. We found out that the Lau was hot pot and would cost 90,000 VD; so I changed my order to the Pho Bo as well. However, we could immediately tell we had passed into the Delta region because everyplace we stopped people would smile and wave at us and would try to start-up a conversation with us.

We still had another two hours to go on the bike until we got to Can Tho. However, our bums got sore in a shorter period of time so we decided to stop in Vingh Long, which is the original city that we visited in the Delta in January. We stopped at the hostel to check if they had rooms available for the next night (as we’d be coming back the next night) and then walked across the street to get some iced coffee at the cafe right along the waterfront. As we were there, someone came up to us; it was an older Vietnamese man that couldn't really speak English. However, he brought over some photos when he was in the Czech Republic and seemed to communicate that I looked similar to one of the women in the photo. I did see the resemblance between the woman and her mom at a younger age, which was ironic. Unfortunately, that was about all we could communicate with him.

Can Tho Ferry

We continued to Can Tho and had to board the ferry to get across to Can Tho. One of the great things about the motorbike is you can immediately proceed to the front. There was a huge line-up of cars, but because we were in the motorbike lane we boarded the next ferry. We also bought our tickets of 2,000 VD (about $.10) from a little drive-through window before we proceeded to the line.

When we arrived in Can Tho we were basically just running on fumes, so we had to fill up with gas, but the approximate one gallon tank of the bike lasted us the 170 km -- so the bike got almost 100 miles per the gallon! Now that's efficiency!!!

Can Tho

At first glance Can Tho seemed a little more modern and commercial than the other areas we visited in the Mekong - Ben Tre and Vingh Long - but you just had to walk down the side streets and you were back in the simple Mekong lifestyle of markets, etc. We even found a decent Vietnamese hotel for 200,000 VD per night that included AC, hot water and all the basics, as well as a person that sat outside next to the motorbikes all day as security. We took a short walk along the riverfront and then decided to go for a short motorbike ride since our bums had some time to recover. We ended up in a park that was right next to the riverfront which had a great view of the bridge. It was really windy as well, so there were probably about 50 to 100 kites being flown and up in the sky. It was amazing to see so many people of different ages out flying their kite and enjoying the nice weather. The best scenes were of fathers trying to help their sons or daughters fly the kite.

The Can Tho Market was also very entertaining to walk through as well with all the different vendors.

Earlier on our walk we had seen several riverside vendors and we thought it would be fun to eat there and have a beer with our dinner. We glanced at the menu and it seemed to be mostly grill items so we thought we might try it. Our plan was for Alex to pick one grill item, and me another, and then we'd share them along with the fried potatoes. Alex ordered salt and red pepper chicken and I ordered the salt and peppered fish. We tried to ask the waiter if it was spicy, but we don't think he understood us. He brought the food to the table; the chicken was a small black bantam chicken that had been chopped into pieces with the feet still attached with a sauce on top and the fish was drowned in the same really red sauce. We could tell from looking at the sauce that it was of the spicy variety but thought we'd try it anyway. Our waiter showed us how to grill it on the coal grill that was brought to our table, but after we tried the small piece of cucumber that was grilled in the sauce it made our mouths feel like they were on fire. We could barely eat any of the fish or chicken that was brought to us; so our dinner basically consisted of french fries and beer. ;-) Luckily, the total cost for the meal that we didn't eat was 120,000 VD -- so it only put us out about $6. Because our mouths were still on fire we found the ice cream man and got some of the local ice cream ("kem") to cool off our mouths; and I tried a grilled circle-thing that was only 1000 VD. I’m not sure what it was but thinks it may have been some type of yam variety that was mushed and grilled. Because of the early morning the next day we went to bed early.

Day 2 - Journey to Phong Dien Market

The alarm woke us up around 5:15, but you could already hear the activity on the streets was in full swing. In fact, because there were already so many people out and about, we felt as though it was later in the day than 5:45. We headed to the Phong Dien market, which was supposed to be less touristy than the Cai Rang market closer to Can Tho. We were not exactly sure where we were going so we had to stop a couple of places along the way. The great thing about Vietnam (compared to some of the other countries in Asia) is that they don't use symbols for words. This made it easier for us as we could write out the Vietnamese name of something they can understand it, even though they can't speak English, and then they can point you in the right direction. We stopped at a gas station when we were not sure where we were going and asked for a pen and paper and wrote "Phong Dien Market" on it with a picture of some stick people with some produce on a boat. It worked and we were pointed in the right direction, which was about 20 km from Can Tho on the road toward Long Xuyen. When we got closer we had to take a small ferry again to get across to the town center of Phong Dien for only 2,000 VD. As soon as we drove off the boat, there was a woman motioning to us that she could give us a boat ride to the market. We agreed to a 2-hour boat ride in her small wooden motorized boat for 120,000 VD for both of us, which was about $3 per person. We thought this was really reasonable considering some of the tour agents charged $15 per person to go visit the markets on a packaged tour.

