It was almost a decade ago that I rode into the Mekong Delta by motorbike for the first time. Prior to that, like many others, I had taken a bus tour that was atrocious. My objective was clear that time, I wanted to get lost among rice fields, and so I did.
As I left the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh City’s suburbs, I gained the opportunity to explore the backroads of the Mekong Delta. I suddenly found myself on narrow paved roads with streams on one side and houses and fields on the other. Further ahead the paved backroads opened the way to vast fields of rice and an amalgam of colors from a very diverse vegetation. The wind started caressing rice plants and shaping them into waves that reflected the shades of green. I immediately felt peace.
The Mekong Delta is a system of rivers called ‘The 9 Dragons’. These dragons create multiple waterways used by a multitude of boats. A trip to the Delta involves taking ferries and/or boats every so on. It is a great way to witness the lifestyle of local farmers and fishermen. On a motorbike, we can easily explore several of the waterways that allow us to witness the different flora grown by the locals. I once took a dirt path in the town of Cái Mơn in the province of Bến Tre, that took me to a mix of crops from lemon trees to dragon fruit plants and the usual banana trees along the path. By the riverbanks numerous palm trees produce both coconuts and water coconuts, pretty much present throughout Mekong’s rich mangroves. Inevitably, the small dirt path would be connected to other islands by picturesque bridges, it is all an attraction. Every so on I would end up at a junction without bridges, lost but happy as the landscape seems to be eternally gorgeous. A person would then call for my attention to offer a ferry ride to the other side.
On a motorbike it is worth traveling deeper into the Mekong Delta, to find the places that remind you of a humbler past. Several years after my first visit I organized a small tour for a few friends. Among my friends, one Frenchman had visited the Delta two decades before, and he shared his concern after seeing how much it had developed and urbanized. The most densely populated area of the Mekong Delta remains in a triangle among Ho Chi Minh City to the east, Cần Thơ in the center as the capital of the Delta and Châu Đốc being the gate to Cambodia to the west. The urban zone develops fast, constantly in construction for new roads and expansion of the cities. The rural zones are the ones worth targeting if you really want to be in nature. Given the natural wealth of the Delta, many of its cities developed fast and greatly thanks to the trade of fruits and rice among other activities. These lead many of these cities to resemble each other and lose their unique charm. It was then very difficult for my friend to find once again the Mekong he knew from two decades ago. So, I organized a tour that would avoid most of the urbanized areas, promising the group that I would take them to the real Mekong. Don’t get me wrong though, it is worth traveling to all of the Mekong, urbanized areas will also have a lot to show about their history and culture.
Nothing beats the charm of rural Mekong when riding on a motorbike. I took my group to towns a lot further from the urban side. We went south and I purposely took the group into a system of paved backroads surrounded by plants hanging over our heads. For several minutes we drove on the winding path, and I could see how much they were enjoying it. Every so on the path connected the few houses that remain at the “edge of civilization”, not too far after we were in complete nature. Along the way, jackfruit trees mixed among the palm trees. We rode under bamboo arcs and lines of water coconut trees leading to the edge of rice fields. Suddenly reaching the open fields and we found ourselves alone under one of the most colorful skies slowly turning into orange. The group was delighted and so was I. The Frenchman came to me and told me:
“Thank you, Renzo, for making me re-discover the Mekong I lost 20 years ago.”
In Vietnam, it is when traveling by motorbike that we can gain the best experiences. The Mekong Delta is not an exception. Whether we wish to travel on paved routes or off-road, the Delta has a nice mix of roads to offer that will not disappoint. Six years after starting the Mekong Delta motorbike tours, it remains one of the most toured destinations by The Extra Mile Adventure and represents a timeless charm that entertains riders of all levels.