Touring the orchards, paddy fields and swamp lands of the Mekong Delta, people will think as being in the pages of a geographic textbook. A verdurous flat land stretching from Ho Chi Minh City southwest to the Gulf of Thailand, the delta is Vietnam’s rice bowl, an agricultural miracle that pumps out more than a third of the country’s annual food crop from just ten percent of its total land mass. Rice may be the delta’s staple crop, but coconut palms, fruit orchards and sugar-cane groves also thrive in its nutrient-rich soil, and the sight of conical-hated farmers tending their land is one of Vietnam’s most enduring images.
Surprisingly, agriculture gripped the delta only relatively recently. Used to be under Cambodian sway until late seventeenth century, the region was sparsely inhabited by the Khmer krom, or “downstream Khmer”, whose settlements were framed by swathes of marshland. Then in eighteenth century, Viet Nguyen lords steadily broaden their sphere of influence to encompass the delta, though by the 1860s France had taken over the reins of government. Seeing the huge profits to be gleaned from such fertile land, French colonists spurred Vietnamese peasants to tame and till tracts of the boggy delta. Ironically, the same landscape that had served the French then strafed with bombs and defoliant by the Americans.
The region’s diversity will absolutely make your visit to the Mekong Delta so memorable. You will see children riding on the backs of water buffalo or cycling to school through country lanes clad in white Ao dai; farmers stooping in a sea of emerald rice; market vendors grinning behind stacks of fruit; bright yellow incense sticks drying at the roadside; flocks of storks circling over a sanctuary at dusk; Khmer monks walking mindfully in the shadow of pastel pagodas; locals scampering over monkey bridges or rowing boats on the delta’s maze of canals.
There are over a dozen of towns where tourists can visit with enough facilities. For boat trips, My Tho is an ideal choice as it is well geared up and also closed enough to Ho Chi Minh City for a day trip. From My Tho, come and enjoy Ben Tre and its bounteous fruit orchards, it will be really a hop and a skip away. Cao Lanh is strictly for bird enthusiasts, but Sa Dec, with its timeless river scenes and riotously colorful flower nurseries, has a more universal appeal, while just down the road, Vinh Long is another jumping-off point for boat trips.
Can Tho, the delta’s biggest settlement, with its decent hotels and restaurants, is where many visitors decide to spend a day or two refresh themselves before venturing out to the floating markets nearby. From Can Tho, visitors can drop down to the foot of the delta, where the swampland that surrounds Ca Mau can be explored by boat, and Mui Ca Mau signals journey’s end in Vietnam. If your journey coincides with the colourful Oc Om Bok festival (Nov or Dec) by the Khmer of Soc Trang, it will be especially rewarding as during which the local Khmer community takes to the river to stage spectacular longboat races. Located in the northwest of Can Tho is the ebullient town of Chau Doc, south of which Sam Mountain provides a welcome undulation in the surrounding plains. The opening of the border here has brought a steady stream of travellers going on to Phnom Penh by boat, and several of them rest up a few days here before leaving the country.
BEST OF MEKONG DELTA:
1.Floating markets :
Floating market is a signature of Mekong Delta. Local farmers bring their goods, fruits and vegetables mainly, to the markets and sell them to local dealers. These dealers sell the products to shops in the neighboring towns and to wholesale dealers from the big towns. All big boats have a pole. Wholesaler hangs the goods he buys/sells on this pole. By this way, people on small boats know where they have to go from a certain distance. On the floating markets you do not only find people buying and selling goods, you also find floating restaurants, floating bars, floating gas stations, and many other floating shops. Canals are here the easiest and fastest way of transportation.
Cai Rang, the biggest and also the most well known floating market in the Mekong Delta, is just 6km from Can Tho in the direction of Soc Trang. There is a bridge here used as a great vantage point for photography. The market is best around 6am to 7am, and it’s well worth getting here early to beat boatloads of tourists.
Cai Rang can be seen from the road, but getting here is far more interesting by boat (US$10 to US$15). From the market area in Can Tho it takes about 45 minutes by river, or you can drive to the Cau Dau Sau boat landing (by the Dau Sau Bridge), from where it takes only about 10 minutes to reach the market.
Cai Be market is still the essence attraction on a boat tour from Vinh Long, though it has shrunk considerably due to the building of bridges in the delta and the subsequent transportation of goods by road rather than river. The market is at its best around 6am. It’s about an hour by boat from Vinh Long.