Phong Dien Floating Market

We first navigated through the floating market that was already in full swing at 6:20 a.m. in the morning. The market is a real functioning market and people come here to conduct their business so that they can acquire goods to sell later in the day -- we could even hear the bargaining voices as we rode past. In fact, at 6:30 a.m. we were the only non-Vietnamese people in the market. (Later as we were leaving, we saw more tourist boats arriving, but by this time the market activity had considerably died down from earlier.) The boats of goods were side-by-side so the people could conduct their trade.

Our guide lady took us through the little nooks and crannies and she had to push aside some other boats at times in order to get our boat through the crowd. Many of the boats were fresh produce like pineapples, mangoes, turnips, melons, watermelons, and other varieties of fruit. However, there were a few small boat vendors who had bowls of noodles, pate sandwiches and drinks they were selling from their boats. We stopped for a pineapple from one family that carved it for us and that tasted great so early in the morning. While the pineapple was being carved, the woman offered us two different varieties of fruit that we don't know the English names for. The first one was like a pear-apple type fruit and the other was similar to a kiwi with a syrupy and brown sugary-type taste -- all free of charge! The pineapple was only 10,000 VD too; we just wish they would price the pineapples like that back home!

We also stopped at the drink man boat and got two really good tasting iced coffees for 10,000 VD each. He prepared them in his boat. He first poured the coffee into a little plastic bag, mixed the ice, coffee and sugar together, put a straw in, closed the top with a rubber band and then put in a plastic bag with handles so that it was easier to hold.

After the markets, she continued to take us through the canals for the rest of the time. It was a nice boat trip and the weather was still cool so it felt nice. We passed by the locals just engaging in their everyday tasks of washing their laundry and dishes in the river. All of them would smile at us as we passed and they just seem so happy with this basic and simple life, that we vowed we'd try to follow this lifestyle more back at home.

Vingh Long

We headed back to Can Tho and got our bags and then checked-out of the hotel and then started our short trek back to Vingh Long. It took us about an hour on the motorbike to get to Vingh Long, including the ferry boat ride. We found a café once we arrived and the menu was all in Vietnamese. We knew a few key food words so we pointed to a few items and hoped for the best. This time we fared better and all the dishes we ordered we were able to consume; and we cleaned our plates, including the coconut shake that was a pure random point-and-pick item from the menu. It was also super cheap because it was geared toward the locals -- we got 2 main dishes, 2 bowls of soup, a side dish, 2 iced coffees and the coconut shake for 68,000 VD (about $3.25).

After lunch we took the ferry across to Long An island, which is the island we stayed at the Mekong Delta home stay.

They have small bridges connecting the bits of land and small cement or dirt paths that you can travel around the island. We explored the island for a little bit and took some photos along the ride. After an hour or so, our bums started to get sore again so we decided to head back to Vingh Long to save our bums for the 3-hour ride back to Ho Chi Minh the next day. When we got back we ran some errands at the grocery store and went to the Internet café for a while.

Cheap, Big Beers!!

For dinner we went to the Bia Ky restaurant where we had found the pints of beer for 10,000 VD in January. Over the past couple of months they raised the price to 12,000 VD, but it was still a killer of a deal for that size of beer. We ordered dinner and again the menu was in Vietnamese, but since our waiter could speak a little English we gave him an idea of what we wanted -- one plate with chicken and rice and another with fish and rice. We also ordered an egg pancake that was basically an omelet with different vegetables in it. Our semi-mystery ordering came out okay and we were again able to eat the food we picked out. I had to do a little work on my dish though since I had gotten the fish. I had to peel and de-bone most of the small fish myself -- and then decided to mix it in with the fried rice to mask the fishy taste better. However, it was still great food, beer and atmosphere! Over in the corner of the restaurant there were some local students who seemed to be having a Friday night out on the town and they kept standing up and yelling different toasts! At times they were almost as rowdy as some American college students!

