After we left Saigon, we had one last stop before moving into Cambodia: The Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta is a huge network of waterways and islands that makes up the agricultural center of Vietnam. Much of the country’s produce is grown in the area surrounding the river.
The Delta can also be a huge tourist trap. Every guesthouse and travel agency in Saigon offers dirt-cheap tours of the region – you’re bused up to the river, walk around an island, get pushed to buy tacky souvenirs, and can make it back to Saigon with plenty of time to get drunk on beer street.
I did this last time I was in Vietnam, and had no desire to do it again. Instead, Sam and I went off on our own. Our first step was to take a bus to the small town of Vinh Long. We had been told we could find a homestay on neighboring An Binh Island, and we weren’t misled – as soon as we got off the bus, we were approached by a friendly woman eager to rent us a room. The homestay was lovely, and we spent a relaxed afternoon biking around the island.
The next day we were off to Can Tho. The largest city in the Delta, tourists come to Can Tho for one reason: Cai Rang floating market. Billed as the largest floating market in the world, Cai Rang attracts waves of boats each day of tourists (both foreign and Vietnamese) eager to see goods traded on the water. In reality, however, trucks have largely supplanted boats for the purpose of transporting goods, and the market is a shadow of its former self. Still, boat rides can be found at a good price and we enjoyed the experience.
Despite the underwhelming market, Can Tho ended up being one of the biggest surprises of the trip. It’s home to a large university, and the student population gives the town some real character. We ended up staying in the city several nights, eating great food and generally enjoying a break from Saigon. If your trip to Can Tho only lasts long enough for a boat ride, you’re missing out.