The Mekong Delta in Vietnam has long had a good reputation for gentle rivers winding through peaceful villages and reflecting lush green tree lines. The mighty Mekong Rivers has brought this area a lot of benefits, including agricultural profits and tourism potential. When coming to visit this region, taking part in an eco tour to Tan Phong island is surely a memorable experience in your discovery journey in Tien Giang, Vietnam.
I. Highlights of Tan Phong Island
This 2430-hectares island is situated in Cai Lay District, Tien Giang Province, a center of tropical fruits in Vietnam, on the right bank of Cai Be floating market . Located in Tien River, a tributary of the massive Mekong River, Tan Phong Island converges all the tourism resources, with immense and fertile orchards, exclusive floating market, tottery bamboo bridges across narrow canals and simple life of the local residents.
As written in historical documents of Tien Giang Province, no one knows when Tan Phong Island was formed, but when the Vietnamese ancestors came to this island to explore and establish the authority, this island was named Tan Cu Binh An Hamlet (a new peaceful hamlet). At that time, Tan Phong Island also had another name, Cu Island.
Nowadays, Tan Phong has a total seven hamlets with the interlacing canal network, which is divided into many dunes with the unique names like Con Trich, Con Tre, Con Ngam, Con Bau and Con Ca Ngat. In the past, the moving of people there had to deal with many difficulties, and they had to travel in dinghies, boats and primitive ferries. Thanks to the concrete bridges connecting the banks, traveling at present is much more convenient.
Although Tan Phong Island is invested more to develop tourism to attract more and more visitors, the island on Tien River still preserves almost all the simple but appealing traits of a Southwest riverside landscape. Wherever you go on this island, you can see the main color of green, from the trees in brilliant green, the canals with an emerald green color to quickset hedges.
II. What to Do in Tan Phong Island?
1. Visiting fruitful orchards
As soon as you set foot on Tan Phong Island, you will immediately feel the green space of orchards here. Walking along the one-meter-wide road, the only road leading to the center of this island, you will have an opportunity to admire the deep red bunches of rambutan, gardens full of jackfruits and the sweet smell of longans spreading in the wind.
Among a variety of fruits in Tan Phong Island, rambutan is supposed to be the most outstanding specialty there, which not only brings the locals economic benefits but also enchants all the visitors to this kingdom of fruit in Mekong Delta. Rambutan here has thick pulp, sweet and crunchy taste. The main crop of rambutan is from June to July, also the high season of tourism in Southwestern region, so a lot of tourists choose Tan Phong Island to stop on discovering the Mekong Delta.
2. Mekong Ecolodge
Mekong Ecolodge is a complex of bungalows and the surrounding ecotourism area. There are 13 bungalows, all of which are made of rustic and natural materials such as thatched roof, bamboo furniture and wooden pillar. Each bungalow here is designed according to the local’s house architecture, with a small yard and garden, open space overlooking nature, which is imbued with specific cultural traits of Mekong Delta.
Staying at Mekong Ecolodge means living in a completely different world, which is far from the noise and tiredness of cities, where you can enjoy the fresh air, tranquil space and unspoiled nature. The absence of other modern recreation as well as technological facilities will help you really get back to nature to feel every relaxing moment of life in Tan Phong Island.
3. Experiencing the daily life of the locals
Besides sightseeing, it is a disadvantage if you come to Tan Phong Island without spending a day as the local residents here. The eco tour in Tan Phong Island offers you a wide range of activities such as catching fish on irrigation canals, harvesting fruits, visiting lingzhi mushroom farm, experiencing a bee-keeping farm and enjoying honey tea.
Moreover, if you are interested in local handicrafts, you can learn how to make these products with the guidance of local craftsmen. The handicrafts that you can make include conical, hammock, common water hyacinth products such as handbags, hats, jars and baskets. Besides, you will also be taught to make specialties of Mekong Delta such as “banh uot”, “banh re” and “banh la mit” (three kinds of pastry).
There is another favorite activity of both locals and tourists in Tan Phong Island, river-swimming, or “tam con”. After a burning summer day, what would be more thrilling than immersing yourself in the cool water from the Mekong Delta, let the gentle waves embrace your body and the river ease your mind. That is exactly the moment when all your exhaustion goes with the wind, all you feel is the peace in your soul.
4. Boating around to visit Cai Be Floating Market
Cai Be Floating Market in Tien Giang is one of the most impressive markets in the Mekong Delta, where boats from all over the delta come to trade commodities. This place still retains the traditional characteristics of the river domain in South Vietnam with junks full of fruits and hospitable people with cheerful smiles on their faces. Every boat here has a pole hanging on a board so that tourists can easily see the products.
