Like all river deltas, it receives the bounty of the siltation from the upper Mekong, and as such is a very rich and lush area, covered with rice fields. It produces about half of the total of Vietnam's agricultural output (in fact, the delta produces more rice than Korea and Japan combined), and is the place for timeless views of farmers planting or harvesting rice. It was the scene of vicious fighting during what the Americans call the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese call the American War, but with the country at peace for several decades now, it recovered its previous position as the country's rice bowl.
The Mekong splits in Cambodia into two main rivers, the Bassac (Hậu Giang) and the First River (Tiền Giang). Then in Vietnam it splinters into a more complex system, creating a maze of small canals, rivers and arroyos interspersed with villages and floating markets.
Life in the Mekong Delta revolves around the river, and all the villages are often accessible by river as well as by road.
The high points of life in the Mekong delta are the lunar new year (Tet, or Tết), and the mid-autumn festival (Tết trung thu), where children will set hundreds of candles on their way on the river on as many tiny skiffs.
If you know how to take your time, or are guided by an able guide, you will certainly enjoy your stay in the Mekong delta.
- 1 Ho Chi Minh City – Also called Saigon, a large, bustling city of commerce and history
- 2 Ben Tre – A city and province, famous for its coconut, gardens of fruit and garden, is a little isolated from the rest of the Mekong Delta.
- 3 Ca Mau – A city and province
- 4 Ca Na – A city in the Ninh Thuan province
- 5 Can Tho – A city municipality once known as Tay Do, and the largest city in the Mekong Delta. Can Tho has simple, poetic beauty with well-off villages under the shade of coconut trees. On the east bank of Hau River is Ninh Kieu Wharf, which is known for its beautiful location.
- 6 Chau Doc – A city in the An Giang province
- 7 Phan Rang–Tháp Chàm – The capital of Ninh Thuan province
- 8 Phan Thiet – The capital of Binh Thuan province
- 9 Long Xuyen – The capital of An Giang province
- 10 Mui Ne – A beach resort just east of Phan Thiet
- 11 My Tho – The capital of Tien Giang province
- 12 Rach Gia – The capital of Kien Giang province
- 13 Sa Đéc – Famous for the flower village of Sa Đéc, the lover's works of French writer, in the Dong Thap province
- 14 Soc Trang – A city and province, Khmer-culture influenced village in an area of vast rice paddies, shrimp lagoons, and luxuriant fruit gardens.
- 15 Tay Ninh – A city and province
- 16 Tra Vinh – A city and province, encircled by the Tien and Hau Rivers and long coastline. Tra Vinh's economy is based on agriculture, aquaculture, fish and, shrimp farming.
- 17 Vinh Long – A city and province, has many pagodas, communal houses. Visitors have chance to walk among the trees, relax in hammocks, try all kinds of delicious tropical fruits in the gardens of An Binh and Binh Hoa Phuoc Islands.
- 18 Vung Tau – A city in the Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu province, popular with locals for access to the beach from HCMC, but also many foreigner find their way here. Many connections exist from here into the surrounding region, Southern Vietnam and the Mekong Delta.
- 1 Cat Tien National Park – A major protected area of lowland rainforest about 150 km north of Ho Chi Minh City.
- 2 Con Dao – An island of immense natural beauty with forested hills, deserted sandy beaches and extensive coral reefs
- 3 Phu Quoc – An up-and-coming island beach destination in Kien Giang province
In the villages there are not many people who speak languages other than Vietnamese or Khmer, though in the cities you will find more who do. Bring a phrasebook if you are venturing out away from a tour or into places that are not listed in your guidebook.
There are some flights between Ho Chi Minh City (SGN IATA) and Rach Gia (VKG IATA), and also between Ho Chi Minh City and the island of Phu Quoc (PQC IATA). Rach Gia can also be reached by boat or plane from Phu Quoc.
- 1 Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN IATA) near Ho Chi Minh City
- 2 Rach Gia Airport (VKG IATA) near Rach Gia
- 3 Can Tho International Airport (VCA IATA) near Can Tho
- 4 Con Dao Airport (VCS IATA) on Con Dao
- 5 Phú Quôc International Airport (PQC IATA) on Phú Quôc
- See also: Vietnam#By boat
Travel by bus in southern Vietnam is quite convenient. There are extensive connections (express and local) between most cities and towns, just go to any town's bus station and you should be able to find bus connections to where you want to go, or at least pretty close to it.
Local buses will be large and old and will belch exhaust. They will be slightly cheaper than express buses, but may be a more interesting experience if you enjoy the grittier aspects of local culture. The buses usually won't have air conditioning, but they will keep the windows down so sometimes they can end up being cooler than the express buses. They will make frequent stops along the road to pick up travelers. If you want to get off somewhere between the main cities, you should take a local bus. Express buses will only stop at bus stations.
