After 1.5 months on the road we arrived in Vietnam, where we traveled from the southern part to the northern part in about five weeks. Our journey started from the Mekong Delta and ended in Ha Noi, with stops along the way in Saigon, Da Lat, Hoi An, Hue, Dong Hoi, Ninh Binh, Sapa and Ha Long bay. We used various modes of transport, including buses, planes, trains and boats, and came to appreciate the fact that we traveled light with only our backpacks and cabin-sized luggage.
The Mekong Delta is in the southwestern region of Vietnam and is known as the Nine-Dragon river delta due to the fact that the Mekong River upon arrival in Vietnamese waters divides into 2 branches, which then split into 9 branches going into the East Sea which are thought to look like 9 dragons when seen on a map. The region relies heavily on the river and produces more than a third of Vietnam’s annual food crop, in which rice is a main staple.
We spent our time in two towns, Chau Doc and Can Tho.
Chau Doc is the gateway to the Mekong Delta if arriving by boat. It is rustic with not much to do aside from visiting the large indoor market the town is known for. Most travelers breeze in and out without spending even a night, but we decided to spend one night in town and catch the bus the next morning. We spent the evening searching for an ATM, dinner and a SIM card. With the map from our guesthouse in hand, we ventured out until we encountered the famed massive Vietnamese rats along Le Loi street in various spots which placed a damper on things, and we ended up getting a quick dinner at Sunrise Palace restaurant, which we would definitely not recommend.
Can Tho is known for the nearby floating markets which are the main tourist attraction. It is the biggest city in the Mekong Delta and the most developed, with most other tourist related places being located close to the main Hai Bai Trung street.
We were in Can Tho for one night with the main goal of visiting the floating markets. Based on tripadvisor reviews we booked the trip with Hieu’s Tours. Since we were fortunate to have a private tour we were able to fully customize our trip to the floating markets, which was especially useful to us since we wanted to leave for Saigon early (Tour cost: U$84). In addition to the tour, they assisted in booking the transfer to Saigon.
Floating markets -Phong Dien and Cai Rang
This was the main market on our agenda, since currently it is less touristy. We were fortunate to be the first tourist boat at the market, and to catch locals actually conducting business. The market is strictly for agricultural produce and most boats major in one or two specialities. In addition to the market traders, there are a few boats offering breakfast to the traders. Compared with Cai Rang, this was definitely our preferred floating market as it provided more of an authentic experience. As part of the tour, we were able to have breakfast in a stilt house overlooking the trading on the river.
From Phong Dien it took over an hour in the small wooden boat to get to Cai Rang. Though still a functioning market, the amount of tourist boats and tours definitely made it more of a hectic marketplace. The boats here were mostly bigger than the boats at Phong Dien. Each boat is located in a specific area and has a long pole with a sample of their wares attached at the front of the boat. The selling boats apparently remain where they are docked until they have sold much of their produce.
Getting to Chau Doc
There are two main speed boat companies operating between Phnom Penh and Chau Doc: Hang Chau and Blue Cruiser. In addition to these if you are staying in a Victoria brand hotel, there is a separate boat, only offered to in-house guests.
We chose Blue Cruiser though slightly more expensive than the Hang Chau boats purely due to the size of the boats and the number of potential customers. After Koh Lipe we wanted a smaller speed boat and were pleasantly surprised to find out that we were the only customers on the boat that day. The trip was smooth and peaceful. It took approximately 4 and a half hours, and we were provided with water, coffee and beer. On the way we stopped twice, once at the Cambodian border, which took less than 5 minutes and the second time at the Vietnamese border. We appreciated the fact that our boat had been able to leave Phnom Penh earlier than the Hang Chau boat since we were the only customers, thus limiting the amount of time spent at the border crossing, as the time spent is fully dependent on the number of boats and passengers in front of you.
Getting to Can Tho
Phuong Trang bus lines (FUTA) are one of the most popular buses in Vietnam and their orange buses can be seen plying the highways throughout the country. They offer a full service including pick-up and drop-off, as well as cold bottles of water. The initial pick-up was ordered by our guesthouse (as well as seat reservations) after which we were picked up by a small minivan and transported to the main bus station, where we were able to purchase the tickets for the journey to Can Tho. Ticket prices were the same for both locals and foreigners and were clearly displayed (VND 100,000). After about 30 minutes wait the bus which would convey us to Can Tho arrived.
The journey to Can Tho took three hours and upon arrival at the main bus station we were transferred into a smaller minivan which dropped us at our hotel. One thing we noticed on this bus ride and all the others we took was that the bus would stop at a rest stop after about an hour or so, regardless of how long the total journey was to take.
Where to stay
Murray Guesthouse is located about a 15-minute walk from the port. Suprisingly, one of the crew on our speedboat had actually worked at the guesthouse previously and could give us good directions to the guesthouse. While definitely not luxurious in any way the room was clean and more than met our needs. Breakfast was simple and basic, and the hotel had a fully stocked fridge, where drinks could be taken on an honour system.
Muong Thanh Luxury Hotel Can Tho
Though we typically like smaller boutique hotels, this hotel and the location definitely impressed us, so much in fact that as we traveled through Vietnam we attempted to stay in sister hotels. The room and bathroom were huge, and reasonably clean. As we left early for the floating market tour, the hotel prepared a breakfast box for us.
SIM card – The two main players are Viettel and Vinaphone, and both are thought to be comparable with the same coverage, plans and cost. Though there were many kiosks selling SIM cards we were advised to visit an actual shop to ensure the SIM was properly registered. As such we decided to visit the Viettel offices in Can Tho which were close to our hotel. They required our passports, and unfortunately, due to a language barrier the transaction took well over an hour, with lots of scribbling on paper. We eventually left with two separate cards (Total cost: VND 220,000; 8GB of data and 100 minutes for local calls), since we were told we would not be able to obtain a voice and data combination SIM card.