On our first day in Vietnam we didn't really make any plans (other than a massage at our hotel - definitely doing that after a long haul flight again) despite landing on the red eye at 6am, in case it was delayed or the jet lag was so bad all we wanted to do was doze by the pool and have an early night. It wasn't and we explored downtown Saigon, but our plans didn't really kick off until day two, when we had booked a speedboat tour along the Mekong Delta with Les Rives.
The Mekong is a vast 4,350 km-long river (the 12th longest in the world) traversing six countries in Southeast Asia, starting in China and joining the sea from southern Vietnam. The Mekong Delta is known as the Delta of Nine Dragons for its nine tributaries which are a maze of rivers, streams and narrow canals home to floating markets and villages surrounded by rice paddies, Buddhist temples and mangrove forests. We wanted an authentic experience visiting unspoilt areas away from the crowds and Les Rives was perfect as they offer trips for small groups with unique, off the beaten track stops so we hardly saw any other tourists. We boarded the speedboat at Ho Chi Minh City pier and cruised past urban neighbourhoods on the city's outskirts crammed with buildings on stilts over the water before a quick stop at the ornate Tuong Van Pagoda. Back on the boat, we carried on towards the quiet Thu Thua region as the scenery got greener, the pace of riverside life slower and we had our first glimpse of rural Vietnam.
We sailed past farms, fruit orchards and buffaloes ploughing fields and visited a family's home with huge Burmese pythons (the snake pictured was the medium one - the large one was gigantic) then a homestead for fresh coconuts, a little respite from the sun on hammocks in the shade and to taste homemade fiery Mekong whisky. Next, we walked through a bustling street market selling all sorts of fresh fish, tropical fruit, local vegetables and live poultry before visiting a colourful Cao Dai Temple. Near the temple is an orphanage run by Buddhist monks, where we stopped for lunch; the Les Rives chef prepared traditional Vietnamese food including delicious fresh spring rolls and the local delicacy: fried elephant ear fish. After lunch we set sail back to HCMC and the friendly guides dropped us back at our hotel in time for a quick swim as the sun set to top off a great day out.