As our bus leaves Saigon, the honking, bustling, moped-dodging city life makes way for Vietnam’s quintessential countryside scattered with bobbing straw hats that shelter rice paddy field workers. We play spot the cargo on passing mopeds – piles of coconuts, whole families including pets and livestock, and long pieces of wood are all juggled in a terrific balancing act. We’re making our way through mangroves, coconut trees and palms to Green Village Homestay in the Mekong Delta, and we’re dropped off next to a wonky wooden sign pointing the way down a path under the shadows of rambutan trees (think hairy lychees). Thy and her housekeepers welcome us to their jungle sanctuary with green tea and warm smiles, and we make our way to simple bamboo thatched huts under vibrant pink plants that almost glow as they hang down over the wooden walkways.
CAI RANG FLOATING MARKET
A sleepy 6am boat ride steers us through local towns as the sun rises, while children interrupt their riverside games and teeth-brushing to frantically wave and shout the familiar ‘He-llo!”. Ask your driver nicely and he’ll stop off and pick up some fresh corn for a pre-breakfast snack.
As we pull up to the floating stalls of Cai Rang market, the industrial, commercial nature of the market reveals itself – goods are loaded and unloaded from warehouses to boats and back, and larger fishing boats supply smaller vendors. As coffee time approaches, our guide hails down a small boat laden with coffee contraptions of all kinds, and a man in a lovely hat pours Vietnamese-style coffee with condensed milk over ice to cool us down in the already-scorching heat.
Coffee in hand, we weave our way through the market boats, each vendor advertising their produce on long bamboo poles: fish, baguettes, pineapples, you name it! A pineapple suspended from a pole in the near distance guides us like the Star of Bethlehem to a wooden boat. We clamber aboard and set up camp next to a joyful lady who is meticulously peeling and sculpting pineapple after pineapple into refreshing lollipops.
About time for a sandwich, so our guide calls the best banh mi lady in the land, who appears between the bobbing boats like a mirage to row her crisp, fluffy baguettes toward us. Jam-packed with fresh Vietnamese herbs, pâté and grilled pork, this has to be one of the best sandwiches I’ve eaten, and the pineapple-boat sun deck not a bad location either.
We sink back into our boat (banh mi bellies and all) to row sleepily back to Green Village in the mid-morning sun for 10 o’clock: about time for some homemade pho for breakfast?
LOCAL VILLAGE FOOD TOUR
Our cycle takes us on a round trip under banana trees, along the Mekong River, past markets and a family sorting fresh Vietnamese mint on the carpet of their home (and the cutest little girl award goes to…). Men and boys on mopeds dart past as their radio calls out what they’re flogging – think fresh doughnuts, coffee and other snacks. We stop off to pick up Vietnamese straw hats (no local cycling tour is cliché enough without!) and continue on our way to visit the local community’s food producers.
By the time we get to the rice factory, the owner has finished for the day (way ahead of we sleepy travellers!), so we sit on tiny blue plastic stools and enjoy Oolong green tea and lychees in the owner’s home while she tells us how she makes the rice in the bags that share her living quarters.
As locally established Thy is our guide, we can home-hop freely without imposing too much, so we move on to a rice-noodle manufacturer’s house. The intrigue of four tall, blonde girls temporarily steals the children’s attention from the laptop that the whole family is crowded around, and they welcome us with shy smiles and giggles before proudly showing us their noodle room.
About time for a coffee: we stop off at a house cafe to enjoy coconut water straight from the coconut over a game of pool while we eagerly await our first Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk and poured over ice for a refreshing caffeine hit. Simply divine!
FISHING TRIP IN THE MEKONG RIVER
We were anticipating reclining on a boat, elegantly holding out a fishing rod into the Mekong River… how wrong we were! This fishing trip involves treading waste-deep in a mud canal in the back yard of Green Village to catch mudfish and oysters with our bare hands. Screams of laughter from the housekeepers join our screams as we strike lucky with frantic wriggling mudfish. After catching enough fish for our BBQ, we squelch barefoot through rice paddies and sit at the edge of a field while the housekeepers hand over a constant stream of freshly picked green oranges and broken pieces of sugar cane. Our denim shorts now have a mud-wash taint for a lasting memory of our time wading around in the Mekong Delta.
Thanks to Thy and the Green Village Homestay family for your hospitality and the most perfectly cliché taste of life in the Mekong Delta.
More photographs from our stay in the Green Village Homestay, Can Tho, Vietnam…