To cope with necessary logistics in the Mekong Delta, use a tour agent, who can offer everything from day trips to long adventure tours and longer homestays. Cycling the delta has become a popular option, and many of the tour operators (I recommend Exotissimo and Ann Tours) are now offering a cycling option that takes you along the dusty paths that line the area's canals and that link rice paddies between small towns. Again, even on a bike, go with a tour operator to avoid the crowded roads in the region and get to the back of beyond. Many tours conclude in Chau Doc, and travelers make their way to Phnom Penh from there -- and more and more travelers are punctuating their Mekong Delta adventure with some toes-in-the-sand time on Phu Quoc Island. Tour operators are flexible and can accommodate any special plans.
My pick for classic tours to the Mekong Delta is Ann Tours, 58 Ton That Tung St., District 1 (tel. 08/3833-2564; fax 08/3832-3866; www.anntours.com). Their custom tour takes you off the beaten path (from $45 a day with a group) on homestays and to more remote areas with experienced local guides. Another excellent operator is Exotissimo, 9 Dinh Tien Hoang St., District 1 (tel. 08/3825-1723; fax 08/3829-5800; www.exotissimo.com). Their prices are steeper than Ann's, but their guides are incredibly knowledgeable and their level of professionalism is unrivaled. They arrange private, customized tours, which means you travel away from groups and on your own time schedule.
Saigontourist, in Ho Chi Minh City at 49 Le Thanh Ton St., District 1 (tel. 08/3829-8914; fax 08/3822-4987; www.saigon-tourist.com), is a large government-run operation that runs regular bus schedules and tours for groups large and small. Tour quality -- and price -- is much higher than what's offered by budget tourist cafes .
Victoria Hotels (main office: Ho Chi Minh City, second floor, 101 Tran Hung Dao St., District 1; tel. 08/3837-3031; fax 08/3836-4108; www.victoriahotels-asia.com) runs the two finest hotels in the region (in Chau Doc and Can Tho). If you book through this hotel company directly, consider taking advantage of their excellent tour services -- all with private driver and guide transfers and good local tours using one -- or both -- hotels as a base. They have luxury day-cruisers in Can Tho and offer a standard course of floating market tours from both Can Tho and Chau Doc. Also check out their high-speed connection -- on board a zippy runabout -- between Chau Doc and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
You'll also find many eco-tour options in the delta, with trips that combine cultural touring and cycling trips (the area is mercifully flat). Contact Buffalo Tours, a Hanoi-based tour group (tel. 04/3828-0702; fax 04/3926-3126; www.buffalotours.com), which runs comprehensive group and private cycling tours of the delta. On the budget end, Delta Adventure Tours (267 De Tham, District 1; tel. 08/3920-2112) runs lots of unique routes and houses you in their private resort near Chau Doc.
The tourist cafes all run standard, affordable tours. Contact Sinh Café, 246-248 De Tham St., District 1 (tel. 08/3837-6833; www.sinhcafevn.com), or TNK, 230 De Tham St. (tel. 08/3837-8276; www.tnktravelvietnam.com), in the Pham Ngu Lao area of Ho Chi Minh City. All of the budget cafe tour companies offer 2- and 3-day tours starting at $10 per day (with optional connection to Cambodia), and for that low, low price, expect little in the way of good tour leading and explanation. Accommodations on these trips are very basic, and one gets the sense of being on a cattle drive (as cattle, not cowboys), and though they do hit all of the relevant sights, I highly recommend going with a more upmarket tour (Exotissimo or Ann Tours) to see the delta in style and with informed guides and tour leaders that are helpful and supportive (not cattle drivers).
Typical Itineraries -- The trips below are the most common itineraries on bus tours. Custom itineraries offer myriad deviations from these now well-tracked paths, including options for homestays with rural families, as well as more-off-the-map destinations like Ben Tre and other parts of Vinh Long Province. Generally, the more you pay -- such as with Exotissimo or through Ann Tours private tours -- the better the trip.
Many travelers make their Mekong Delta trip a one-way adventure, going on to Cambodia overland from the town of Chau Doc. For information about this and tours that will take you directly to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, check with Saigon's many tourist cafes.
Tours can also be extended to include some beach time at Phu Quoc Island, which lies just off the coast of the delta to the west, near Chau Doc. You'd have to overland (by car or local bus -- ouch) from Chau Doc to the coastal town of Rach Gia and then go by boat or a very short flight to Phu Quoc. There are daily flights between Phu Quoc and Saigon.
2-Day Tour -- Start in the early morning from Saigon, with a visit to the Cai Be Floating Market near My Tho, and then various handicraft sights. The trip to Vinh Long Market is done by boat, with stops at island orchards and rural villages -- including a walk over a shaky "Monkey Bridge" across a canal -- and the first day ends in the city of Can Tho, where you'll spend the night.
On the second day, take a 3-hour boat trip -- with plenty of stops and photo ops at places like a rice vermicelli factory, a raw-rice-processing plant, and rural orchards, as well as a stop at the large Cai Rang Floating Market -- before returning to Saigon in the evening (around 7pm). These 2-day itineraries are jampacked, and you're always on the go by bus, boat, and foot.
3-Day Tour -- A 3-day tour expands on the 2-day itinerary to include far-flung Chau Doc, set on the Bassac River (a tributary of the Mekong) and one of my favorite little towns. Lots of travelers call this their last port of call in Vietnam and carry on into Cambodia by boat from here.
The first day basically mirrors the first day of the 2-day tour, but the morning of day 2 takes you to floating houses and ethnic Cham villages near Chau Doc. You'll then travel up little Sam Mountain, a little knob of a pilgrimage peak that gives you a great vantage over the wide, flat delta, and then you return to Can Tho for an overnight.
The morning of day 3 takes you to the Cai Rang Floating Market near Chau Doc (a bonus is that you'll be there early in the middle of the action), with stops at more local cottage-industry workshops before making your way back to Saigon in the evening.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.