This is the first guest post for Soulful Travels written by Tomo Sandeman and Fiona Wilks. Thanks guys for such a lovely story about Vietnam!

The Mekong Delta is the rice bowl of Vietnam and one of the world’s most productive agricultural areas. It is an immense maze of paddy fields and canals covering an area the size of Wales. Three friends (Fiona, Kate, and Tomo) spent two weeks cycling around the Delta on vintage local bicycles and were completely won over by this area of Vietnam’s charms. In this post, they tell you why, and how, you should do a similar trip!

The flat paddy fields of Vietnam

In the paddy fields. Photo credit: Tomo Sandeman/Fiona Wilks

We decided to cycle in the Delta for the sole reason that it is pancake flat. This means that anybody can get on a bicycle and creak along for a respectable distance without too much effort. Only once we got going on our bicycles did we realise just how lucky we were to end up here, and particularly to come during Vietnam’s New Year festival of Tet.

Dragon dancing up a pole for Tet festivities

Dragon dancing for Tet festivities. Photo credit: Tomo Sandeman/Fiona Wilks

We arrived by bus to a town on the Vietnam/Cambodia border called Chau Doc on the eve of Tet and managed to find the only bicycle shop in town that hadn’t closed for the celebrations. Here we bought ‘rustic’ bicycles for $50 each. These bicycles would not win any races, but they did a fine job at meandering us around. That evening we joined crowds of people and scooters for an unexpected Tet firework extravaganza and men dressed as dragons dancing through the streets and up poles.

Roadside fruit stalls

Roadside fruit stalls. Photo credit: Tomo Sandeman/Fiona Wilks

The next day we set off. Tet was still in full swing, and everyone was carrying on the party that would last all weekend. We cycled along canal-side paths lined with carved wooden houses, and in front of every house was a gathering of people feasting, drinking and singing karaoke. And every single house that we passed waved an enthusiastic hello to us and invited us in for a drink (and at one point forced shots of lunchtime whisky on us). Not surprisingly, were completely surrounded by happiness and good feelings.

Floating market

Floating market. Photo credit: Tomo Sandeman/Fiona Wilks

Crossing a small Mekong river with a little bridge

Crossing a small Mekong Photo credit: Tomo Sandeman/Fiona Wilks

Eventually, Tet passed and we expected the mood to shift back to normal life. But it seems that life in the Delta is permanently friendly and laid-back. And why wouldn’t it be in such a beautiful place? Cycling around its backwaters and paddies, you get the feeling that you are peeking at a farming landscape that is centuries old with the canals at the very heart of it – slow, green water with the occasional canoe or duck sailing by.

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Cafe Sua (coffee and condensed milk)

Cafe Sua. Photo credit: Tomo Sandeman/Fiona Wilks

We spent a very happy two weeks cruising around, stopping for regular sugar injections of the local café sua (meaning ‘milk coffee’). This is a shot of bitter dark Vietnamese coffee mixed with a good half pint of condensed milk, and it is a godsend for hot and sweaty cyclists.

We explored the lush countryside, crossing endless paddy fields lined with shady banana trees. We passed by quiet little towns where their narrow streets overflowed with the daily fish markets, and we raced school children cycling their way to school and back along the canals.

On the beach.

On the beach. Photo credit: Tomo Sandeman/Fiona Wilks

We even threw in a tropical island for good measure, the popular beach resort of Phu Quoc. And along the route we stayed in homestays with extremely welcoming host families – our final stop was in a bamboo treehouse in the middle of a flower farm. It was ridiculous. At the end of all of this, we sold our gorgeous bicycles for $35 each, making this a very budget friendly adventure too.

Crossing the river by ferry

Crossing the Mighty Mekong. Photo credit: Tomo Sandeman/Fiona Wilks

We had a fantastic time, and we would recommend the area to anyone!

Here are some practical details, if you are into that sort of thing:

  • The Mekong Delta is a very populous part of Vietnam. Whilst this doesn’t stop it from feeling very laid back, it does make the logistics of cycling much simpler. Decent sized towns are generally no more than 40-60km apart, which is a long but gentle day’s cycling on bikes like ours.
  • Hotels are easy to find, and there are many homestays in the more touristy areas (with the food being exceptionally good at all of the homestays we visited).
  • We crossed the canals on numerous ferries that ranged from wooden planks with engines to hulking car carriers and never had much trouble getting to where we were going.

Like this post? Subscribe to the Soulful Travel newsletter for Annie’s packing checklist plus travel related advice, news, competitions and more. Sign up here.

If you need travel advice, request a free 30 minute coaching session. In the chat Annie will help you choose a destination, create your itinerary and review safety precautions. Or she can discuss how you can incorporate more travel into your life by saving, making money, travelling for free or being paid to travel.

Another floating market

Floating market on the river. Photo credit: Tomo Sandeman/Fiona Wilks

Itinerary:
We used the great mapping app Maps.me to plan our route and navigate.

  • Day 1. Arrive in Chau Doc, find bicycles. Chau Doc is a cute town with a bustling centre and some nice temples.
  • Day 2. Cycle 60km to Long Xuyen, stopping for celebratory Tet beers with friendly residents en route.
  • Day 3. Cycle 30km in the fields around Long Xuyen, enjoy local fruits, ice coffee, and cold beer.
  • Day 4. Cycle 60km to Rach Gia, the port town and ferry point for Phu Quoc.
  • Day 5-8. Enjoy island life on Phu Quoc! The main town of Duongdong is fun if rather crowded; we also enjoyed hanging out on the beaches in nearby Ong Lang.
  • Day 9. Take the ferry back to Rach Gia, and cycle 60km to Giong Rieng. This little town felt quite off the map; we had a great time being led around the local sights by helpful locals on scooters.
  • Day 10-11. Cycle 70km to the fantastic Dan Sinh homestay near Can Tho; spend a day off resting the legs!
  • Day 12. Cycle 30km to La Viet homestay, via the famous floating markets in Can Tho. Our lovely hosts at La Viet welcomed us by getting us to climb a ladder and pick our own coconuts to drink!
  • Day 13-14. Cycle 40km to the flower farming town of Sa Dec, and stay amongst the flowers at Phong Du Vent homestay. We spent our final day visiting a nearby forest park where remnants of the foxholes and tunnels dug by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War could still be seen.
  • Day 15. Sell the bikes and head on back to Ho Chi Minh City.

 

The family who host guests at their homestay

At Viet Long homestay. Photo credit: Tomo Sandeman/Fiona Wilks

Average costs:
Bicycles: $50 each, and we sold them at the end for $35
Hotels: $6 – $30
Meals: $3 – $5 per head. We three are all vegetarian, and Vietnam has a strong culture of vegetarian food served in An Chai restaurants. Super tasty. For a quick bite, you can grab a banh mi (baguette filled with your choice of egg, salad and/or meat fillings) for $0.60 at stalls in every town.
Coffee: $0.60 for a luscious iced café sua. Note that many cafés in this part of Vietnam don’t have chairs, only hammocks to relax in!
Beer: $0.40 – $0.90. Often served in a glass with a single giant ice cube. Vietnam is extremely good at keeping you cool!

Like this post? Subscribe to the Soulful Travel newsletter for Annie’s packing checklist plus travel related advice, news, competitions and more. Sign up here.

If you need travel advice, request a free 30 minute coaching session. In the chat, Annie will help you choose a destination, create your itinerary and review safety precautions. Or she can discuss how you can incorporate more travel into your life by saving, making money, travelling for free or being paid to travel.

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