Corresponding recently with an American traveler who is planning a trip to Vietnam, I was reminded of one of the best short trips we’ve made from Hong Kong: Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Outstanding aspects of this QuickTrip include convenience, price, great food and unbelievable contrast from Hong Kong’s urban bustle.
For the Hong Kong traveler, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, or Saigon) is one of the cheapest, most convenient flight destinations from Hong Kong. Not only are there twice daily Cathay flights and a daily Vietnam Airlines flight, but most conveniently there is a United Airlines flight, serviced daily by a Boeing 747, that is often sold at cheap fares and has a perfect schedule for QuickTrippers: a nighttime outbound and early morning return. Even for a weekend, you get two full days in Vietnam with a Friday night flight departing 8:45 PM to arrive at 10:05 PM and a Monday morning return at 6:15 AM arriving at 9:50 AM (okay, so you may be a bit late to work). For this QuickTrip to the Mekong Delta, I would recommend a three- or four-day weekend.
Since the flight arrives late at night, it’s probably best to sleep in Saigon the first night (the airport is very convenient to town, with cheap taxis making the short run). My favorite place to stay is in the Indochine Hotel, which runs about USD 20-30 per night. If you’re feeling really energetic, you can go out for a quick bite (say, bahn xeo at the famous Banh Xeo 46A, at 46A Dinh Cong Trang, off of Hai Ba Trung) or a drink at the eclectic and seedy Apocalypse Now.
Early the next morning, catch a bus from the main bus station (near Ben Thanh Market) for Vinh Long. (Before catching the bus, you can do like Bill Clinton and have breakfast at Pho 2000 nearby.) We find that catching a public bus while traveling provides one of the most natural opportunities to interact with local people on an equal basis. For the more comfortable traveler, hiring a car and driver for the weekend would not break the bank.
Vinh Long is about three hours away, and a restful town with a good selection of hotels (around USD 10 for a comfortable room) and restaurants. Food in the Mekong Delta is definitely some of the best we’ve had in Vietnam (your visit will likely take you near places that make shrimp paste, fish sauce, rice paper and other Vietnamese staples). By wandering around the waterside street in Vinh Long, you will likely run into at least a few local women offering boat rides (or, rather, they will run into you and follow you around). Prices are negotiable, of course, but good value even if you aren’t a great negotiator. Depart early the next morning to see the best floating markets at their liveliest. There will be other tourists of course, but they’re dwarfed by the amount of genuine commerce taking place. After Vinh Long, we left for Can Tho, a somewhat bigger city in the Delta that also offers early morning trips to floating markets and beautiful waterways. If you depart Hong Kong on Friday night, you should be able to have a peaceful Saturday arriving in the Delta, take boat rides on Sunday and Monday, and return to Saigon Monday night for your early morning Tuesday flight.