After Sa Pa our plan was to get to Cambodia on a boat. For that we had to go to the very South of Vietnam - the famous Mekong Delta (famous because of all the brutalities Americans caused in 60' and 70' there) One of the main towns in Mekong Delta, Can Tho, is located 4 hours by bus from Saigon and it's a gateway to all main attractions in the area.
For us the main attraction was the floating market, however during our stay we discovered another reason why anyone would want to visit this muddy river town - mainland market with its fruit. Because of the river and tropical climate, the land here is very good for growing fruit - any imaginable fruit! All of them are just unbelievably tasty and you shouldn't be afraid to buy them from the streets of the market - wash them thoroughly and you'll have a blast of taste for a couple of dollars for 5kg of fruit!
Floating market tour is the thing in Can Tho, most agencies will sell the sunrise tour, however your best price will be from the network of local boat owners. All you need to do is go out after 8pm to the river side and walk around. Someone will come to you and start talking business about the boat trip :) Shop around and choose you guy right there. For us the trip got to be $18.
The famous river floating market in Can Tho is...ehmm...not exactly a very good place to see a floating market. Most traders moved from selling on boats to mainland, so the actual market is kept only for tourists. Therefore, we suggest to try floating markets around Vinh Long which sees less tourists. We did have an amazingly delicious $1 noodle curry from a floating eatery on the river - highly recommend to get your food here!
The best thing to do around Mekong Delta however is homestay on a river island. Research thoroughly and make sure you stay in the family house, as many homestays have both family house where the family lives and a guest house where they host guests. Needless to say, staying with the family is an entirely different and unique experience than staying in a guest house.
Our awesome family grandpa sleeping in his boat parked by the house
Homestay costs about $25/day for 2 and includes bed, 3 meals a day and you can be sure that the family will share with you all sorts of snacks and fruit. It's all super relaxed, super simple and even though no one really speaks English you feel extremely welcome in the family. The dinners family prepares for you are humangous, consisting of 5 or more dishes and really tasty - there is fried fish, DIY spring rolls, soup, smoked beef, curried pork and chicken, plenty of greens and fruit for desert. Beers are not included in the price, but the fridge is fully stocked, so you just take whatever you want and leave some money in return (awesome trust system).
Don't expect hotel like comfort - you won't have a separate room, you'll sleep in a common room and curtains around your bed for privacy, you'll use common and very simple bathroom, and it's likely that you'll get woken up by house ladies at 6am when they start their household chores and start chatting and laughing loud :) Be sure that the family won't change their way of life just because you're there :)
Our honeymoon suite :)
Family doing their daily work
We were very lucky that we happened to be staying with the family during a big celebration for them - the anniversary of death of their great grandfather. A day like this is not a mourning time, it's a celebration because the whole family gets together to be thankful to their ancestors who started the family. In case of this family their great grandfather came from China to Vinh Long to that exact location to start a new family and a new life.
The celebration includes a huge feast - women start cooking enormous amounts of food from 5am, men bring traditional roasted piglet and cases of beer and ice. At about 9am guests/family members start to arrive from other villages and towns, at around 10am - the piglet and the house temples get consecrated by incense and praying, and at around 11am the feast starts - pork, curries, roasted vegetables and soups, tofu and sweet potatoes, and of course - tons of beer.
Beer drinking is a very special marathon - no one gets their own glasses, it's 4 glasses shared between about 12 people (there is no lack of glasses, mind you, its the tradition). What happens is girls keep a big jar full of ice and keep pouring into it beer from cans, then the glasses get filled and anyone at the table can take a glass and offer to share it with someone else by pointing at them across the table. You can't really refuse, and you can't just sip your half of the glass - each will chug half of the glass in one breath and pass to the other. Then the glasses get filled again and the next person will challenge someone else. Sometimes the challenge is for both to chug full glasses as fast as they can to see who is the winner. Yes, it does sound like a college party, except all those people are grown ups and are celebrating anniversary of death of their ancestor. It's also all about fun and laughing and pranking each other - we felt really welcome and the family was happy to have us around, language barrier was not a barrier at all.
By 1pm most guests get drunk and take off for a nap in a hammock and at about 5pm everyone wakes up and gets ready for the dinner as if nothing has happened before :) It was amazing that this family let us be part of this awesome party and share with us everything they had no questions asked - you want to be part of it - be part of it, it's as simple as that.
There's not that much to do at the homestay though - all you do is read in a hammock, eat and talk to fellow travelers. Playing with the children is another fun option - don't worry about finding them, they will find you and most families will have many of them running around.
The family will likely have bikes for free rent, so you can bike around the island and see how the villages live, it's also amazing to occassionally spot how most exotic fruits are growing in the wild.
Go for homestay and you won't regret, it's an amazing experience!