Rather than catch a five- or six-hour bus ride to the city of Can Tho in the heart of the Mekong Delta, there is a boat that leaves from the Ho Chi Minh City river terminal on Ton Duc Thang Avenue.
Only one boat leaves per day at 8 a.m. arriving at 11:30 a.m., with a return trip that leaves at 1 p.m. The cost is VND200,000 (US$12.5) each way.
It seats about 50 passengers and there’s a covered open air deck in the rear.
It’s comfortable, fast and travels through some beautiful parts of the Mekong Delta.
As soon as she leaves the dock, the engines power and the bow of the boat lifts out of the water and races down the wide open highway of the Saigon River.
The first stage of the journey through Saigon Port gives a perspective of Vietnam’s manufacturing and export industry – cranes and cargo nets swinging, shirtless dock workers tossing sacks of rice into ships’ holds.
The river then opens out into unprotected waters; the heavy river traffic runs with the tide – container ships, plenty of dredges and wooden boats with red eyes painted on the bow and a multitude of sand barges pulled or pushed by wooden tugs.
Then the boat turns from the Saigon River and enters the maze of waterways that make up the delta.
In one word it is beautiful.
The captain navigates the tributaries at full throttle, spray flying past the windows.
The life of Vietnam is its rivers and the Mekong Delta is mighty.
Emerald green forests of palm trees wall up on both sides, punctuated by industry, towns and villages; thatched huts seemingly tucked out of the twenty first century’s reach and monolithic electricity towers slinging power cables a mile at a throw.
Shipping is everywhere from the very big steel-hull barges to the single man in his canoe unhurriedly paddling to get out of the ferry’s way.
Near Can Tho the construction of the two pillars of the ill-fated Can Tho Bridge can be seen in the distance.
And before you know it you are docking in the hub of Vietnam’s rice basket, a much slower pace city than the bustle of HCMC.