Ho Chi Minh City
Mekong Delta in Brief
THE MEKONG DELTA IN BRIEF
The Mekong Delta (in Vietnamese: “đồng bằng sông Cửu Long” (“Nine Dragon river delta”) is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southeastern Vietnam of 39,000 square kilometres. The size of the area covered by water depends on the season. The heart of the Mekong Delta are Can Tho, Vinh Long and Sa Dec Provinces, from where it is possible to reach the remotest confines of the delta, South towards the mangroves and the South China Sea, North towards Chau Doc, or West towards the island of Phu Quoc.
TheMekong Delta forms both the far southern region of Vietnam and one ofcountry's two main ricebowls. Dominated by the Mekong River and itsmany tributaries, the surrounding lands are comprised of low lying ricepaddies and the rivers are bordered by dense mangroves and palms. Thetributaries of the hectic Mekong River highway provide a comprehensivenetwork of canals and channels acting as on and off ramps to the mainthroughfare. For the independent traveller, these rivers andtributaries can be the best method to explore the Mekong Delta at aleisurely pace and offer the opportunity to experience the truly uniqueMekong River lifestyle.
Byembarking on a comprehensive exploration of the Delta, you will havethe opportunity to observe and participate in an extra dimension ofVietnamese life and culture. The attractions to this region of Vietnaminclude the way in which life exists around the comprehensive riversystem. However much you decide to explore, cruising up one of the manyriver, as the sun sets over the distant coconut trees, is a trulyremarkable experience that will stay with you forever.
An Giang Provinceis best-known for being home to pastel-painted Chau Doc, the closestlarge town to the Vietnamese/Cambodian border crossing on the MekongRiver. Wedged between the Cambodian frontier, Kien Giang and Can Thoprovinces to the south and Dong Thap province to the north, An Giang isa particularly riverine province, with both the Bassac and MekongRivers within its boundaries. The nondescript provincial capital LongXuyen lies around 50km southeast of the border with Cambodia. Sometravellers may find it convenient to pass through here for itstransportation connections but there are otherwise few other reasons tostay in the capital. Long Xuyen boasts a sprawling and ratherinteresting riverside market, a huge cathedral and a smattering ofcolonial relics, but is otherwise a nondescript spot. Few travellersand backpackers choose to stay here and it is easy to see why - mosthead here only to make a transport connection. Nevertheless ampleaccommodation aside from the dozen dodgy places outside town are onoffer and restaurants are scattered across town. The most interestingattraction in Long Xuyen town itself is the massive wet market thatruns along the river's edge to the east of the central pier, where youcould easily lose yourself for a couple of hours. From the pier, youcan also organise short boat trips into the surrounds, priced by thehour. You needn't look for a boatman or woman - they will find you.
Asidefrom the market and a boat trip, start planning your escape to a moreinteresting destination. Chau Doc sits at the junction of a tributarylinking the Bassac and Mekong Rivers and the Bassac River itself. Anincredibly friendly and bustling little city, Chau Doc has a colourscheme to match its ambience, with bright pastel hues of green, blueand purple adorning many of the newer shopfronts. If you're arrivinghere from Cambodia, be prepared for the shock into technicolourparadise. Chau Doc locals are known for being very warm andapproachable - even the xe dap loi drivers, as pestering as they are,are friendly. English is spoken in most of the foreigner - targetedguesthouses and hotels, and most restaurants have an English menu. Ahighlight of a visit to Chau Doc is a boat trip on one of the smallpaddle boats that collect near the western end of the park. For a fewdollars an hour they will paddle you around the many floating rafthouses and fish farms. Doing this at dawn can be very photogenic andrewarding. Chau Doc is also the closest large town to theVietnamese/Cambodian river border crossing. If you're heading to orfrom Phnom Penh by boat, you'll pass through Chau Doc, so try to allowfor an overnight stay.
Ben Tre Provinceis made up of three main islands wedged between the Tien Giang River tothe north and to Co Chien River to the south with the Ham Luong Riverrunning straight down the centre. All are effectively offshoots of theMekong River as it splits out into many fingers before spilling outinto the South China Sea. Famous for its coconut desserts, the provinceis suitably covered in coconut trees. During the war these coconuttrees were used to make coconut oil which was then used as a valuablesubstitute for kerosene.
Asfar as exploring the Delta is concerned, Ben Tre is a dead-endprovince. Once you have experienced all the province has to offer, youwill need to turn around and head back through My Tho to get anyfurther into the Delta. That is not to suggest it is not worth visiting- it is. For starters, you can do boat trips from here for a fractionof the price of a trip from My Tho (either organised through Ben TreTourist, or via the boatmen at the pier) and, with its large network ofminor canals, there is a lot of scope for riverine exploration. Thereis also a small museum and a pleasing riverfront worth investigating. BenTre is clean -- it's as if somewhere between the My Tho ferry crossingand downtown you pass through a cleanliness vortex - the roads arespotless, the pavements are tiled and smooth and there's little refuse- even in the market.