Today, due to the needs of tourists, Cai Be Floating Market not only sells fruits and agricultural products, but also plenty of dishes. The small dinghies weaving in and out the fruit boats mainly sell beverages and breakfast for shoppers. In this market, you will get a good chance to experience the unique local culture when sipping a cup of coffee, enjoying a bowl of beef noodles or chicken porridge.
III. What to Eat on Tan Phong Island?
1. Rice snails (Ốc Gạo)
Tan Phong Island is favored by nature with a unique specialty that you cannot find anywhere else – Ốc Gạo (rice snails). Thanks to the alluvial soil of the Mekong River, the snails here have turquoise shells, the meat inside is sweet-tasty, greasy and crunchy. Rice snails appear most in Tan Phong Island from May to June, when you can catch the sight of snail-catching boats in hustle on Tien River.
There are many methods of processing rice snails in Tan Phong, but the most popular way is boiling. Boiled snails dipped in hot, sour, sweet fish sauce made of chili pepper, sugar, lime and ginger will definitely make you amused for the first try. Besides, rice snails can be used to make porridge, stir-fried snails, roasted snails and stewed snails; all these dishes are delicious with long-lasting impressions.
2. Noodle Soup (Hủ tiếu)
Although many other provinces in the Mekong Delta also have hu tieu as a specialty, hu tieu in Tien Giang is one of the must-eat dishes when coming to this landscape. Hu tieu there has small, white, dry and crunchy noodles. The topping of hu tieu includes pork, shrimp, squid, chicken, pig’s heart and pig’s tripe. Depending on your preferences, you can add some pickled vegetables such as lettuce, chive, coriander, basil and bean sprouts.
What makes the difference of hu tieu there is the broth. The broth of hu tieu in Tien Giang is made from pig bones, added a little salty taste of dried shrimp, grilled squid and radish. All these ingredients are stewed for long hours in order to get the most delicious and strong flavor.
3. Snakehead fish (Cá đầu rắn)
Snakehead fish is an available ingredient in Tien Giang, from which people here can make a number of mouth-watering dishes, including snakehead fish porridge with knotgrass and grilled snakehead fish.
Snakehead fish porridge with knotgrass is made of roasted rice and snakehead fish, added with some spices to be more flavorful. Knotgrass at first has a bitter taste but later you will feel the sweetness in your throat. Thanks to the nutritious components, snakehead fish porridge appears in the daily meals of Tien Giang people and even in luxurious restaurants.
Along with snakehead fish porridge, grilled fish is also an impressive dish that you should not miss. Not grilled on charcoal fire as other dishes, grilled snakehead is burned with straw. After the straw burns out and the fish is fully cooked, this dish is put on banana leaves, served with banana flower slices, water lily, green onions and lettuces and dipped in chili fish sauce.
4. Shrimp paste
Many tourists coming to Vietnam cannot eat shrimp paste because of its strong smell, but for those who can eat this type of sauce, they will become addicted to shrimp paste. In the past, for a long time, people in Tien Giang offered king shrimp paste.
People here often eat shrimp sauce with rice noodles, rice paper and boiled meat. Lean and fat meat, along with pickled vegetables, green bananas, cucumber, star fruits, is wrapped in rice paper and dipped into shrimp paste, which for sure is a unique experience that you can only have in Tien Giang.
IV. How to Get to Tan Phong Island?
Located in Tien Giang Province, which is about 105 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, you can reach Tan Phong Island by car in about three hours. Departing from Ho Chi Minh City, you get to Cai Lay Town in Tien Giang, then follow Highway 875B to Hiep Duc – Tan Phong Ferry, and you will get to Tan Phong Island in five minutes.
Besides, from the center city of Mekong Delta, Can Tho, you can also get to Tan Phong Island at a distance of 75 kilometers. On this way, you can contemplate My Thuan Bridge, the first bridge crossing Mekong River and also the longest cable-stayed bridge in Vietnam.
Nowadays, there are four ferries to get to Tan Phong Island, so your traveling is much more convenient, so you can choose the best way that is suitable for your itinerary.
V. Tips on Visiting
The best time to visit Tan Phong Island as well as the Mekong Delta is in summer, from May to September.
In general, the weather in the Mekong Delta is sunny all year round, so whenever you go, you should prepare a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen to protect your skin.
In Tan Phong Island, you can hire a bike to cycle around in Mekong Ecolodge.
Due to the location which is far from the major city, going on a tour with a tour guide would be a good idea.
You can combine your trip to Tan Phong Island with other nearby places of interest to experience more in the Mekong Delta.
Thanks to the tourism potential and captivating natural scenery, Tan Phong Island has impressed both domestic and international tourists. As an attractive eco tourism destination in Mekong Delta, Tan Phong Island is worth your visit at least once when exploring the nature and humans of Vietnam in general and Southwest region in particular.