How to DIY a Trip to the Mekong Delta

Across Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll see ads for Mekong Delta tours splashed across shop-fronts, especially in the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker district. And after hiring a guide for the Cu Chi Tunnels, canyoning and motorbiking, I decided to venture to the Mekong Delta, Vietnam’s “rice basket”, on my own- no more hand-holding.

Because who needs a $10 guided tour when you can DIY it?

Luckily an Australian guy from the hostel named Luke was also up for a delta-adventure. And let’s be honest- some journeys are just more fun with a fellow Vietnam and beer-loving traveler in tow.

Getting to My Tho, the gateway to the Mekong Delta

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The first hurdle of DIY-ing the trip was simply getting there, which we did by taking a local bus from Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho. My After the bumpiest, most uncomfortable bus ride I’ve ever taken in Southeast Asia (sans AC, mind you), we arrived in the quaint riverside town of My Tho.

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 Awkward selfie on the back of a motorbike. At least I was wearing a helmet!

Try bún riêu cua, pork and crab noodle soup

By the time we had arrived, I had gone a full four hours without phở so I was starting to get cranky. But soon I was sitting in front of a hearty bowl of bún riêu cua– a rice vermicelli soup with unknown meat specimens inside.

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While not quite as delicious as my beloved Saigon-style beef phở, it was a good first taste of the Mekong Delta where the dish is very typical.

Spend the afternoon exploring My Tho

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My Tho is my favorite kind of Southeast Asian town- one rich in ambiance but not attractions. Without the self-inflicted guilt-trip of the “things you have to do”, we simply strolled the canals, stopping every so often to sip Vietnamese coffee.

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Eat all of the seafood at the My Tho Night Market

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After a few hours, we retreated from the heat and spent a few hours watching Vietnamese game shows in our swanky, $10 each hotel room. And then we headed out to the night market. 

While My Tho is a town that sees its fair share of tourists, almost all of them are day-trippers; by night we had the town completely to ourselves.

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And imagine my delight when we discovered the night market specialized in seafood; piles and piles of local, dirt-cheap seafood.

When we saw the nearest table had a pile of crabs, I walked over to ask what the dish was called. The guy didn’t understand what I meant so instead offered me crab and a few beers. (Why can’t all strangers do that?)

The group loved when we lifted our beers to, “Một hai ba, yo!” which means “One, two, three, drink!” and is how you cheers in Vietnamese.

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Our new friend showing us how to crack crabs.IMG_0547

As I sat there with my free beer, new friends and a belly full of crab,  I said aloud, “This is possibly the best days of my travels.”

And it really kind of was.

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And then on the way home, a shopkeeper invited us into his home for a beer and talked about the Americans guys he met during the war. I love Vietnam.

Take a Private Boat Tour of the Mekong Delta

The next morning we hired a boat-driver to show us the Delta. And after paying way too much, (about 250,000 dong each, or $12) we had ourselves a humble river-boat and a private guide.

On the river, I noticed most of the boats had googly-eyes painted onto the bow.

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When I asked our driver for an explanation, he replied, “Is luck.”

With the lush jungle growth and muddy waters, I felt like I was exploring the Amazon.

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First, we stopped at a honey farm…

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where I held a boa constrictor…

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then we stopped at an alligator farm.

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The whole exhibition seemed cruel; tourists holding pieces of meat on fishing rods and bonking the alligators on the head repeatedly. Why is that necessary?

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We made a few other lame stops but the real joy of the journey was just sailing across the waters.

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And as I learned from my EasyRiders tour, sometimes the journey means so much more than the destination.

Have you been to the Mekong Delta? Would you travel to the Mekong Delta independently?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

35 thoughts on “How to DIY a Trip to the Mekong Delta”

  1. This looks like an incredible journey. From the awesome foodie pictures that even at 9 in the morning are making me hungry, to the slightly scary animal shots, to the simplistic water views, just beautiful. Another world indeed.

    I totally agree about the journey meaning more than the actual destination. I definitely felt like that on the famous Road to Hana on Maui.

    • Nice blog post! My husband’s sisters were both adopted from two cities in the Delta (Ben Tre and Soc Trang) and we are going to Vietnam in April to hopefully visit these places. How easy was it for you to just pick up a boat driver to take you around? I’m guessing he didn’t speak much English? I’m trying to decide if we should book a private tour to be sure to make it to both those cities or if we should just go exploring and see how far we make it…

  2. Poor Alligators!! But seriously, I cannot believe you held a boa. There was a baby python outside my door the other day and I totally lost it- that means there’s a mama around! I can’t deal with snakes & Goa has lots of pythons :(

  3. The night market looks amazing, all that fresh seafood! I agree with you about the alligators, the whole things smacks of tourist entertainment. Interesting journey though!

  4. This post makes me miss the Mekong Delta. Love all of the boats and the painted on eyes…. that was one of my absolute favorite parts of my trip there. I got the same response, that it was for luck and to keep the boats/passengers safe (to watch over them). Beautiful photos.

  5. I really enjoy that you DIY on this tour. I usually avoid tours while traveling to keep my expenses low. However, sometimes it is possible to miss out on something (like a history lesson). It is awesome how nice and accommodating the Vietnamese were to you. The friendliness and generosity of others can sometimes make the journey way better.

  6. Hi Ashley, what an awesome post and ummmm for pho! I really liked Vietnam when I was there a few years ago and I did go on the Mekong Delta.
    We hired this long boat and slept in a hostel that had freezing cold water and bathrooms that were a 10 minute walk away. The food was fabulous though!

  7. Still haven’t made it to the Mekong, but I plan to rectify that soon. I didn’t find the thought of the group tours appealing, even if they were cheap, so I definitely think you made the right choice by DIYing it.

    Also, it may be controversial, but I actually prefer bun rieu over pho! It’s all about the crab!

  8. Love this post Ashley! Also I wonder how long boas live, as I totally held one at a honey farm in the Mekong too 4 years ago!

  9. Awesome! Vietnamese coffee is amazing. I always ended up drinking a tad too much though and got way too wired. Like…no bueno. haha.

    DIY-ing is pretty much always the way to go in my opinion! So much more adventurous…

  10. I travelled from Saigon to Phnom Penh on a 2 day one night cruise about 6 years ago and it was one of the best experiences of SE Asia. I loved waving at the kids bathing in the river.

  11. Vietnamese seafood night markets are the best! I went to one on Phu Quoc and everything was so cheap and delicious and fresh. I ate the biggest and best prawns of my life there.

    Lovely photos as always, though the one of you and the snake makes me want to cry a little…

  12. Loved this article! I am definitely planning on visiting the Mekong Delta when i make it over to Vietnam. Did you spend a full month there? Also, that brown chunk in your soup of coagulated blood! I have been living in Thailand for 4 months and it still puzzles me, but different strokes for different folks!

    • Unfortunately no, I only spent two days there! I spent a month in Vietnam though altogether. And actually I’m a big fan of coagulated blood- which sounds weird doesn’t it? One of my favorite foods in France is boudin noir.

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