By bicycle and motorbike
The Mekong Delta is a great place to explore by bicycle and motorbike. The terrain is flat and the roads are well-maintained. Traffic isn't too heavy, especially on back roads off Hwy 1A. The road between Chau Doc through Long Xuyen to Can Tho is easily the most dangerous in the delta, with quite a lot of big trucks and buses rumbling along a narrow road. Be careful when riding along this stretch and hug the edges of the road.
You will never have to worry about finding a place to sleep. You will never be more than 30–40 km from a town with a guest house (nha nghi) or hotel (khach san). If the biking gets too tiring, you will also find cafes at least every 4–5 km where you can rest and have a drink. There are also mechanic shops every few kilometres where you can get flat tires and other mechanical problems repaired.
A lot of local life happens just next to the road in the delta, so exploring on two wheels can be a great way to get closer to it. You'll see farmers working their fields and walking their buffalos home in the evening. People dry rice, coconut husks, lemongrass and other spices on the side of the road. There will be plenty to see!
You can rent a motorbike in most of the bigger cities in the delta. Renting a bike for a longer trip around the delta might be difficult to work out, but you can also buy a cheap bike for just over US$100. There's no need to buy a fancy bike, you can ride comfortably on a cheap bike as the rides aren't too challenging. You can also usually rent bikes in each town for day trips, or maybe even for a few days at a time.
- See also: Vietnam#By boat
Many tour companies offer the same Mekong Delta tours from Ho Chi Minh City — some of them end in Saigon (2-days/1-night), others in Phnom Penh (3-days/2-nights).
However, the only times on a boat with these tours will be at one or two floating market morning boat trips from any of the overnight towns along the way, and the short Ben Tre–My Tho boat ride — otherwise you are stuck in the bus. Also the tours may include a visit to a fish farm and a Cham minority village.
It is common for the guide to offer upgrades during the trip, at cheaper than the tour asking price, so avoid buying the expensive version, as an upgrade is waiting in the wings.
For an actual boat tour of the Mekong Delta it will probably require several hundreds if not a thousand US dollars.
Most of the interest of the place resides in its floating markets, and the life around the rivers criss-crossing the area; also the national parks and nature reserves.
It is possible to take tours on small boats around My Tho (Mỹ Tho) and the islands north of Ben Tre (Bến Tre); around Cai Be (Cái Bè) and the An Binh peninsula; and around Can Tho (Cần Thơ). Both Cai Be and Can Tho feature floating markets.
It is also possible to get away from the main road and into the more remote rivers on board larger river cruisers for discovery cruises of the area in comfort.
Sam Mountain, a few kilometres from Chau Doc, is a regional Buddhist pilgrimage site and is a good place for a hike. The "mountain" is only 160 m tall and there are steps of concrete and stone all the way to the top. You will find numerous colorful temples as you climb to the top, and there are many cafes along the way where you can relax with a fresh coconut or glass of milk coffee. If you can, save your cafe break until you get near the top, where you can relax in a hammock and enjoy the breeze while looking out over the delta and even into neighboring Cambodia. Sam Mountain is the only hill for a long way in every direction, so you can get a great view of Chau Doc and the patchwork or rice fields run through by canals all around.
Phu Quoc Island is the adventure centre for the delta area. You can go scuba diving or snorkeling here, though there aren't so many fish left nowadays. Nha Trang, in central Vietnam, has more marine life to see. Phu Quoc is best for exploring by motorbike. There are roads covering a good portion of the island, and they're generally passable as long as it hasn't been raining too much. There are few signs, though, so bring a map and find out how to ask for directions.
The roads on Phu Quoc are mostly compacted dirt and you can't travel very fast, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time before sunset if you're planning to go out exploring, especially in the northern part of the island which is sparsely populated. If you do go out, though, you can ride through some otherwise untouched forest and go for at least 15 km without seeing another bike, which is surely a record in southern Vietnam. The road that hugs the western coast of the island is great to drive along in the evening to enjoy the sunset.
Don't swim in the river itself, as there is a chance of picking up parasites. Bring repellent and sunblock with you. Make sure hotel has mosquito net. Also, as you will travel by boat and ferry quite often in Mekong Delta, be careful when embarking or disembarking. Check out best time to visit Mekong Delta and stay tuned to weather forecast for flood news in the area if any.
Most travellers visit the Mekong Delta as a two or three-day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. After the Mekong Delta, it is best to travel to Phu Quoc or Cambodia via Chau Doc. You may also fly out of Mekong Delta via Can Tho airfield.