There is a notable sight of a huge and photogenic Catholic cathedral on the riverside.
Not as popular as Cai Rang and Cai Be, Phong Dien has fewer motorised craft and more stand-up rowing boats, with local vendors shopping and exchanging gossip. There are also far fewer tourists than those well-known above. It’s at its bustling best between 5am and 7am. The market is 20km southwest of Can Tho; you can get there by road but many operators now offer a six-hour combined Cai Rang–Phong Dien tour, returning to Can Tho through quieter backwaters.
2. Blue Sky Crocodile Land
Crocodiles, once was nightmare in this region, now are controlled. For a close-up view of this reptile, go to this farm that’s home to a lot of crocodiles varying in size from 10cm to 4m. The meat and skin of these animals is widely exported, though some Vietnamese drop in to buy fresh or frozen crocodile meat or to eat out at the on-site restaurant. A little shop offers crocodile-skin wallets and bags. The farm lies 8km south of town on the road to Can Tho.
Tel: 76383 1298
Location: 44/1A Tran Hung Dao st
3. Tram Chim National Park
Tram Chim National Park is around 40km to tne north of Cao Lanh and notable for its rare red-headed cranes (Grus antigone sharpii), among more than 220 species of bird live within the reserve.
The cranes nest here from about December to May; from June to November they migrate to northwest Cambodia. Seeing them requires a considerable commitment (time, effort and money), with Dong Thap Tourist organising expensive trips by car and small boat (5,000,000d); it’s cheaper to go if you make friends with locals.
4. Sam Mountain
Just a few kilometres from Chau Doc, Sam Mountain is a regional Buddhist pilgrimage site and is a good place for a hike. The “mountain” is only 160 metres tall and there are steps of concrete and stone all the way to the top. You’ll find dozens of pagodas and temples as you climb to the top, and there are many cafes along the way where you can stop for a drink or a snack. 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.The mountain is open 24/7, with lights on the road for nocturnal climbs.
5. Phu Quoc Island
Endowed with white-sand beaches and large tracts still cloaked in dense, tropical jungle, Phu Quoc is no longer a sleepy island backwater but a must-visit beach escape for Western expats and sun-seeking tourists. Beyond the resorts lining Long Beach and development beginning on the east coast, there’s still ample room for exploration and escaping. Dive the reefs, kayak in the bays, eat up the back-road miles on a motorbike, or just lounge on the beach, indulge in a massage and dine on fresh seafood.
Phu Quoc is not really part of the Mekong Delta and doesn’t share the delta’s extraordinary ability to produce rice. The most valuable crop is black pepper, but the islanders here have traditionally earned their living from the sea. Phu Quoc is well-known across Vietnam for its production of high-quality fish sauce (nuoc mam).
Despite development in terms of facilities, much of this island is still protected since becoming a national park in 2001. Phu Quoc National Park covers close to 70% of the island, an area of 31,422 hectares.
Phu Quoc’s rainy season darkens skies from late May to October, when the sea gets rough and a lot of diving stops. The peak season for tourism is midwinter (December and January), when the sky is blue and the sea is calm.
RECOMMENDED MEKONG CRUISES:
Here are some prestige cruises with excellent services that you should try for your Mekong Travel:
1. Jahan Cruise
Jahan is Heritage Line’s the most romantic cruise liner, considered the brother of The Jayavarman in Heritage Line’s “family” of cruise ships. This magnificent vessel was named after the Indian emperor Shah Jahan, who ruled the Mughal Empire from 1628 to 1658. No expense has been spared in the interior or exterior decorations, which show the talents of local wood workers, weavers and artists.
2. Mekong Navigator Cruise
Traveling the Mekong River on Mekong Navigator cruise, you will have intimate access to people and places, witness the local dances and crafts, shop ancient markets, and visit historic settings – Vietnam and Cambodia – that have defined these nations both in war and peace. Over eight days cruising on boutique RV Navigator, you will have a chance to visit the beauty and daily life of nine cities and learn to see Cambodia and Vietnam as few Westerners do.
3. Indochine Cruise
With a relaxed ambiance you can expect all the services you would find in a high-quality hotel. RV Indochine Cruise is the flagship of CFM’s fleet offering the most luxurious cruising on the River Mekong.