vietnam, cai be :: river cruise on the mekong delta

The day after we returned from the beautiful Phu Quoc Island, we were off on another exciting adventure - swapping the ocean for the river, we set off nice and early for our Mekong Delta tour in Cai Be.

We did try to do some research to find a good river tour, but we should have gone straight to BB - of course, she knew exactly the kind we wanted, and recommended one to us that the family had been on before and loved. This particular one is organised by Victoria Hotels, and they can cater for all kinds of groups or private tours. We chose one that was a little pricier than some others we'd come across (it was about 70 USD each), but it was definitely worth it for our amazing guide, the luxury of having a private boat, the great driver who took us to Cai Be, the delicious lunch that was included, and all the other highlights of the trip. 

Cai Be was about a 2 hour drive away from Saigon, but I had a nice little snooze and we arrived at 10am on the dot, ready to board the traditional Sampan boat. The driver, host and guide were all smiles and very friendly, and put us at ease as we pulled away from the river bank and started exploring. 

It's hard to put the experience of travelling along the Mekong Delta into words. You sense a different rhythm in the way that people live on the river, you hear people singing kareoke on a Monday morning across the canal, and you can't help but stare at the marvel of what must be their everyday mundane. 

After a quiet 20 minutes or so of cruising on the larger Sampan, we were then met by a lady in blue who handed us our bamboo hats, and helped us onto the tiny Sampan, which she was rowing with impressive strength. We snaked through the narrow canals, bumping into locals who were preparing goods to trade or commuting to the mainland, and saw a peek of life on the delta. 

I was transported to a whole other world by the surrounding lush greens and the quiet sound of the oars, and it felt almost timeless. 

The Mekong Delta is nicknamed the "rice bowl" of Vietnam, as it is responsible for about half of the country's rice production - did you know that Vietnam is the second-largest exporter of rice worldwide, only second to Thailand? The guide chatted to us about so many fascinating facts as we slowly made our way around the canals and back to our boat.

And then we were off to see the famous Floating Market - one of many on the delta, and they are unfortunately all decreasing in size as more and more people opt to trade inland. It was an incredible sight to see all these colourful and characterful boats, with their long bamboo sticks showing what each boat was selling, and seeing them expertly pass on the goods to their customers.

Many of the floating markets only trade from the very early morning ours until about 10am, but this one stays open all day, which is great if you are taking a day trip from Saigon and can't quite make it that early.

We were also given gorgeous platters of fresh fruit as we soaked the scene in - the perfect refreshment for a very hot day! 

We were then taken to a couple of stops, the first one being an Ancient House that boasts the beautiful Colonial architecture from the French Indochina era, whilst maintaining the traditional interiors of a Vietnamese ancient house.

Then we moved onto a local home factory to watch an incredibly skilled woman make rice paper, the production stages of coconut candy, and popped rice snacks. You have to watch this instavideo - it's mesmerising! We got to try some of the candy and snacks which was a bonus, and although this little factory and adjacent shops are definitely for tourists, we thoroughly enjoyed it and were so glad to have witnessed the key ingredient of our beloved summer rolls!

And then we were off to lunch! 

It was quite the feast, in the most peaceful and beautiful setting, at "Le Longanier". An Indochinese villa located in a gorgeous area right by the river, we knew we were in for a treat when we glanced at the set menu. 

We started with fresh and fragrant vegetable soup (which I now realise I tucked into without photographing!), spring rolls, a superb fried fish (whole!) that were made into summer rolls for us, a pork clay pot Vietnamese dish, vegetables, and steamed banana cakes with coconut cream. I told you it was a feast.

Yep, just casually said hello to a friendly pig!

With happy bellies and even happier memories, our lovely guide took us to our ride back to Saigon, and I promptly napped again until we were back in the city chaos. 

It was yet another Vietnamese experience that will stay with us for years and years, and I still can't quite believed it all happened. I think a trip to the Mekong Delta should be on every Southern Vietnam itinerary - they can vary from being a day trip like ours, to longer with overnight stays - you won't have known anything like it.