Roaming through the Mekong

After spending one night in what could be the most chilled major city in Vietnam, Ha Noi, arriving in Saigon is like meta-culture shock. Life in Vietnam is already vastly different to that in Australia but, compared to Ha Noi, the third largest city in Vietnam, being in Saigon is a metaphorical smack in the face.

So, a day trip to the mighty Mekong is a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s largest city.

I’m riding a bus to the ‘Delta’ to tick off one of my long-time travel boxes. I’ve been fascinated by the Mekong since I was a kid watching war movies.

Image © Leon Della Bosca 

After what can only be called an eye-opening ride from Saigon, I arrive at Tan Thanh – a village along the Mekong.

First stop: visiting a famous brick factory, where the locals need to make 125 bricks – by hand – to earn 50 Australian cents. The kilns are like ancient temples, even though they were only built around 20 years ago. The bricks themselves are perfect: a sign of careful hands and high skill.

Image © Leon Della Bosca 

Our little group hears how the bricks are made and we’re shown around these fantastic structures that resemble beehive temples. The craftsmanship (or ‘craftspersonship’, as I’ve been informed by one of my travel writing friends, as much of the labour is carried out by women) in the bricks is astounding, but the kilns themselves are simply gobsmacking, and the clash of cerulean and terracotta make for truly remarkable photos.

After spritzing ourselves with insect repellent (which we’re told is necessary although I don’t see one single bug anywhere) we board the vessel that will take us along the Ben Tre River, a tributary of the world’s 12th largest river, the Mekong.

Image © Leon Della Bosca 

Along with brickmaking, coconut products are the major export of the area. Ben Tre is home to Coconut Island, and a coconut candy workshop which also produces snake wine and coconut whiskey, and other coconut products, such as oils, balms and creams. Watching how coconuts are prepared for market is a treat, but the real treats follow, as we are shown how coconut candy is made. We’re even able to sample some of the sweetness.

Image © Leon Della Bosca 

Back to the boat, we make our way along the muddy river sided by thick palm, jackfruit and coconut jungle and, after watching how palm mats are made, we pick up bikes for a 4km ride through the peasant villages, fruit and vegetable ‘farms’ and, let’s just say, modest homes.

Image © Leon Della Bosca 

We stop at a restaurant which is more like a large pavilion set in a tropical paradise: huge purple flowers and prehistoric-sized butterflies surround us as we gourmandise on a giant fried fish wrapped in rice paper with steamed vegetables, and monster prawns dipped in special chilli sauce and some salt concoction I really need to ask about because it was delicious.

Image © Leon Della Bosca 

After our banquet, we’re invited to lie in a hammock for half an hour, to work off the dozy feeling we all have after such a fantastic feast.

We rise and wander through the jungle, between homes made of sticks and tarps as well as some of the most beautiful handmade structures I have seen, on to a row boat which will take us on another leg of the river.

This is quite possibly the best part of my day. It’s like riding a gondola through the steamy channel, steered and paddled by a colourful local with a huge smile is an experience now imprinted in my mind.

Image © Leon Della Bosca 

Our boat ride back to the main city of Ben Tre is marvellous and, although I am elated I am also downhearted that this day trip couldn’t last longer – even though the memories of it will last forever.

Leon is travelling as a guest of Webjet Exclusives.

Have you been to the Mekong? How was your experience?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.


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