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Travel on a Cruise Ship Excursion to the Mekong Delta

Boat traffic on the Mekong River

Boat traffic on the Mekong River

Baby boomers looking for an off-the-beaten-path Vietnamese travel experience won’t find it on a Mekong Delta cruise ship excursion. However, despite the touristic feel, the journey provides an introduction to life along the Mekong River, prime people watching and a fun way to spend the day in the Saigon area.

Alan and I visited the Mekong Delta while on a cruise shore excursion purchased through Regent Seven Seas. Our cruise ship, the Mariner, had docked for two nights in the port area of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), allowing time for exploring both the city and surrounding countryside.

The day-long tour began with a drive through a surprisingly upscale section of South Saigon, where a Porsche dealership competed with the BMW one next door. As we reached the city’s outskirts, rice fields appeared. But rice wasn’t the only thing planted in the ground; tombstones dotted the fields. Our guide explained that Vietnamese families bury their ancestors in the fields because they like to be near them.

Donna Hull tries on a snake in the Mekong Delta

What was I thinking?

Despite the lush, green land, the rural feel didn’t last long. From Saigon to our destination at My Tho, the road was bordered by a never-ending procession of cafes, coffee shops with hammocks, and street vendors selling bread and duck. Hammocks? Yes, so that the motorbike drivers could stop and rest. Since this was Saturday, Saigon city dwellers traveling on overloaded motorbikes crowded the roads too, as they drove home for a visit with relatives in the Mekong Delta.

At My Tho, the tour facility included clean, modern restrooms along with a marbled pavilion waiting area. Touring the Mekong Delta is obviously big business. We boarded a sampan for a ride across the river to Unicorn Island. First stop—a small pavilion for tea drinking and a lesson about snake wine and pythons. After a walk through a fruit orchard, we rested under another shaded pavilion to sample an assortment of fruits while local musicians entertained the group.

Canal on the Mekong Delta

Canal on the Mekong Delta

Next, the sampan transported us to another area on the river for a ride in long boats through narrow canals. Mangrove trees crowded the banks, their branches arching overhead to form a long winding tunnel that filtered out sunlight and rain from a passing thunderstorm.

At the conclusion of the ride, our guide led us on a walk through the jungle. We stopped at a primitive manufacturing plant to learn the process of making coconut candy. Then the humid hike continued to our lunch destination at a local resort restaurant for a meal of elephant fish and other Vietnamese delicacies.

The return to the ship included a ride by sampan back down the Mekong River to My Tho before the long bus ride back to the pier. We watched as motorbikes clogged the road even in the midst of a heavy downpour. The drivers and passengers somehow donned plastic raincoats without stopping the bikes.

During the course of our day, we continuously met up with other groups of tourists, some on land-based tours and others from cruise ships. It seemed that touring the Mekong Delta was high on the Saigon to-do list.

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