If you live in Saigon, or are travelling around Vietnam, the big cities aren’t the only things worth seeing. It’s really Vietnam’s vast countryside, like what you’ll find in the Mekong Delta, that gives you a true impression the country. Cai Be, just a few hours southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, gives you the perfect opportunity to take a quick weekend getaway.
Along with Ben Tre and My Tho, Cai Be is a charming small town in the south sitting picturesquely alongside the mighty Mekong River. If it’s your first trip to Cai Be, you should definitely take the almost mandatory tour of the floating markets and coconut candy factory, or you can make your day loose and easy with a leisurely bike ride along the small residential roads. Here’s your guide to Cai Be to help you can make the most out of your trip.
First order of business: relax. The warm and friendly people of the Mekong Delta have perfected the art of enjoying life, which is seen in the proliferation of hammock cafes dotting the roadside, and the abundance of fresh fruit in markets wherever you turn. Embrace it! Sit down and eat a pomelo.
Depending on where you’re staying, your homestay or hotel will probably have a list of activities you can choose from. At the Mekong Riverside Resort, they were plentiful.
Kayaking and Canalling
While kayaking in the Mekong River itself would be terrifying due to workboats constantly roaring up and down the waterway, my friend and I kayaked around our resort’s large garden pond. It didn’t go anywhere, but was still pretty fun.
If you want to venture into more narrow bodies of water, you can always sign up for one of the many canal tours. Done in wooden sampan boats and adeptly steered by riverside denizens, travellers can see small canals and rivulets you’d never be able to explore with a larger vessel. Plus, you always get to wear a nón lá when you take one of these tours, which adds enjoyment for everyone involved.
You’ll probably be offered boat tours more than once when you travel through the Mekong Delta. Sure, they’re touristy, but also fun, and you can learn a lot about daily life here—especially if it’s your first trip to the region.
The go-to sites for a Cai Be boat tour include: a trip to the floating market (which opens very early, so be prepared to leave before sunrise if you want to partake in this), a tour of a coconut candy factory (these are also great places to stock up on snake-infused rice wine, if this is your drink of choice), and a rustic, local-style lunch at a nicer restaurant in the area. Definitely check these out if you’re travelling with a group or with your family.
Different tourism agencies offer varying prices and tour quality, but your best bet will be asking the proprietors of your hotel or homestay for advice. The Mekong Riverside, where we stayed, offered two different tours: the floating market and island tour, and the floating market, ancient house and island tour.
This is a favourite thing to do in the Mekong Delta. While biking or driving a scooter only induces panic and stress in Vietnam’s big cities, the bicycle is actually enjoyable in Vietnam’s small towns. Be sure to pin your hotel or homestay’s location on your map when you embark on your journey: there are a lot of twists and turns to these roads that could get you confused.
If you take a ferry to another island, don’t be worried if your Google Maps feature just shows a block of green, without mapping any actual roads. Just learn or write down the phrase “Phà ở đâu?” (Where is the ferry?) Show someone this and give them the name and address of your accommodation; that will probably get you where you need to be.
Relax at the Pool and Spa
I’m not sure if you can do this everywhere in Cai Be, but my friend and I got to indulge in some serious relaxation at the Mekong Riverside Resort. My friend luxuriated in a foot massage (VND200,000) by the resort’s professional masseuse while I, too ticklish for such things, found my inner peace in the warm-yet-refreshing swimming pool. Be warned: the sun and the mosquitos are both fierce here. It’s best to bring the resort’s complimentary bottle of mosquito repellent, along with some sunscreen, with you at all times.
What to Eat in Cai Be
Here you’ll find some of the best of Southern Vietnamese cooking. When my friend and I had our dinner at the Mekong Riverside Resort, we got a tour of the region’s different culinary options. We enjoyed crispy and beautifully fried Elephant Ear Fish (Gourami), displayed majestically on wooden holders. A server helped us take the meat from the body, which we rolled into fresh spring rolls and enjoyed with the traditional fish-sauce-and-chilli combo. So good.
Another highlight you have to check out: the enormous bánh xèo. Depending where you travel in Vietnam, the size of bánh xèo differ, but in the south, they’re usually huge and filling. Filled with pork, shrimp and coconut meat, this saffron-infused pancake is served alongside a veritable mountain of fresh Vietnamese greens. At the Mekong Riverside, most of these were grown on the property, completely organically. This dish was the perfect marriage between fresh and decadent.
If you’re in Cai Be and staying elsewhere, you can still check out the Mekong Riverside Resort for lunch or dinner. Or, if you want to venture out and see what some other local restaurants have to offer, here’s a list of some well-regarded houses of culinary delights.
Le Longanier (49 Hamlet 5, Phu An Village)
Quiet and peaceful, good food is served in a jungle setting.
Mr. Kiet’s Historic House (1924 Phu Hoa Village)
Quaint, charming, local and very remote. A few river tours, including the ones at our hotel, partner with Mr. Kiet’s. Plus, the house itself is an attraction. At around 200 years old, it’s one of the oldest preserved buildings in Cai Be.
Around 113 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City, you can get to Cai Be a few different ways: motorbike, bus or car. When we went, we chose the motorbike option, which took around 3.5 hours. Google Maps was not incredibly helpful when picking a route. Many of the roads it chose for us were expressways for cars and trucks—no motorbikes allowed. Luckily, there was usually someone at the traffic booth who could show us alternate routes on a map or phone.
If you’re not comfortable with this, or don’t want to go through the hassle, it might be easier to book a ticket for Can Tho with Phuong Trang. Just make sure that both the ticket salesperson and the driver know that you want to get off in Cai Be. You don’t want to miss your stop.