Before leaving Vietnam for Cambodia, Rabi and I wanted to spend a few days exploring the Mekong Delta. Many day trips to the Delta are offered out of Bangkok, but we hoped to get a slightly more authentic experience by doing a DIY trip. Our first chosen destination was An Binh Island which is known for its known for its homestays. Definitely a tourist experience, but slightly more authentic than the posed photos with snakes and just-for-foreigners markets you’d get on a day tour. Homestays apparently used to be actual home stays where tourists could stay with families in their homes (duh) but now they are a little more formalized and hotel-like. We heard it was possible to still do a “real” homestay, but that was a matter of luck. Either way, it seemed like it could be a nice experience.
To get to An Binh we needed to take a bus to the city of Vinh Long and take a ferry over to the island. We called the hotline for Futa Bus, reserved two seats and showed up at the Futa Bus office the next morning an hour before our bus departure time. We had been instructed to get on a shuttle van that would take us to the big bus that would take us the rest of the way to Vinh Long (in classic “no less than 2 vehicles per journey” Vietnam fashion).
The Futa office was chaos. It was packed with people and each time a van pulled in it was Times Square at rush hour levels of pushing – but the people doing the pushing were all tiny grandmas so you felt a little weird as you pushed and shoved right back. Luckily, the man loading the buses took kindly to us and managed to blockade the ladies long enough for us to get on a van after a few had come and gone.
When we arrived in Vinh Long, Futa provided a free shuttle van (3rd vehicle, 4th if you count the taxi we took to the Futa office) that took us to the An Binh ferry. As we had been promised by other bloggers, as soon as we got out of the van we were approached by a woman asking if we needed a homestay. She texted my name to her brother on the island, told us to board the ferry without paying and he would find us on the other end.
Sure enough, there he was on the other side. He gave us a ride to the homestay which turned out to be Ngoc Phuong Homestay. For 250,000 dong per person a night ($11) we had a shared bathroom bungalow room, free use of bicycles and would be served a multi-course dinner that night. An Binh, like much of the Mekong, is covered in fruit orchards. The homestay property had fruit growing everywhere including pineapples, which I realized I had never seen growing before. There’s something amazing and hilarious about seeing a whole pineapple nestled into a big, leafy bush (not a euphemism).
We went out for a brief bike ride to explore the island and find food, but it was quite hot, so I ended up falling asleep for hours in a hammock when we got back. Tough life.
At dinner we were seated with a nice French couple and the courses just kept coming: Spring rolls, a whole fried fish, chicken… Each one was accompanied by garnishes of various fruits and vegetables carved into elaborate shapes and even scenes. Needless to say, I think we got our money’s worth.
The next morning we took out bikes again and explored the tiny roads crisscrossing the island taking in Mekong life. It was incredibly hot and incredibly beautiful. Alas, our day of relaxation was over and it was time to take the ferry back to catch a bus to our next destination in the Mekong Delta: Can Tho.