Mekong Delta Travel Guide

In the south of Vietnam, between Ho Chi Minh City, the border of Cambodia, the Southeast Asia Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, spreads the Mekong delta, the huge and low plain, extremely fertile, crossed by nine arms of a river, the Mekong River.


Mekong is the world’s 10th longest and the Asia’s 7th longest river. Born in Tibet (on the heights of Himalaya), the river flows its way through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong splits in Cambodia into two main tributaries: the Bassac (Hau Giang) and the First River (Tien Giang), then continues in Vietnam into a complex network of 9 major arms before throwing itself into the Southeast Asia Sea. Thus, in Vietnamese it is called the River of Nine Dragons. Its original name comes from Thai language “Mae Num Khong”, or literally “Mother Water”.


Life & Culture

The Mekong region is home to around 60 million inhabitants with more than 100 different ethnic groups, making it the world’s most culturally-diverse region. The inhabitants are mainly farmers or fishermen, and while they are rich in resources, they are very poor in purchasing power. A third of these populations live with few-dollar income a day and have almost no access to services of the government.


Life on the Mekong revolves much around the river. In mountainous areas north of Laos or Thailand, the Mekong offers an interesting alternative for the transport. Besides, due to its wealth (it is the world’s 2nd richest river in species, after the Amazon), the river allows millions of people to earn their living out of it directly or indirectly. Many live right on the banks of its tributaries and canals. Their homes are built from various kinds of materials and usually have stilts and fish-raising cages underneath.


In Vietnam, the Mekong Delta receives the bounty of alluviums and deposits from the upper Mekong and is thus a very rich and verdant area. It produces about half of the country’s total agriculture output (even produces more rice than Japan and Korean together). The Mekong Delta is made up of endless rice fields, a maze of small canals, luxuriant fruit orchards, small islands and isolated villages. Most of the villages are accessed by boat other than by roads.


Mekong Delta is initially covered with marshland forest and inhabited by Khmer ethnic people only. Vietnamese people now make a majority of its population (total up 17 million, out of which 25% are Khmer and 30% are Chinese). Most of these ethnic people live in Ca Mau, Bac Lieu and Soc Trang provinces.


Sights & Attractions

Mekong Delta comprises 12 provinces (An Giang, Bac Lieu, Ben Tre, Ca Mau, Dong Thap, Hau Giang, Kien Giang, Long An, Soc Trang, Tien Giang, Tra Vinh, Vinh Long) and 1 central city (Can Tho), each destination with its own appeal. A trip to Mekong Delta should include visits to its numerous fruit orchards and floating markets, a unique cultural feature of the region. The orchards are divided by arroyos and connected by delicate bamboo bridge called “Monkey Bridge” or “Cau Khi”. Boating and biking are greatest ways to get in touch deeply with local culture.  Also, do some home-stay tourism if you have time to engage in local way of life that is truly fun and authentically Vietnamese experience.


Getting there & around

The Highway 1 connects Ho Chi Minh City with My Tho (Tien Giang), Vinh Long and ends in Can Tho. Several other highways link major towns throughout the region. Roads in Can Tho, Chau Doc, Rach Gia and My Tho are generally of good quality. In smaller villages, there are only narrow footpaths but very peaceful and serene.


Many long cable-stayed bridges have been built recently to make it easier to get around the region. The My Thuan Bridge connects Cai Be-Tien Giang with Vinh Long. The Rach Mieu Bridge links My Tho with Ben Tre, getting the province out of overland isolation.  The Can Tho Bridge inaugurated in 2010 connects Can Tho with Vinh Long and is the longest cable stayed bridge in Southeast Asia.


Still, ferry crossings (or river taxis) may be expected in some other provinces. Public bus, taxis and motorbike taxis (Xe Om) are widely available and quite efficient.


Best time to visit Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta reveals its best during dry months from December to May when the sky is crystal clear, the land is lush and the water is calm. From June to September, it may be hot and humid but the greatest variety of tropical fruit is available only in these months. During October and November, occasional flooding is expected, especially in remote areas around Dong Thap and Tra Vinh, so stay informed of regional weather forecast ahead of your trip if you are travelling in these months.