Water Buffalo Tours – a MUST for Mekong Tours in Vietnam
Buffalo Tours – 2 day 1 night Mekong Delta Tour & Cu Chi Tunnels
One thing we look for when booking our tours is privately tours run by locals – there is nothing worse in my opinion than sitting on a shuttle bus with 30 other tourists all cramming on and off the bus, and only going to the typical tourist spots. We wanted an authentic, locally run tour where it was just our family and we weren't inconveniencing others when we have to stop for yet another toilet break and can do things at our own pace. After all three kids makes it a little bit of a challenge at times!
We found Water Buffalo Tours on tripadvisor and the reviews were all fantastic so we contacted them and were given a few different tour options. We decided to go with a 2 day 1 night tour of the Mekong Delta and a half day tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels. Here is our review.
We were picked up at 7.30 am by our guide named Quang and told a little bit about our itinerary and what to expect. Quang spoke fluent English and was very knowledgeable with a great sense of humour, and we knew straight away we were going to have a great couple of days!
Our first stop was a local market, not frequently visited by tourists. We wandered through and saw everything from baby chickens, frogs, fish and eels being sold , lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. My little one got a tad overwhelmed at everyone touching him as it wasn’t very often they saw tourists and my little animal activist didn’t enjoy all the animals being tied together and in cages but it was definitely an eye opener. We purchased some bananas and traditional Vietnamese hats, and the fruit was beautiful and fresh.
Next we went to a local furniture making factory where we watched the process of inlaying mother of pearls in the stencilled woodwork on cabinetry. Very interesting to see how it’s done and the end pieces were just beautiful. These items are generally purchased as a sign of wealth, as one cabinet can cost up to $10,000!
We were lucky enough to be taken to our guides mothers house, where we all jumped on scooters to take a tour of his home village. This was something I have always wanted my kids to experience – a local village so they can see the way of life for the children in these villages. We went to our guides Uncles house where we fed baby goats, toured their traditional houses and learnt a bit about their way of life. I think the biggest eye opener for my kids was the difference in housing to Australians.
Scooters have always been a fear of mine after seeing how many tourists are injured in Bali, but myself and my little one felt so safe with our guide and he took it nice and slow so we could enjoy the countryside. Jay my 3 year old said it was so so good and wanted to go again! Along the tour through the village we saw water buffalos, chilli and coriander (my favourite!!) farms, and met local children washing their own clothes (another thing my kids found fascinating!).
Afterwards we headed back to Quang's mums houses for fresh sugar cane juice and fruit which was nice and refreshing after riding around in the heat.
Lunch was served at a little restaurant on the beach (not a swimmable beach) where we enjoyed garlic rice, pork, seafood, soup , fruit and drinks. All the food was lovely and fresh and he had pre warned the restaurant about Alysse’s severe peanut allergy before we arrived. I had told him earlier that I don’t eat seafood so he had stopped at a roadside stall and bought some beautiful roast pork to dish up with lunch aswell as fresh fruit for dessert. This is another reason why I highly recommend this tour and our guide, Quang went above and beyond to ensure we were all happy and full.
We stopped at a beautiful temple, a religion with a very small population and watched a prayer service. The temple was beautiful, so colourful and adorned with dragons and buddhas.
Next stop was the beautiful Mekong Delta - We boarded a boat big enough for us all and headed down the large section of the Mekong where we were told lots of information about life on the Delta. Afterwards we were transferred to a smaller boat so we could explore smaller channels of the river. It was absolutely beautiful and so quiet. Such a stunning area!
The rest of the trip was to our hotel in the Mekong, called the West. We were booked in two rooms for us and one for my parents, having the kids in interconnecting rooms was fantastic and the rooms were lovely. The hotel is on a busy street full of fruit and vegetable stalls, fresh seafood and more so it was a great lively spot.
Our day started early – pick up at 5.30am for a cruise down the floating markets. As much as it was a struggle to get up that early with the kids, it was well worth it. It made for a beautiful sunrise on the water and the markets were nice and quiet without boats full of tourists. We visited a small market first, and stopped for tea and coffee in a little hut overlooking the markets. After we were taken down a different section of the Mekong River, a section which seemed to be off the regular tourist route as we were the only boat around. We winded down the jungle, watching the locals wash their clothes on the banks of the river and learnt a bit more about their way of life from our guide along the way. We arrived at the main and biggest floating market in the Mekong, which was where the bigger boats go to sell their products. One thing that interested me was the boats all had a long stick with whatever product they were selling on the end, so people knew what they were selling before they got to them. We saw some with just watermelon, some with garlic shallots and potatoes. One even had a floating 7/11 selling everything from cooking oil to soap. It was an amazing experience, most would come in and buy wholesale to take back to their own villages to sell. The kids found it so interesting and loved guessing what each boat was selling.
We headed back to the hotel for breakfast around 8.30am and had a little time to spare before being picked up again at 10am to checkout and continue on. The beauty of travelling with this company is they take you down a different highway from the usual tourist buses, off the beaten track with the most incredible scenery . We stopped at some amazingly green rice paddies and met the owner of the field who explained that they were harvesting sticky rice. Watching these farmers hand cutting the rice in the full heat left us in awe of how hard they work!
Lunch was served at another local spot, and included rice, seafood, soup and pork dishes. I had pre planned and purchased the kids some rolls and snacks in case they didn’t like the food on offer, so besides a bit of steamed rice they just had what I packed.
We arrived back at the hotel around 3pm, all exhausted but so grateful for an amazing two days exploring the Mekong Delta, which had been on our bucket list for a long time.
Cu Chi Tunnels
We added in a half day trip to the tunnels with the same company, so the following day we were picked up at 7.30am, by our guide named Jerry and our driver (Tom). On the way to the tunnels we were given a lot of information on Saigon, and the Cu Chi Tunnels which was very informative. Jerry is from the Mekong Delta but had been living in Saigon for a few years, so it was nice to hear first hand his experiences with both places.
The owner of Water Buffalo Tours, Khoi (who is Quangs older brother) met us at the tunnels and would be the one taking us on the tour. As soon as we met him we knew he would be a great guide and have a wealth of knowledge.
We first watched a brief old fashion clip on the history of the tunnels and the war. After we were shown the small hatches they would enter and pop up through to kill their enemy, and the home made booby traps they made to wound enemy soldiers. The kids found this a big hit, and they took everything in as they spoke about why they used these things.
Once we got to the main tunnels, I decided to stay out with my three year old as I knew he wouldn’t enjoy the dark cramped space. (Suits me as I’m very claustrophobic!) The older kids went in and were given options as they went to get out if they didn’t like it. Alysse made it through one tunnel but hated every minute so opted to stay out of the next. Shane and Max were the only ones that did all the tunnels, and both came out sweating and puffing from crawling in the hot clammy air!
We enjoyed some refreshments at the end and had time to sit and learn more about our guide. He was born in bomb shelters in the Mekong and his own family village was in the firing area, so he has lots of memories of the war. It’s hard to imagine whole families living in these tunnels, and whether their anxiety of small spaces ever got the better of them – I’m not sure how I could cope, but when the other option is death, I suppose you do what you have to!
This company operates by word of mouth and is no doubt very successful. Having an authentic, locally and family run tour is so important to us and we were beyond happy with our few days with Water Buffalo Tours. I cannot recommend them enough for anyone visiting Saigon and the Mekong Delta – especially with kids as they really went above and beyond for us all.
You can find their details here: