Fruitpicking, fishcatching and floating market tours are becoming more popular for domestic and international tourists to My Tho City and Cai Be Commune of Tien Giang Province, about 100km and 70km, respectively, west of HCM City.
The tours start by bus from HCM City and take an estimated two hours to Cai Be and an hour and a half to My Tho. At the destinations, tourists then board boats to continue their tours.
The prices for the tours range from VND143,000 (US$9) to VND240,000 ($14) per person and are offered by tourist agencies such as Ben Thanh, Thanh Nien or the Viet Nam Petro Tourist and Service Company.
During the tours in My Tho, visitors can sail by boats along small channels, visit gardens and taste special fresh fruits.
Tourists also catch the fish by removing water from the channels with long-handled buckets, and when the channel is dry they can catch the fish flapping around on the muddy channel bed.
“What a wonderful trip,” said Ngoc Mai, a member of a tourist group. She said she enjoyed catching the fish and then eating them right then and there.
On one tour, unlike the young tourists who gathered by the channels, middle-aged visitors walked in the garden and picked fruit.
These kinds of tours are especially interesting for foreigners.
Davis Thompson, 25, a Swedish visitor, said the trip was eco-tourism.
“It is an effective stress-release method,” the young man commented.
A group of tourists with muddied hands were scooping up the fish, which they then grilled on a bed of straw. After the fish was ready, tourists started to serve themselves the food and some rice wine while listening to cai luong or reformed opera. They ate on a large nylon sheet spread on the ground in the shadow of a longan tree.
Meanwhile, the host family of the trip, Hai Hong, showed off her garden-based tourism programme, for people who did not want to fish.
After leaving the gardens, the tourists continue their journey by sailing along small and entangled channels, visiting a bee breeding farm, drinking tea mixed with honey, or tasting sweet maize, cakes and dried bananas.
When it was over, the 12-hour tour seemed to go by so fast, all the tourists hopefully returned home to begin a new workday refreshed and revived.
Unlike tours in My Tho, those who travel with the Cai Be Trade and Service Limited Company are able to visit the Cai Be floating market. They can also visit southern style ancient houses, Vinh Long bonsai gardens, and ovens that produce special local cakes such as banh trang (rice paper) or com (young green rice).
“I would love to know what river travel looks like in Viet Nam and to come to the origin of Tien Giang fruit country,” said Alexandre Besrier, a French tourist visiting the Cai Be floating market and Ba Kiet ancient house.
Cai Be Commune is a wholesale market that distributes fruits to Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta provinces and other regions.
Cai Be has seven households that specialise in tourism services, including Hai Nghiep. Nghiep, who owns a 1ha garden with 15 types of special fruits, said he earned hundreds millions of Dong from selling fruit and tens of millions Dong thanks to the tourism business.
Indeed, according to Tong Van Be Hai, secretary of the Cai Be Party Committee, development of the tourism services is becoming a strength of his commune. Hai revealed turnover from trade and services, including tourism in Cai Be, increased 12.5 per cent last year from 2003.
Nguyen Van Vung, deputy chairman of My Tho People’s Committee agreed, saying turnover from tourism has contributed from 5-10 per cent to the local budget over last ten years.
“About 10-11 per cent of My Tho 180,000 population are involved in tourism,” the chairman revealed. The city, according to Vung, is planning to invest more to further develop its tours.
Last year, the Cai Be tours attracted an estimated 22,000 tourists with 70 per cent of them being foreigners, said Doan Thanh Liem, chairman of the commune People’s Committee.
Liem said his commune would invest in building a station at an estimated cost of VND200 million (US$127,000) to serve their visitors.
“We expect a homestay tourist service will be approved and licensed,” Liem said.
Pham Truong Giang, from the Cai Be Trade and Service Limited Company, said many of his foreign tourists would love to join the homestay service very much because it helps them grasp cultural customs of Asian people.