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, but as a major transit hub it can be noisy and bustling nonetheless. Flee the mayhem by heading to the riverfront, where plenty of cafes and restaurants afford respite. In spite of a shortage of in-town highlights , Vinh Long is the gateway to island life and some amazing sites, such as Cai Be floating market, abundant orchards and rural homestays.
Mekong River Islands
It’s not the town but the excellent islands dotting the river which is the highlight of the trip to Vinh Long . The islands are devoted to agriculture, especially the growing of tropical fruits, which are delivered to markets in HCMC. This low-lying region is as much water as land and houses are generally built on stilts.
Visitors can pay a visit to popular islands such as Binh Hoa Phuoc and An Binh, but there are many other islands to visit too . You can take the public ferry to one of the islands and then walk or cycle around on your own. Yet , this isn’t as amazing 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 for 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 kinds of fruit or vegetable, hanging samples of their goods from tall wooden poles. A notable sight is the large and photogenic Catholic cathedral on the riverside.
It takes tourists about an hour to go to the market from Vinh Long, but most people 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, explore 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) It is rare for such confucian temples to appear 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 obvious that his revolt was doomed, Phan killed himself rather than be captured by the colonial army. The rear hall, which was 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; it was 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 amazing 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 good thatched bungalows and stunning views passing the vast river waters. Let’s seize a fishing rod and angle for fish from your balcony or you can just sit back and watch the river boats cruise the Mekong at night. With free canoes, bird-watching tower and swimming pool, this resort provides the opportunity to real experience the amazing 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) This offers a wide selection of boat tours ranging from three hours to three days. Places 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) A small, tall and slim place with just five rooms, the location is the bonus here which is near the river . There are good size rooms with balcony , but shower rooms are tiny.
Cuu Long Hotel $$
( 070-382 3656; www.cuulongtourist.com; 2 Ɖ Phan B Chau; 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. Rooms are spacious and have 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 constructed accommodation more akin to a rudimentary hostel.
There are many homestays which have large communal rooms with bunks, whilst others serve simple 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, whilst in bigger places the experience is more like a restaurant. The only special experience of tourists is a verdant, rustic setting and a taste of rural life.
Although several 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 your preferred choice. Notice that some hosts are unable to speak much English, but welcome foreign guests just the same.
Ba Linh ( 070-385 8683, mobile 0939 138 142; [email protected]; 95 An Thanh, An Binh; r 350,000d) Run by friendly Mr Truong, this traditional-looking and popular place has six simple, high-roofed, partitioned rooms in a line, all with fan. 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) This place, which is friendly, canal-facing homestay, is preferred by readers . The food is good, free bikes are available and if you feel willing, you can even help out in the family’s orchard .
Ut Trinh ( 070-395 4255, mobile 0919 002 505; [email protected]yahoo.com; Hoa Qui, Hoa Ninh, An Binh; r US$15-25) This is a very pleasant, fresh and clean homestay with cordial owner Trinh who can speak English excellently , with good rooms in two buildings on a veggie/fruit farm.
Nam Thanh ( 070-385 8883; [email protected]; 172/9 Binh Luong, An Binh; from US$12) Four hundred metres from the jetty (the owner can pick you up), this friendly 26-bed camp-style homestay offers fold-up single beds in a communal space and sturdier doubles in rattan and bamboo quarters.
Eating & Drinking
Dong Khanh VIETNAMESE $
(49 Ð 2 Thang 9; 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 $
(Ð 3 Thang 2) It’s a nice site for fresh fruit and cheap street snacks.
Phuong Thuy VIETNAMESE $
(Ð Phan B Chau; mains from 30,000d; 6am-10pm) It’s a great choice by the riverside , yet 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 early 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 located in the middle of town, has buses 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 departing 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 Hwy 1A, 33km from Can Tho, 66km from My Tho and 136km from HCMC.