The Mekong River is one of the biggest rivers in the world and connects almost all the South East Asian countries. It starts in Tibet. On its way it forms the border between Thailand and Laos and pierces right through Cambodia to finally reach the South China Sea in Vietnam. Just before it reaches the ocean, the Mekong River spreads it wings to a point where it is kilometers wide, forming thousands of islands of which some are connected by bridges some are not. This is what we call the Mekong Delta.
The delta is carpeted in a dizzying variety of greens. It's a water world that moves to the rhythms of the mighty Mekong, where boats, houses and markets float upon the innumerable rivers, canals and streams that criss-cross the landscape like arteries.
The bustling commerce of its towns contrasts sharply with the languid, almost soporific pace of life in the countryside. Here buffalo wallow in rice paddies, coconut and fruit laden boats float slowly along the mud-brown waters, and two-wheeled exploration of the narrow lanes is amply rewarded with a true taste of rural hospitality (and delicious river fish).
Flat, hot and green, the Mekong Delta is Vietnam's most important agricultural region. A comma-shaped flatland stretching from Ho Chi Minh’s city limits southwest to the Gulf of Thailand, the delta is Vietnam’s rice bowl, an area is covered by rice paddies that are irrigated by delta water and fertilized by delta silt, an agricultural miracle that produce three crops of rice a year, enough to feed the entire country, with some left over to export. Almost half of Vietnam’s exported rice comes from the Mekong Delta.
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 farmers tending their land is one of Vietnam’s most enduring images.
To the Vietnamese, the region is known as Cuu Long, “Nine Dragons”, a reference to the nine tributaries of the Mekong River. It enters the country as two channels which the Vietnamese call Tien Giang (Upper River) and Hau Giang (Lower River). By the time it reaches the South China Sea it has seven main branches. Two others have silted over. The Vietnamese, mind that nine is an auspicious number, call these branches “the Nine Dragons”.
The region comprises 12 provinces: Long An, Đồng Tháp, Tiền Giang, An Giang, Bến Tre, Vĩnh Long, Trà Vinh, Hậu Giang, Kiên Giang, Sóc Trăng, Bạc Liêu, and Cà Mau, along with the province-level municipality of Cần Thơ. What makes a visit to the Mekong Delta so memorable is the region’s diversity.
Everyday scenes include children riding on the backs of water buffalo or cycling to school through country lanes; rice workers stoping in a sea of emerald; farmers 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 channels.
Many visitors spend one or two days in Can Tho, the delta’s biggest settlement, the centre of the Mekong Delta with an estimated population of 1.5 millions in 2018. Can Tho is the largest city in the region and feels like a metropolis after a few days exploring. As the political, economic, cultural and transportation center of the Mekong Delta, it’s a buzzing town with a lively waterfront lined with sculpted gardens, an appealing blend of narrow backstreets and wide boulevards, and perhaps the greatest concentration of foreigners in the delta. It is also the perfect place for the floating market, the major draw for tourists who come here to boat along the many tiny canals and rivers leading out of town.
From Can Tho, there’s something to be said for dropping down to the foot of the delta, where the swampland that surrounds Ca Mau, the Khmer stronghold of Soc Trang with the colorful Oc Om Bok festival (Nov or Dec), the ebullient town of Chau Doc. My Tho, Vinh Long are well geared up for boat trips. From My Tho, laidback Ben Tre and the bounteous fruit orchards are impossible to 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…