Nov 2007

Cruising the Mekong Delta

The Astronomer and I played hooky two Fridays ago to visit the Mekong Delta. We traveled with a tour group (Sinh Cafe) because the southern part of Vietnam isn’t as accessible as the larger cities. For a measly eighteen bucks, we enjoyed a two-day, one-night excursion and a souvenir t-shirt.

We began our tour at 8 AM at the Sinh Cafe office in Saigon. We arrived in the Mekong two and a half hours later and boarded a boat to see the Cai Be floating market. Unfortunately, it was quite late by Vietnam standards and most of the buying and selling action had died down.

The second stop on the tour was at the Thanh Phong candy “factory” where we saw coconut candy, rice paper and rice crispy treats being made. The coconut candy tasted like dulce de leche with only a hint of coconut, while the rice crispy treats reminded me of Kashi puffed cereal. We were told that the rice paper would be used to make egg rolls.

After the factory tour, we boarded the boat to explore the delta a bit more and then headed to lunch. Lunch was included in the package and consisted of soup, rice, pork chops, egg rolls, and some veggies. I ate way too many sweets during the candy tour, so I gave my chop and rice to my hungry traveling companion. The soup was a simple vegetable and pasta combination that seems to be a Mekong Delta specialty.

Course I: vegetable and pasta soup

Course II: pork chops with rice, vegetables and egg rolls

Toward the end of lunch, a three-piece Vietnamese band performed songs using traditional instruments. I really liked how the singers contorted their voices for the Cải Lương numbers.

Post-lunch we hopped on the boat once more to further explore the Delta. The surroundings were beautiful and peaceful. After an hour or so, the boat dropped us off in the city of Vinh Long where we boarded a bus that took us to the city of Can Tho via ferry.

For dinner, The Astronomer and I ditched the tour group and sought out some good ‘ol street food. Can Tho is the largest city in the southern portion of the country, but sadly doesn’t have a large selection of street eats. We stopped for a bite at a stall selling bun mang on Tran Viet Chau Street.

The damp Mekong air put us in the mood for a hot bowl of duck noodle soup.

Duck Noodle Soup (10,000 VND)

The bun mang really hit the spot; I especially enjoyed dipping the duck in the ginger fish sauce. The Astronomer drowned his blood Jello in the ginger fish sauce to make it more palatable—whatever floats your boat. After dinner we went to the hotel and crashed.

Day two of the tour began bright and early. The hotel buzzed our room at 6:30 AM and we departed to see the Cai Rang floating market at 7:30 AM. The market is mainly for wholesalers rather than regular folks, so we didn’t make any purchases. The large pole on each boat signifies what the boat is selling.

After a three-hour tour of the markets and surrounding areas, we arrived at a fruit orchard to relax. There were many hammocks set up along the shady trees, which The Astronomer really dug. We also enjoyed some fresh fruits.

The penultimate stop on the Mekong Delta tour was at a rice husking factory. As a proponent of whole-grains and fiber, I must admit that I was saddened by this whole affair. We saw a huge machine that essentially stripped the nutrients from the rice—how depressing.

Before busing back to Saigon, the tour stopped at a restaurant in Can Tho for lunch. The prices were high and the portions were small. Double whammy. Time constraints made it impossible to ditch the group during this meal. The Astronomer ordered the beef and fries, while I had some frog!

Beef and fries with baguette (30,000 VND)

Frog sauteed with onions, glass noodles, and mushrooms (30,000 VND)

This was my first encounter with frog, which I thought tasted like a cross between chicken and fish. Ribbit! My mom says that I should eat a lot of frog in Vietnam because American frozen frog just isn’t as good. Yes, ma’am.

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6 thoughts on “Cruising the Mekong Delta

  1. Has the recent outbreak of acute diarrhea affected your choices of street vendor foods?

    Darn it, why does it have to happen right before I’m about to visit??!

  2. No worries, James. The outbreak hasn’t spread to the southern half of the country. If you visit Hanoi, steer clear of the dog meat, fermented shrimp paste, and that raw nem stuff.

  3. It’s unfortunate that the market is mainly for wholesale purchases. What was your impression of Sinh Cafe? I’ve heard a lot of negative feedback on them so I was curious as to your experience.

  4. Hey there holybasil – I had a very good experience with Sinh Cafe. They run many trips to the Mekong Delta daily, one-day trips and multiple day trips, and seem to have everything under control.

    I was especially impressed with how they were able to keep track of and smoothly transition people who were staying for different lengths of time.

    Although I can’t vouch for their other tours, I’d recommend their Mekong Delta excursion.

  5. Hey,
    I just read some entries on your blog. Impressed! 🙂
    I like the way you wrote about Vietnamese food even though I have not known about you much. Anyway, keep writing and I’ll keep reading them ^__^

    I also had chance work with the team of Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey last Feb. They were very nice and pro 🙂 They filmed food during the trip from Cambodia to Vietnam on our Bassac Cruise. I also left our company’s website for you to read. If you had a chance, take a tour with us and discover more Southerner food 🙂

    Ah, by the way, when you get back to Cantho again, contact me and I will take you around for street food vendor. I bet you will love them 🙂 And as for the Cai Rang Market, if you went with a small group (well, I mean you make tour for yourself), you could make some purchase. Believe me! My friends and I did and that was very good experience.


  6. Hello Angela – Thanks for the cool note. I will definitely get in touch with you and your company the next time we’re in the delta. I wish I had known about your company sooner so that we could have avoided traveling with a tour group. And yay for Rick Stein – we get to be on TV!

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