Explore Vietnam on a Mekong Delta Shore Excursion

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Updated 08.01.2019: On a Mekong Delta shore excursion, Alan and I discovered a touristy experience that’s usually not our cup of tea. I can’t say it’s my most favorite Asia cruise excursion, but I did appreciate the introduction to life along the Mekong River, prime people watching and an interesting way to spend the day in the Saigon area.

Rusted boat cruising the muddy Mekong River.
Boat traffic while on a Mekong delta tour

Vietnam was one of the countries that we visited on a Vancouver to Singapore cruise with Regent. When Mariner docked for two nights in the port area of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), guests had plenty of time to explore both the city and surrounding countryside.

Learning about culture on the way to a Mekong Delta shore excursion

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 the bus 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.

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. They were driving 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. Mekong Delta tours are obviously big business.

The Mekong Delta tour begins

Woman makes a face as she holds a snake around her neck.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Our group 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.

Snake wine is purported to improve health and virility. A whole snake is steeped for several months in rice alcohol so that the venom and essence blends into the liquid. But the ethanol in the drink actually deactivates the venom. The wine is served in shot glasses due to its high alcohol content. No, Alan and I didn’t sample any.

A woman holds an amber colored bottle of snake wine.
Want a drink?

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. This may seem like a lot of resting in the shade, but those guests unaccustomed to high humidity truly appreciated it.

Platters of fruit are placed on a table while a woman pours tea into a clear cup.
Fruit and tea

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.

Dense jungle foliage borders a muddy river in Vietnam.
One of the less crowded portions of our boat ride.

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.

An elephant fish on a platter.
Lunch is ready.

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.

Things to know about a Mekong Delta cruise excursion

Knowing what to expect will save you from disappointment when exploring the Mekong Delta:

  • You’ll experience a long bus ride from the port to My Tho.
  • Be prepared for hot, humid conditions. I recommend bringing insect wipes.
  • Wear a hat as sun protection and to keep cooler.
  • Expect lots of buying opportunities and tip requests.
  • Make sure to tip when taking photos of children. There will be many opportunities to photograph them.

Even with the downsides of this Mekong Delta tour, you’re experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of another culture. Yes, it’s touristy, but so are most of the major destinations in Vietnam. Although I wouldn’t recommend a return visit, seeing the Mekong Delta is worth a one-time trip. 

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Exploring Vietnam on a Mekong Delta Shore Excursion

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