Can Tho Province sprawls westwards from the eponymous provincial capital along the southern bank of the Bassac (Hau)River -- the larger of the two branches of the Mekong River. Borderedto the west by An Giang and Tien Giang provinces, to the south by HauGiang and to the north, on the other side of the river, by Vinh Longand Dong Thap, Can Tho Province is one of the most popular Deltadestinations among travellers and tourists alike. The province isactually a municipality which was given provinical status when it wascarved out of the larger original province (also called Can Tho) in2004. The remainder forms the new province of Hau Giang which lies tothe south. This elevated status reflects Can Tho's importance in theregion, both as a trading and transportation hub and as home to theDelta's largest city. Home to over a million people, Can Tho Cityis the logical hub for anyone planning on exploring the province. Witha wealth of hotels and guesthouses, a very well developed andaffordable tourism infrastructure, a healthy supply of eateries and aselection of interesting floating markets within easy reach, it reallyis difficult to fault - if you've got time for just one destination in the Delta, this is where you should be heading.
The Delta is often refered to as Vietnam's rice basket,and Can Tho Province, with its tremendously fertile soil is one of thelargest producers in the region. Aside from rice, it also grows massesof fruit from its many orchards and farms and it's these goods whichtourists flock to see in the floating markets dotted around the capital.
Mekong Delta's Style Boat
Themain reason visitors come to Can Tho is to tour the nearby floatingmarkets. While these are highly recommended, the riverfront promenadeitself is also pleasant with some good places to eat and relax in. Thecity has a good range of accommodation from cheap backpacker hauntsright through to comfortable mid-range digs and its urbane atmospherecontrasts to the more rural feel of the towns further out in the Delta.
The large, curving province ofKien Giangis wedged between the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia and the rest of theMekong Delta. Best known for the magnificent Phu Quoc Island, KienGiang Province has some engaging towns and a few good stretches beachesas well. Aside from Phu Quoc, the province also has beaches and cavesaround Ha Tien and Hon Chong - the landscape is not unlike that around Ninh Binh in northern Vietnam with limestone outcrops. The provincial capital, Rach Gia,is a bustling little seaport town with some fine eating, good hotelsand lots of friendly people. It's an interesting region, where Vietnamalmost seems to merge with Cambodia - a few days of relaxed travellingthroughout the province will show you an unusual side of the countrythat almost no tourists get to see.
Tien Giang Provinceis the closest Mekong Delta province to Saigon and is a very populardestination for organised tours out of Saigon. The provincial capitalsits on the northern bank of the Mekong River and has a number ofoffshore islands that can be visited. Most tours throughout Tien GiangProvince run in boats that seat 20-plus people and while such numbersbring costs down to a more reasonable level. If you are interested inexploring riverine life, you can head further south to Can Tho or westto Chau Doc, where prices far more reasonable and well-tailored toindependent travellers.
Tra Vinhis a very pretty little provincial capital. A hodgepodge of colonialshopfronts face onto broad, tree-lined streets clustered around a finelittle market and while very few people speak English, there iscertainly no shortage of smiles - Tra Vinh may be well off the touristtrail, but it is an amazingly friendly place. The province hasa large ethnicly Khmer population and the area immediately around themarket feels (and looks) particularly Khmer - first impressions broughtTachmau or Takeo to mind. This Khmer influence is more obvioulsy seenin the pagoda's that litter both the town and the province. Unlikemany Mekong Delta cities, Tra Vinh sits on the bank of a small festycanal rather than a large river, so there's not quite the scope forboat trips that there is in other regional cities, and smiling facesand Khmer pagodas aside, the town isn't exactly bursting at the seemswith textbook attractions.
The small and roughly oblong-shaped province of Vinh Longsits on a long drawn-out Delta island, with the Tien Giang Riverrunning along its northern border and the Hau Giang River running toits south. Tra Vinh sits to the east, serving as buffer to the SouthChina Sea and Sa Dec borders to the west. Best known for the floatingmarket at Cai Be (which is actually in Tien Giangprovince, but covered here as it is most often visited from Vinh Long)and the Mekong Delta homestays that can organised from here, Vinh LongProvince sees a trickle of travellers passing through, but only afraction choose to stay overnight at the same-named provincial capital.
Sa Decis another of the main cities on the delta. The town has lost part ofits character since the capital of the province of Dong Thap was movedto Cao Lanh. Formerly the town of Sa Dec was the center of the Chan Lapcivilization. Currently people of Vietnamese, Chinese, Khmer and Chamorigin live in the area.
Panorama of Phu Quoc Island
Youcan also finish your Mekong Delta tour in Rach Gia, the City of KienGiang Province. From there, you can take a fast ferry, or a plane, tothe paradisiacal island of Phu Quoc. Phu Quoc Island is also known asthe Emerald Island because of its tourism potential. Until recently,this was a fishing island known only among Vietnamese for its fishsauce. The color of the waters, the soft sand beaches, the landscapesand the sunsets in Phu Quoc are spectacular. The island of Phu Quoc hasa triangular form. Although tourism is developing fast, this is still afishing island. Every day, you can see fishermen going to the sea firstthing in the morning. In the afternoon, they come back, most of thetimes with their nets full. Thanks to the island's warm weather, youcan swim all day (and all night) long. Specially recommended is a swimduring sun set. Can you imagine what it is like to swim in these goldenwaters?
Itis believed that the unique beauty of the Mekong Delta’s landscapes andits weather will draw thousands of visitors in the future...