Southern Vietnam covers the Mekong Delta, the extreme southern end of the Mekong River, and the area around Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
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 together), 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 Bac Lieu — capital city of the province of the same name.
- 3 Ben Tre — city and province, famous for its coconut, gardens of fruit and garden, is a little isolated from the rest of the Mekong Delta.
- 4 Biên Hòa — capital of Đồng Nai province.
- 5 Ca Mau — city and province.
- 6 Can Tho — 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.
- 7 Chau Doc in An Giang Province
- 8 Long Xuyen in An Giang Province
- 9 Phan Thiet — capital of Binh Thuan province
- 10 Rach Gia — capital of Kien Giang province.
- 11 My Tho — capital of Tien Giang Province
- 12 Sa Đéc, Dong Thap, province. This place is famous for the flower village of Sa Đéc, the lover's works of French writer
- 13 Soc Trang — City and province, Khmer-culture influenced village in an area of vast rice paddies, shrimp lagoons, and luxuriant fruit gardens.
- 14 Tân An — capital of Long An Province
- 15 Tay Ninh — city and province.
- 16 Thủ Dầu Một — capital of Bình Dương Province
- 17 Tra Vinh — 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.
- 18 Vinh Long — 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.
- 19 Vung Tau in Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province
- 20 Ba Ria in Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province
- 21 Vi Thanh — capital of Hau Giang province
- 22 Phan Rang–Tháp Chàm capital of Ninh Thuan province
- 23 Ca Na — Ninh Thuan province
- 24 Mui Ne — a beach resort just east of Phan Thiet
- 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.
The Mekong Delta is near Ho Chi Minh City, and Can Tho (Cần Thơ) is 4 hours drive away, so it is easy to access by road, although there is only one main road, and as such it is rather crowded.
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. Also Can Tho International Airport (VCA IATA). Also Con Dao Airport (VCS IATA).
There used to be hydrofoil connections from Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho (Mỹ Tho) then to Can Tho (Cần Thơ) in about 4 hours, but the option does not exist any more. Alternatives are speed boat transfers, or for those who would enjoy the views, cruises from Cai Be (Cái Bè) to Can Tho or back.
The Mekong Delta is also a natural passageway from southern Vietnam to Cambodia, which can be entered overland or by river. Visas on entry to Cambodia are possible at some entry points. Visas for Vietnam must be obtained in advance.
You can travel from Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital, to Chau Doc on a boat-bus journey. You can also enter at the border crossing on the way from Kampot in southern Cambodia to Ha Tien. Bus connections are also now available between Phnom Penh and Can Tho.
There are many tours available that start in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Some of them end in Saigon, others in Phnom Penh (also available the other way around: Phnom Penh to Saigon). You can book them in travel agencies and hotels in Vietnam and Cambodia. There are only a few tour operators available; however, it can be difficult to find out what tour operator is behind the tour you want to book, as many travel agencies pretend that it is their own tour and prices between agencies can vary significantly for the same tour.
To make things a bit more complicated, tour operators often share buses and boats when they don't have enough travellers and they combine different tours (e.g., a 2-day and a 3-day Mekong Delta tour). You may have to change the buses often. Everybody seems to sell the same kind of tour, which is of pretty bad quality.
Beware of Mekong Tours. Their two-day tour with crossing Cambodia-Vietnam border means that you spend only 4 hours on a boat. "we take air-con bus to the boat dock. First we take a cruising trip on Mekong river from Cambodia to Vietnam" in reality means, that you spend 3 hours in a bus to go to border, cross it on foot and the boat will be waiting on the other side. Next day you will visit a fish farm and Cham minority village, all of them no further than 1 km from Chau Doc, after 1 hour you will be back to Chau Doc. In this one hour you will see both attractions and will travel between them.
Jackfruit Adventure, 187/7 Dien Bien Phu Street, Da Kao Ward, District 1, HCMC ☏ +84 368 410 153, email@example.com. Hosting Mekong Delta cycling tours start from HCMC (Saigon city), multiple day trips offer for your adventure. 100USD+
Travel by bus in southern Vietnam is quite convenient. There are extensive connections 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.
The fastest means of bus travel is by express bus. There are a few companies that run express buses, but the most popular and reliable is Mai Linh. They operate green minibuses that leave promptly at the scheduled time and arrive at the destination the fastest. They have air conditioning, though it's not always strong enough to keep the cabin cool. While the buses go the fastest, they also have a reputation for driving the most dangerously. Though accidents with buses are rare, the ride on an express bus will likely be more stressful than on a local bus.
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'll 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.
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'll never have to worry about finding a place to sleep. You'll 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'll 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.
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.
Delta Adventures run 2- & 3-day tours. The 3-day misses much of the Cai Be (Cái Bè) and the An Binh peninsula. It is a long trip home on day 3, and avoid it if you can. The 2-day appears to be a little better, although again the trip home is 7 hours by boat, followed by 3 on a bus. Try for a land-based return, around 6 hours.
It is also 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.
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.
Mt. Cam is a notable but not very advertised attraction worth seeing. It is a mountain in the An Giang province where you can either hike or take a motorbike tour to the top to see a lake, a very large Buddha statue and a temple with a few pagodas.
How to get there - Vinh Long
Vinh Long is 70 km from Mytho, 34 km from Can Tho and 136 km from Ho Chi Minh City. The inter-province bus station is 5 km from the centre of Vinh Long. There are buses between Vinh Long and Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho, Mytho, Long Xuyen, Sa Dec, Rach Gia, and other Mekong Delta destinations. National Hwy 1A and 53 also run through the province.
How to get there - Can Tho
Can Tho is 34 km from Vinh Long, 62 km from Long Xuyen, 63 km from Soc Trang, 104 km from Mytho, 116 km from Rach Gia, 117 km from Chau Doc, 169 km from Ho Chi Minh City and 179 km from Camau.
Road: Cantho has National Hwy 1A, 91, 80 linking to An Giang, Kien Giang Provinces. Waterway: Cantho has Cai Cui international seaport. The city is the centre of waterway network of Mekong Delta. There are no longer any daily hydrofoils between Ho Chi Minh City and Cantho City. Airline: There is Tra Noc Airport.
How to get there - Soc Trang
Soc Trang is 231 km from Ho Chi Minh City, 60 km from Can Tho. National Hwy 1A links the province and Can Tho, Bac Lieu.
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'll 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.
- Mekong Lodge Eco-Resort, Hamlet 5, Dong Hoa Hiep, Cai Be, Tien Giang, ☏ +84 933 449391, firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean room in traditional setting, rustic design, relaxing atmosphere and surroundings, and polite local staff. USD60+.
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.