The vast majority of visitors to the Mekong Delta are day trippers who go on a combined bus and boat trip from Ho Chi Minh City. For more independently minded travellers, public buses leave the capital at regular intervals for all the main towns of the Delta.
However, such travel is slow and uncomfortable, so it’s worth thinking about renting a motorbike or car and driver, either of which offers maximum flexibility with your schedule as well as the chance to stop anywhere that takes your fancy.
Getting Around the Mekong Delta
For anyone prepared to spend a few days exploring the Delta’s subtle charms, the various forms of transport are an integral part of the fun. Tour operators in Saigon such as Sinhbalo Adventure Travel offer tours of a few days that includes sleeping in remote home-stays and spending the days cycling down lush, tropical lanes and kayaking through narrow channels of the Mekong.
Several companies also offer boat tours that allow you to sleep overnight on the boat, and these range from lavishly converted rice barges to simple, purpose-built boats. Mekong Eyes for example, runs trips from Can Tho to Cai Be on which guests are truly pampered.
And Delta Adventure operate an affordable overnight boat journey from Sa Dec to Chau Doc, with the option of going on to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
The name Mekong Eyes refers to the pair of eyes painted on the prow of every boat in the Delta, whether it be an enormous dredger or tiny sampan. These eyes are believed to scare away malignant spirits and thus protect the boatmen, showing how rich the Delta is in superstition and folklore.
Independent travellers should not miss the chance of a ride in a sampan, which are propelled through the water by boatmen (or more often boatwomen) standing up and rowing with a scissor motion.
Though boats of every description are a common method of transport for locals making short journeys, the long delays waiting for car ferries to cross the major branches of the Mekong has always been a headache for those trying to get their products to the markets of Ho Chi Minh City.
However, three new bridges, all spanning broad expanses of water, have now been built, cutting down travel times by road. These are at My Tho (going to Ben Tre), at My Thuan (going to Vinh Long) and at Can Tho. The last of these is due to open in late 2010 or early 2011; work was delayed after a tragic accident in 2007 killed more than 50 workers.