The capital of Vinh Long province and plonked about midway between My Tho and Can Tho, Vinh Long may not be the largest town in the Mekong, yet as a major transit hub it can be noisy and chaotic nonetheless. By heading to the riverfront where plenty of cafes and restaurants afford respite, vistors can flee the mayhem. Despite a shortage of in-town attractions, Vinh Long is the main gateway to island life and some worthwhile sites, including Cai Be floating market, abundant orchards and rural homestays.
Mekong River Islands
What makes a trip to Vinh Long worthwhile is not the town but the beautiful islands dotting the river. The islands are devoted to agriculture, especially the growing of tropical fruits, which are shipped to markets in HCMC. This low-lying region is as much water as land and houses are generally built on stilts.
Some of the more popular islands to visit include Binh Hoa Phuoc and An Binh, yet there are many other islands to visit too. Visitors can take the public ferry to one of the islands and then walk or cycle around on your own. However , this isn’t as interesting as a boat tour, since visitors won’t cruise the narrow canals. You should be able to arrange a two- to three-hour cruise with one of the operators along the wharf and it costs less than 300,000d.
Cai Be Floating Market
( 5am-5pm) This busy river market is worth including on a boat tour from Vinh Long, but aim for an early morning visit. Wholesalers on large boats moor here, each specialising in just a few types of fruit or vegetable, hanging samples of their goods from tall wooden poles. A notable sight is the huge and photogenic Catholic cathedral on the riverside.
It takes visitors about an hour to reach the market from Vinh Long, but the majority make detours on the way there or back to see the canals or visit orchards. For those people who travel on an organised tour of the delta, it is customary to board a boat here, discover the islands and moor in Vinh Long before continuing to Can Tho.
Van Thanh Mieu Temple
(Phan Thanh Gian Temple; Ð Tran Phu; 5-11am & 1-7pm) Confucian temples such as this are rare in southern Vietnam. The front hall honours local hero Phan Thanh Gian, who led an uprising against the French colonists in 1930. When it became clear that his revolt was doomed, Phan killed himself rather than be captured by the colonial army. The rear hall, built in 1866, has a portrait of Confucius above the altar.
Van Thanh Mieu Temple, which sits in pleasant grounds across from the the river, is southeast of town; designed in Confucian style, it looks like it was lifted straight out of China. Remember that it’s different from the smaller Quoc Cong Pagoda, which you’ll pass on the way.
- WORTH A TRIP
MEKONG RIVERSIDE RESORT & SPA
With a magnificent sense of seclusion, the four-star Mekong Riverside Resort & Spa ( 073-392 4466; www.mekongriversideresort.vn; Hoa Qui Ward, Hoa Khanh subdistrict, Cai Be district; lake/river view d US$85/110) has nice thatched bungalows and stunning views passing the vast river waters. Seize a fishing rod and angle for fish from your balcony or just sit back and watch the river boats cruise the Mekong at night. With free canoes, bird-watching tower and swimming pool, the resort serves the opportunity to real experience the astonishing riverine world of the Mekong Delta. The resort can arrange transport.
Cuu Long Tourist BOAT TOUR
( 070-382 3616; www.cuulongtourist.com; 2 Ɖ Phần B Chậu; 7am-5pm) Offers a wide range of boat tours varying from three hours to three days. Spots include small canals, fruit orchards, brick kilns, a conical palm hat workshop and the Cai Be floating market.
You’ll find much better accommodation in Ben Tre, Tra Vinh and Can Tho, and much more atmospheric accommodation in one of the local homestays. If you really must stay in Vinh Long town, the following are the best options.
Van Tram Guesthouse $
( 070-382 3820; 4 Ð 1 Thang 5; r 300,000-400,000d) This is not a big guesthouse but tall and slim with just five rooms , the location is the bonus here which is near the river . There are good size rooms with balcony , yet shower rooms are tiny.
Cuu Long Hotel $$
( 070-382 3656; www.cuulongtourist.com; 2 Phan Boi Chau street; 7am-5pm; s from 440,000d, d from 560,000d) This is a characterless government-run hotel which is very clean and sees many midrange tour groups checking in as the boats leave from directly across the road. There are spacious rooms with baths , and either balconies or river views.