Day 3 - Mekong River Tour

We were up early enough again this morning to see the sun rise, as we were going on a short 3-4 hour tour with Nam, our guide from our original Mekong Tour in January. He met us outside the hotel, and brought us over to his boat.

But he then told us that he had to do some work for his company today so that his aunt and uncle were going to take us on the tour. His aunt and uncle were really nice, but they couldn't speak any English. But since we had been on the tour before we basically knew most of the information anyway, so it worked out fine.

We were able to view the small and large boats transiting through the river ways. We saw a couple of small barges of rice being transported in bulk to some of the processing plants or buyers of the rice - similar to the semi-trucks of corn at home. The day before on our drive to the Mekong we saw several fields of rice being harvested or just recently harvested. After they husk the rice grains off the stalk they lay it out on the road for the grains to dry. There were several roads that were closed off to traffic and that were being used to dry rice instead. The Mekong is a huge rice production area in Vietnam and grows about 50% of Vietnam's rice, so it was interesting to see different steps of the process.

Cai Be Floating Market

We took the boat through the canals to get to the Cai Be market, which is more of a bulk market than the Phong Dien market we visited the previous day. These large boats advertise what products they sell by hanging it on the stick above their boat. Many of the families live on the boats as well, as you could see their clothes hanging out to dry and their make-shift kitchens on the boat. Again we got some coffee and pineapple from some of the vendors. Our guides called over the drink lady and she came over to our boat and tied her boat onto ours so that she could prepare our drinks. When she saw us, she laughed and pointed, seeming to remember Alex from our previous trip in the Delta. Alex must have a face to remember because this was the 5th person who has recognized him since being back in Vietnam. When we saw Nam earlier in the morning, he even remembered that Alex was darker than when he last saw him.

After our delicious hot milk-coffees, we went to the pineapple boat and Nam's aunt walked over to the other boat to do some negotiating for us. We had been paying 10,000 VD per pineapple, thinking that was a great deal, but she was able to negotiate 5000 VD for TWO pineapples (about $.12 per pineapple)! We figured that was the advantage of being a local. Later she carved it for us to enjoy on the boat ride back to Vingh Long.

Factory Tour

Then went to the rice paper, keo dua (coconut taffy), and rice popping factory -- that was more like a family's back shed than a factory. We were able to see them pop some rice for us using the heated pot and then shaking out the popped rice from the kernels with their large strainer. They use the outer shells of the popped rice as fuel for the fire later, so nothing goes to waste. We were able to sample a few different varieties of sweets they made, including some dried coconut and ginger, peanut and sesame candy and banana candy with Jasmine tea.

We continued back on our boat trip back to Vingh Long and stopped for a short stop at a bonsai farm -- the best part about the stop was finding and playing with the small puppy that was there. He almost followed us all the way back to the boat as we left because he wanted some more scratches behind the ears. It was so nice to visit those parts of the Mekong and was hard to believe this was the start of our trip just a couple months ago and now that we were ending here as well!

Return Drive Back to Ho Chi Minh

After gathering our things together we departed Vingh Long and headed back to Ho Chi Minh City. We arrived back in Ho Chi Minh at 1:40, which was amazingly a little less than 3 hours from when we left Vingh Long. We survived our last motorbike tour and just came away with only a little bit of a sore bum. In total we traveled a total of 420 km on the motorbike on our 3-day trip! Compared to the 4-6 hour bus ride that it would take on the bus -- this was excellent timing! It's so much faster when you can dodge traffic and not drive at 45 km per hour like you would on a bus.

Clearing Out Our Wallets

Our flight didn't leave for Japan until after 11:30 p.m. tonight, so we headed back to the market to help clear out some of the VD in our wallets so that we wouldn't be shafted in the exchange rate. We went straight back to the stall that Alex had gotten his Nike/Adidas Dri-fit collared shirts and we started to negotiate for 3 more for Alex and 2 for Kristin. We were able to get them down in price to 5 for $25, which was about $1.50 to $2 less than the 3 shirts Alex had gotten before. They tried to get us to buy them at the same rate as last time, but we just started to walk away and we got the price we had wanted! Even though they may not be legit, they at least look legit and you would spend about $40-45 per shirt like that back home, so we felt we came away with a really good deal. It's hard to believe that our time in Southeast Asia is coming to a close and that tomorrow we'll be back in Japan. However, we're excited for this portion of the trip and to see more of Southern Japan this time around.

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