Mekong Delta and Cao Dai Temple

Travel period May 2015

The Mekong Delta

After a long 2-hour car ride from Ho Chi Minh City, we made it to My Tho. This small city of around a quarter of a million residents thrives on small-town charm. In the past, this town, located in the northern region of the Mekong Delta, was considered a gateway into the southern lands and rivers. The economy here is largely built around fishing and agriculture.

My Tho

Unicorn Island – Honey Tasting and Traditional Vietnamese Singing

Our guide gave us a short geographical lesson, before we boarded a small boat that took us to Unicorn Island, named after a Chinese mythological figure.

After we got off the boat, we sat down at various tables and were served a honey tea, as there is a bee farm in the area. Bee pollen might be the newest health fad to hit the western world, but here in the backwaters of Vietnam, it is generously spooned into every cup of tea. We sipped on the tea and munched on the accompanying candied ginger, banana chips, and peanut bars as we observed the ritual being repeated for dozens of tourists around us.

While the tea and honey were good, there was obviously a bit of a catch; they wanted you to buy the honey. We then walked over to a sitting area, where fruit and tea were provided while a group of local Vietnamese musicians and singers, played traditional songs that are only performed in this area of Vietnam.

Sampan Ride Through the Canals

We then walked to where we were taken on a small paddle boat (sampan) ride along the canals. We stepped into our boat tentatively, but started enjoying the ride almost as soon as our boat started making its way past lush palm trees and stunning green foliage; this was peaceful and enjoyable. The ride lasted about 15 minutes and took us back to our main tour boat, where we then set off to Ben Tre Province.

Ben Tre Province – Coconut Candy

Ben Tre Island boasts over 45,000 hectares of coconut trees, so make sure you carry an insect repellent spray. We visited a local coconut factory and tried our hand at making coconut candy. These coconut candies are made predominately in Ben Tre Province, giving this area the nickname of “Land of Coconut” by the Vietnamese. While there, we were able to watch how the candy was made, how it was packaged, and you could buy the coconut candy that came in a variety of flavors: chocolate, peanut butter, plain, etc. The candies themselves are chewy and are actually quite tasty.

Phoenix Island – Lunch

Back on the boat, we made our way to Phoenix Island where we ate lunch. Lunch comprised fried fish, scrumptious Pho, and Vietnamese rice-paper spring rolls, though if you wanted to order certain special delicacies or drink anything, you had to pay extra for that. Once we were suitably stuffed, we made our way to Cao Dai Temple.

Cao Dai Temple

The Cao Dai religion (Caodaism) is unique to southern Vietnam and was established in 1926, this temple was built by the French around that time. It’s something completely different and rather mysterious. Cao Dai blends Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism, and Islam. It is the 3rd largest religion in Vietnam and the temple we visited was absolutely stunning.

The exterior and interior of the Cao Dai Temple are both extravagantly decorated, incorporating symbols, abstract designs, and images of saints. The high ceiling is painted sky-blue with fluffy clouds and the floor tiles have busy patterns. The dragon-encrusted columns that run the length of the nave number 28, representing the 28 manifestations of the Buddha. Seven-headed cobras represent the seven human emotions.

Watching Caodaists pray is one of the major highlights when visiting the temple, as they dress in long flowing robes of white for lay followers, yellow, blue or red for priests, while bishops have the Divine Eye embroidered on their headpieces. Unfortunately, we did not get to watch the ceremony, as we arrived 10 minutes later after the ceremony finished.

Day trips such as this are bound to feel ‘touristy’, but one look at the brightly-colored boats bobbing along the calm waters of the Mekong made us fascinated with the river.


  • A day trip to the Mekong Delta is the great way of getting a taste of the Vietnamese countryside if you have one day to spare
  • We booked our day trip to the Mekong Delta and Cao Dai Temple through one of the local travel agents not far from our hotel – there were many local travel agents located on District 1. Be sure to shop around as price is very competitive (bargaining is necessary)
  • The tour costs anywhere between $35-50/person, with transportation, English-speaking tour guide, lunch and entrance fee included
  • We opted for a private tour – this gave us the flexibility of customizing the tour according to our taste. Moreover, this ensured we did not feel rushed at any time

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