‘HOMESTAYS’ AROUND VINH LONG
For a lot of tourists , the opportunity to experience river life and to enjoy a home-cooked meal with a local family here is a impression of a Mekong visit. Maybe the word ‘homestay’ is not right : in most of the cases you won’t in fact be staying in the family home but in specially established accommodation more akin to a rudimentary hostel.
There are many homestays which have large communal rooms with bunks, whilst others offer basic bungalows with shared facilities and some even have rooms with en suites. It is usual for dinner and breakfast to be included . In some places you’ll share a meal with the family, while in larger sites the experience is more like a restaurant. The only constant that you can be guaranteed is a verdant, rustic setting and a taste of rural life.
Even though a lot of travellers book through group tours in Ho Chi Minh City, there’s no reason you can’t do it yourself – just take the ferry from Vinh Long and then a xe om (motorbike taxi) to go to your favorite destination . Notice that some hosts are unable to speak English fluently , but welcome foreign guests just the same.
Ba Linh ( 070-385 8683, mobile 0939 138 142; firstname.lastname@example.org; 95 An Thanh, An Binh; r 350,000d) It is a traditional-looking and popular destination (with six basic, high-roofed, partitioned rooms in a line and fans) which is run by friendly Mr Truong . There are also breakfast and dinner to be included in the price for you .
Ngoc Sang ( 070-385 8694; 95/8 Binh Luong, An Binh Village; per person US$15) Readers love this friendly, canal-facing homestay. They offer nice meals , free bikes are always available and you can even help out in the family’s orchard, if you feel so inclined.
Ut Trinh ( 070-395 4255, mobile 0919 002 505; email@example.com; Hoa Qui, Hoa Ninh, An Binh; r US$15-25) Cordial owner Trinh speaks excellent English at this very pleasant, fresh and clean homestay, with nice rooms in two buildings on a veggie/fruit farm.
Nam Thanh ( 070-385 8883; firstname.lastname@example.org; 172/9 Binh Luong, An Binh; from US$12) Four hundred metres from the jetty (the owner can pick you up), this homestay offer 26 camp-style beds and fold-up single beds in a communal space and sturdier doubles in rattan and bamboo quarters.
- Eating & Drinking
Dong Khanh VIETNAMESE $
(49 2 Thang 9 street; mains from 30,000d; 6am-6pm) Popular and spacious Dong Khanh (the name means ‘celebrate together’) offers a varied menu, including hotpots, pork noodles, roast chicken and Cantonese rice. They also have an English-language menu .
Vinh Long Market VIETNAMESE $
( 3 Thang 2 street) It’s a nice site for local fruit and cheap street snacks.
Phuong Thuy VIETNAMESE $
(Phan Boi Chau street; mains from 30,000d; 6am-10pm) Decent choice by the riverside, but it can be crowded with tour groups.
Hoa Nang Cafe CAFE, BAR
(Ð 1 Thang 5; iced coffee 7000d; 7am-11pm) This is a nice destination which is perched on the riverbank to enjoy an iced coffee or scented tea in the morning or to quaff your first beer back on dry land after a river trip.
- Getting There & Away
Traveller can be taken by cargo boats from Vinh Long all the way to Chau Doc (near the Cambodian border); enquire locally, near the ferry landing.
Vinh Long’s city bus station (Ben Xe Thanh Pho Vinh Long; Ð 3 Thang 2), conveniently set in the middle of town, has buses for tourists to go to HCMC (90,000d) and Sa Dec (9000d). If visitors want other services, it’s the best to go to the provincial bus station (Hwy 1A), 3km south of town on the way to Can Tho. There are buses to Can Tho (40,000d), HCMC (100,000d) and other sites leave from here. A motorbike taxi will cost around 300,000d from the centre of town to the provincial bus station.
Car & Motorbike
Vinh Long is just off highway 1A, 33km from Can Tho, 66km from My Tho and 136km from HCMC.