- Kick up red dirt on a motorbike ride to the far-flung corners of Phu Quoc Island
- Watch the sun set across the Gulf of Thailand from a Phu Quoc Island beach.
- Participate in the throngs amid the bustling commerce of the floating markets on a boat trip from Can Tho.
- Meander along the canals between My Tho and Ben Tre, then step ashore a lush river island to feast on fresh fish.
- Enjoy a forest of trees entirely full of storks at amazing Bang Lang.
- Have a taste of rural river life at one of the many homestays around Vinh Long.
The Mekong Delta which used to be a part of the Khmer kingdom was the last region of modern-day Vietnam to be annexed and settled by the Vietnamese. Cambodians, mindful that they controlled the area until the 18th century, still called the delta Kampuchea Krom, or ‘Lower Cambodia’.
The Khmer Rouge tried to reclaim the area by raiding Vietnamese villages and killing their inhabitants. This provoked the Vietnamese army to invade Cambodia on 25 December 1978 and oust the Khmer Rouge from power.
Ethnic Vietnamese is the majority of today’s inhabitants of the Mekong Delta , but remarkable populations of ethnic Chinese and Khmer, along with a smaller Cham community, also exist.
When the government introduced collective farming to the delta in 1975, production decrease rapidly and there were food shortages in Saigon , though farmers in the delta easily grew enough to feed themselves. People in Saigon would head down to the delta to purchase sacks of black-market rice, but to stop profiteering the police built up checkpoints and confiscated rice from anyone carrying more than 10kg. All this ended in 1986 and since then Vietnam has become one of the largest rice exporters all over the world .
Getting There & Around
Most of the visitors pay a visit to the Mekong Delta on cheap and comfortable organised tours. People who travel on their own will have greater access to little-visited areas off the beaten track.
With the opening of several border crossings between Vietnam and Cambodia, including the river border at Vinh Xuong (nearChau Doc) and the land border at Xa Xia (near Ha Tien), a lot of travellers are choosing these delta routes ahead of the original land crossing at Moc Bai–Bavet. Cambodian visas are available on arrival at all border crossings.
Flights head from Hanoi to Can Tho and from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to Rach Gia and Ca Mau. Phu Quoc Island’s new international airport welcomes flights from Hanoi, HCMC, Can Tho and Rach Gia.
There are many ferry connections between some delta towns – a fascinating way to travel. The journey between Ca Mau and Rach Gia is especially great . Boats to Phu Quoc Island come from Rach Gia and Ha Tien.
Travelling the delta using public transport is surprisingly easy , and there are excellent bus connections . Every urban centre has a bus station for both buses and minibuses – although it’s usually located on the edge of town, demanding a short xe om (motorbike taxi) or taxi ride to your hotel. Minibuses tend to be faster, moderately more convenient and not far more expensive.
Departing from HCMC, delta buses depart from Mien Tay bus station, 10km west of the centre. To prevent the slight inconvenience of getting to Mien Tay, travellers can book one of the cheap day tours to My Tho leaving from Ð Pham Ngu Lao and abandoning the tour after the boat trip.
Car, Motorcycle & Bicycle
Travellers can choose a flexible transport among private car, bicycle or motorbike . Two-wheeling around the delta is rather good , particularly along the maze of country roads and on Phu Quoc. Be prepared for toll roads and ferry crossings – though these are gradually being replaced with new bridges. Ferries are cheap and frequent.
There are many tours heading from HCMC to the Mekong Delta, either as day trips or longer jaunts. This is a great option if you’re short on time, but it means abdicating control over your itinerary and choice of hotels.
There are the cheapest tours that are sold around the Pham Ngu Lao area. Shop around before you book, but remember that you usually get what you pay for. This is not to say pricey tours are necessarily better, but sometimes ‘rock-bottom’ means a brief glance at the region from a packed bus full of other travellers . Rewarding motorbike and scooter tours of the Delta are run by Vietnam Vespa Adventure and Saigon Riders.
LE VAN SINH: TOURISM TRAILBLAZER & CYCLING ENTHUSIAST
Few people have had more of an impact on Vietnam tourism than Le Van Sinh, owner of Sinhbalo Adventures.
What makes the Mekong Delta special? I think it is waterways , because it is so great a way to take a rest – in a hammock, cruising along the river. The system of canals and floating markets here is incredible and so different that all tourists should see it .
Let’s cycle! Bikes are the best way to see the scenery and get off the beaten track. If you want to cycle in the far north or even the central Highlands, you should have some experience and endurance , but for the pancake-flat Mekong, everyone can have a few days exploring on two wheels. It’s not important whether you’re a serious cyclist or a city slicker; there are so many routes in the Mekong to enjoy and explore.
Which one is the best routes ? My favourite back roads consist of the small trail under the shade of coconut palms that runs from Ben Tre through Mo Cay and the pretty town of Tra Vinh to Can Tho. Most tourists only experience Hwy 1A on the way to Can Tho, but this is another world.