Before passing the Vietnam-Cambodia border, we went on a tour with local Susan Bui for a Mekong Delta experience. Susan is born and raised in a small village near Can Tho so she knows what’s up in the Mekong area.
We were advised booking the tour with Susan by the Sigoong hostel in HCMC. A great place to stay when discovering the former Saigon. Thanks for the great tip!
From the very first moment we were in contact with Susan via her Facebook page, she showed her professionalism by giving us clear and detailed instructions on how to get from HCMC to the meeting point with Susan in Bing Minh. She even wrote a message in Vietnamese which we could show to the bus driver! This turned out to be very usefull, because unless you speak a fair bit of Vietnamese, communicating with these guys is bloody impossible.
After a bowl of phó at the bus station restaurant we boarded her father’s boat, which had some start up issues. Having floated around in circles on the river’s strong current and banging in to a few other boats, Susan’s father gave up. Susan called her back up boat which arrived within 15 minutes. After tying up the boats together, dragging daddy’s boat to the mechanic, we were on our way to our first destination.
The first stop was at a place Susan called the ‘baby veggie village’. A small village where the people are planting vegetable seeds and grow them until they are big enough to be sold to farmers and wholesalers.
In the same village we also had a look at how the traditional palm leaf roofs are made. We even got to try to do it ourselves. It’s a nice job for a couple of minutes, but can you imagine these ladies produce up to 80 roof panels per day?!
Our last stop before getting back on the boat was at an ancient rice splitting factory. A massive 30-year old machine that separates the rice from its skin. As efficient as the Vietnamese are, instead of throwing away the rice skins, they burn it, making it a source of heat. It doesn’t end there, they use the ashes from the burnt rice skin as fertilizer for the baby veggie plant production.
The lady on the boat was waiting for us at the ramp of the rice splitting factory to bring us to our next stop, the local market to get groceries for our dinner. On the boat ride there we discussed what we would like to cook that night. We agreed on making a bbq eggplant salad, a traditional Vietnamese chicken curry, wontons filled with pork and as a desert we made rice cake steamed on jack fruit leaves. The market visit was a unique experience, with us being the only tourists there, we were constantly looked and pointed at by the locals. It was like we were the attraction here.
When we got back from the market visit, it was Susan’s dad who was picking us up with his repaired boat! He had taken it to the local mechanic and the problem was solved, with the engine running like dream again!
While we thought it was time to head towards Susan’s house, she still had one more surprise for us. She took us to the Phu Ly Khmer temple. A beautiful 400 year old Buddhist temple which has been renovated 3 years ago so it all looked brand new! A very impressive place to be!
After the temple visit it was time to go to Susan’s parents home. She showed us the large house with a beautiful garden overlooking the rice fields. We sat down in the garden’s gazebo and Susan brought a plateful of local fruits for us to enjoy, delicious! While the sun was setting, creating a magnificent scenery, Susan brought out a kite with which we played together with the neighbor’s kids. It was a lot of fun and a great opportunity to take some beautiful photos.
After the fun it was time to get to work in the kitchen. Susan’s mother had already started making the curry, and we were invited to help grilling the eggplants, making the wontons and preparaing sticky Banh Lá mít, jack fruit leaf cake. It was fun and educating. Susan set the table for only the 3 of us. It turned out that her parents had already eaten. Only her father joined the table at some point with a bottle of red brownish liquid which we learned was Rượu nếp than. A special homemade variety of rice wine. After shouting ‘Mot Hai Ba Yo!’ meaning ‘1,2,3 cheers!’we downed the shots. The taste was very good! It tasted slightly more sweet than the white rice wine, but still pretty strong at around 25%. After two repetitions Susan’s father lied down in his outside bed and was off to sleep.
After a good night of sleep in our extremely pretty ‘hello kitty meets pink princess’ design bed, we had a quick cold shower. The ‘road ‘to Susan’s parents house is only accessible by motorbike, so Susan’s father and her cousin took us and our backpacks on their motorbikes towards the taxi stand where Susan was already waiting for us. The taxi took us over the immensely long bridge towards Can Tho city. From there on we continued by boat. It was a beautiful boat ride with the sun rising behind us.
After a 25 minute boat ride we arrived at the famous floating market. And we weren’t the only ones! It was crazy busy with boats crisscrossing all over the place.
Susan told us this specific market was a wholesale market specializing in fruit and vegetable. Meaning that the buyers here would sell the products on to local markets on land. The buyers have to take at least 10 kg of a product. Each boat sells specific product(s) only. There were boats full of watermelons only, and a bit further another boat was loaded with ton of pineapples. All boats have a long stick pointing in the air showcasing the products they sell.
There were also smaller boats maneuvering between the bigger ones, selling breakfast items such as Banh Mi, Dumpling stuffed with minced pork, and bun rieu ca, a crab stock based noodle soup! Yes, we had all of it, so it was a big breakfast! We also got coffee and a coconut from a guy who Susan called ‘The floating Starbucks’.
With our stomachs stuffed we left the market and headed on to our next stop, the rice noodle factory! To be honest this place was a bit touristy, but it was still very interesting to see the process of rice noodle making. We got to try some of the production steps ourselves which was good fun.
It was time to get in the boat again and head to the last location of the Can Tho tour, the fruit gardens. A garden filled with a huge variety of fruit trees.
On the way there something very special happened. Daphne and I got married by Susan and her boat lady. From palm leaves they made rings, a tiara, and even a bouquet of roses! They thought it was very strange that we are together for more than 9 years and we’re not even married yet. So that’s arranged now!
Back to the fruit gardens! They had everything here, mango, jackfruit, pineapple, star fruit, water apple, custard apple, you name it. All kinds of exotic fruits we don’t have in Europe. We enjoyed a large plate of fruits together with a pot of tea after which it was time to get to Can Tho city.
Susan arranged a bus to get to our next destination: Ha Tien and even a hotel where we could store our backpacks until we were picked up by the shuttle bus there. It was there that we said goodbye to Susan, thanking her very much for a great experience! The tour we did costs 65 dollars each. This is all inclusive so there’s no need to reach for your wallet at any point during the tour. If you would like to book a tour with Susan you can do it here!