Across Saigon, you'll see ads for Mekong Delta tours splashed across shop-fronts, especially in the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker district. And after hiring a guide for the Cu Chi Tunnels, canyoning and motorbiking, I decided to venture to Vietnam's “rice basket” on my own- no more hand-holding.

Because who needs a $10 guided tour when you can DIY it?

Luckily a cool Australian guy from the hostel was also up for a delta-adventure. And let's be honest- some journeys are just more fun with a fellow Vietnam and beer-loving traveller in tow.

The first hurdle of DIY-ing the trip was simply getting there. After the bumpiest, most uncomfortable bus ride I've ever taken in Southeast Asia (sans AC, mind you), we arrived in the quaint riverside town of Mỹ Tho, the so-called gateway to the Mekong Delta.

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 Awkward selfie on the back of a motorbike. At least I was wearing a helmet!

By the time we had arrived I had gone a full four hours without phở so I was starting to get cranky. But soon I was sitting in front of a hearty bowl of bún riêu cua– a rice vermicelli soup with unknown meat specimens inside.

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While not quite as delicious as my beloved Saigon-style beef phở, it was a good first taste of the Mekong Delta where the dish is very typical.

Mỹ Tho is my favorite kind of Southeast Asian town- one rich in ambiance but not attractions. Without the self-inflicted guilt-trip of the “things you have to do”, we simply strolled the canals, stopping every so often to sip Vietnamese coffee. f IMG_0497

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After a few hours we retreated from the heat and spent a few hours watching Vietnamese game shows in our swanky, $10 each hotel room. And then we headed out to the night market.  IMG_0526

While Mỹ Tho is a town that sees its fair share of tourists, almost all of them are day-trippers; by night we had the town completely to ourselves.

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And imagine my delight when we discovered the night market specialized in seafood; piles and piles of local, dirt-cheap seafood.

When we saw the nearest table had a pile of crabs, I walked over to ask what the dish was called. The guy didn't understand what I meant so instead offered me crab and a few beers. (Why can't all strangers do that?)

The group loved when we lifted our beers to, “Một hai ba, yo!” which means “One, two, three, drink!” and is how you cheers in Vietnamese.

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Our new friend showing us how to crack crabs. IMG_0547

As I sat there with my free beer, new friends and belly full of crab,  I said aloud, “This is possibly the best days of my travels.”

And it really kind of was.

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And then on the way home a shopkeeper invited us into his home for a beer and talked about the Americans guys he met during the war. I love Vietnam.

The next morning we hired a boat-driver to show us the Delta. And after paying way too much, (about 250,000 dong each, or $12) we had ourselves a humble river-boat and a private guide.

On the river I noticed most of the boats had googly-eyes painted onto the bow.

When I asked our driver for an explanation, he replied, “Is luck.” IMG_0574

With the lush jungle growth and muddy waters, I felt like I was exploring the Amazon.

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First we stopped at a honey farm…

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where I held a boa constrictor…

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then we stopped at an alligator farm.

The whole exhibition seemed cruel; tourists holding pieces of meat on fishing rods and bonking the alligators on the head repeatedly. Why is that necessary? IMG_0639

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We made a few other lame stops but the real joy of the journey was just sailing across the waters.

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And as I learned from my EasyRiders tour, sometimes the journey means so much more than the destination.

Have you been to the Mekong Delta? Would you want to go?

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Uganda. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Colorado. She's been to forty countries but somehow still gets lost in her home town. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour magazine.
Ashley Fleckenstein
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