My Tho – At the Mekong Delta
My Tho is the capital city of Tien Giang Province in Mekong delta. This center of Education, economics and technology has a population of around a quarter of a million. The majority of people here are ethnic Kinh. Many live in rickety stilt houses built into the My Tho River. It is a blaze of life and color. For many tourists coming to see Delta Tours; My Tho is the point of entry. Many of the tour buses from Saigon, arrive here dropping them off in order that they can board their tour boats.
A bit of Mekong history
My Tho was founded in about 1680 by Chinese immigrants fleeing persecution in Taiwan. The town was originally part of the Khmer Empire and was annexed by Vietnam in the 18th century. The My Tho River is one of the many that make up the Mekong Delta, it was from this that the city was named. When the French invaders came in 1862, the capture of My Tho was paramount to their control. The taking of the city is seen as the final cog in the establishment of French Cochichina. Colonialism did not however hamper the city’s economic development. Throughout this period in history it continued to prosper.
Easy access to a gateway city
There are many daily buses running from Mien Tay bus station in Sai Gon. In addition dozens of independent buses hired by hire companies make the trip. This is a really busy place. The bus station is on the outskirts of town an taxis and motorbikes bring passengers in. It is wroth noting that many will try and drop their passengers off at The Rang Dong Hotel, this is not in the center of town. It is worth giving clear instructions to your diver. The center of town is quite small and very easy to walk round. There is plenty to do in this region and it nearly all involves the river. Boat trips are many and varied. Everything is accessible by water in the delta. Whether its to Can Tho, The floating markets, Ben Tre or anywhere else. Some of these routes are busy with tourists, others are quiet backwaters. Ben Tre for example is quiet, even though it is only a twenty minute boat ride away. The floating markets are incredibly busy, but that is their appeal. Everywhere you go in the Mekong the people are friendly, the food is great and the scenery is magnificent. It really is like stepping back in time. Probably the only difference between now and hundreds of year ago, will be the sound of the motor boat engines.
Thing to do in My Tho
01 – The boat trip
The most common reason to visit My Tho is for the Mekong Delta boat trip, a tour on and around a few islands in the Mekong river.
Whether you choose to do the Mekong Delta boat trip arranged from Ho Chi Minh City or locally at the pier, the official boat takes visitors to the Dragon (Con Tan Long), Tortoise (Con Quy) and Unicorn (Con Thoi Son) islands to see the cottage industries, which can be interesting if you’ve never seen a tropical fruit orchard or coconut candy being made before.
In a typical itinerary, the first stop is a tasting of local fruits like jackfruit, pomelo, guava or perhaps some tea, local honey or banana liquor. Next up (and it’s all very hurried) is a quick ride in a sampan—a row boat piloted by ladies in conical hats— and, hats off to them, they navigate with ease down narrow waterways congested with other tourist boats. The women paddle quickly however, all too eager to dispose of you in order to queue for the next fare.
02 – Vinh Trang pagoda
Dating back to 1849, Vinh Trang Pagoda is a large, peaceful Buddhist temple around one kilometre north of My Tho city’s centre and it’s worth the visit if you’re in town, especially during the morning prayers.
The pagoda brings together Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer and European architecture, and has various Buddha statues, including a large scale standing Amitabha, reclining Buddha and big bellied laughing Buddha.
Vinh Trang has a number of impressive features like the ornate gate, built by craftsmen from Hue, and detailed woodwork within—look for the dragon’s tongues running down the wooden pillars on each side of the altar. Bricks and mortar aside, the temple will be memorable if you can arrive when the monks are chanting, around 10:00 in the morning, which is followed by drumming and a procession to the dining hall for a vegetarian feast fit for a monk—buckets of soup included—at around 10:45. The monks chant a prayer at the table before commencing.
Vinh Trang Pagoda is sometimes a stop on Mekong Delta day trips from Ho Chi Minh City, usually the more expensive small group tour—check on inclusions when booking. If you’re really into temples, it will be worth choosing a tour that includes it, hopefully arriving in time for the chanting and procession to the meal. In fact, for us it was the highlight as Vinh Trang was the only stop on our tour that didn’t include hoards of other tourists.
03 – My Tho market
By the time most travellers begin to rub sleep from their eyes, the vendors at My Tho’s central market (Cho My Tho) are already going full swing. An enthralling walk through the market is a good way to fill the time in a city thin on things for tourists to do.
My Tho market is in the eastern side of the My Tho’s city centre, at Vo Thanh and Trung Trac St, abutting Bao Dinh canal. The wet market is mainly outdoors, running along Trung Trac St. While it’s not necessary to be there when it’s dark or at the crack of dawn, you should aim to be there reasonably early, let’s say before 08:00, in order to see the market busy with activity.
Fish of all shapes and sizes splosh around in big tubs as one by one, they meet their executioners who expertly gut, scale and clean them to order. Seafood is abundant in the Mekong Delta, and it takes a lot of work to prepare. Watch people remove the ink sack from squids, tie up crab claws and scrub cockles before laying it all out in a neat display.
Along with seafood, the Mekong Delta also is well known for its agricultural prowess. There’s just about every kind of tropical fruit and vegetable imaginable, tableaus that are a photographer’s dream—who knew root veg could be so photogenic?
Some of the fruits can be cut up for you and eaten on the spot, so look for tasty jackfruit, coconut water, papayas, pineapples and mangos, just to name a few.
Typical of markets in Vietnam, the shops in and around the central building sell one type of things, sometimes wonderfully niche. Do peruse the stands in there are well. Need a bird cage? Well, go to the bird cage shop.
Have a nice trip!