A guide to the Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Too many tourists think they can see enough of the Mekong Delta on a brief day-trip out of Ho Chi Minh City. There’s so much more than one pagoda and a floating market, though.
This region is home to unique ecosystems, as well as diverse communities unlike anywhere else in the world. It really does deserve more than an afternoon in your itinerary — and this guide will show you why.
What is the Mekong Delta?
The Mekong Delta is a network of distributaries in southwestern Vietnam, between Ho Chi Minh City and Cambodia. The river itself starts in the Himalayas and passes through China, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia before reaching Vietnam, which partly explains why the waters are so murky. More than half of Vietnam’s rice and fish comes from the delta region. It’s vital to the Vietnamese economy and diet.
Life in the area revolves around water, from the famous floating markets to the vast agricultural industries. An amazing variety of fruits, flowers and livestock grow in the region. The Mekong River Delta is the rice basket of Vietnam, providing the sustenance for millions.
The places to visit
For tourists, the Mekong Delta brings to mind floating markets and sampan rides through natural tunnels. Countless tour companies offer excursions into the region for tourists. Without a doubt, a day trip is better than not going at all, but we recommend you take some more time to visit as many of these places as you can.
We’ll start with the most visited city in the Mekong Delta. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tour groups come to this city every day. Besides their famous floating market, there are also some impressive pagodas and local orchards to visit. Most of the tourism in this city is packaged by the local tourism bureau. Don’t expect to find much off-the-beaten track kinds of experiences here, as the destinations are all designed for day trippers. It takes about two hours to get here from Ho Chi Minh City by bus.
Can Tho is the biggest city in the Mekong Delta region and home to the Cai Rang floating market, which really is an amazing sight. There are hundreds of boats packed with more varieties of fruits than you ever thought possible, and a dazzling assortment of flowers. Although Can Tho is a large, somewhat industrialized city, it also serves as the cultural center for the surrounding rural areas. The nice thing about this city is you can get the best of both worlds: comfortable accommodations in the city center, with easy day trips available to head out and see the picturesque agricultural communities. There aren’t the dance clubs and cocktail bars like those you’d find Ho Chi Minh City, but the nightlife is surprisingly vibrant. It takes approximately four hours to get to Can Tho from Ho Chi Minh City by bus.
Soc Trang is home to the largest population of Khmer people outside of Cambodia, which is why this city has an interesting cultural feel to it that’s different from the Vietnamese cities in the area. The best examples of Khmer culture are the Clay and Bat pagodas, both famous for their intricate designs. This city may not have many flashy things to do, but those who prefer a relaxed experience will enjoy the calm vibes here, especially in the rice paddies that surround the city. If you’re in the area around November or December, be sure to check out the Oc Om Boc festival.
Can Gio Biosphere Reserve
The Can Gio Biosphere Reserve is listed by UNESCO, valuable for its rich mangrove forests and wetland ecosystems. This biosphere reserve also helps to protect the region from corrosion. Without it, a lot of rich agricultural land would wash out to sea. There are many tours available to the biosphere reserve, and since it’s so near to Ho Chi Minh City, it makes for a great day trip — or a starting point for your trip through the Mekong River Delta.
If you plan on visiting Phu Quoc Island, which you really should, a trip to Rach Gia is the perfect way to get there. Several companies operate fast ferries out of Rach Gia, arriving at various spots around Phu Quoc. Another option is the town of Ha Tien, which is a little to the northwest from Rach Gia. Ferries leave from there as well — or you can cross into Cambodia. And if boats aren’t your thing, Rach Gia also has an airport with daily flights.
For those of you making your way between Vietnam and Cambodia, Chau Doc is an easy stop along the route. It’s known for its religious and ethnic diversity, which includes Khmer, Chinese, Cham and Vietnamese people. Like most of the Mekong Delta, the surrounding areas are lush with rice paddies and spectacular rural scenes. For a real treat, stay at the Victoria Nui Sam.