Curious travellers who are not afraid of getting lost in the Vietnamese country should forget about the mass-tourism and set out on an exciting ride through the Mekong Delta. Exploring the region independently will allow you to see the authentic Vietnamese culture and discover well-hidden canals where you can experience the genuine local way of life. It is easy – all you need is renting a motorbike!
TIMELESS BEAUTY OF THE MEKONG DELTA
The Mekong River, at over 4 000 km, is the twelfth longest river on Earth. It rises high up to the Tibetan plateau and flows through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to meet the South China Sea. This is where The Mekong Delta, one of the most fertile river territories, is home to Vietnam`s agricultural heartland.
The Vietnamese call it Cuu Long, translated as “Nine Dragons”, and the region is crisscrossed with canals to channel the excess flood water in the most practical fashion. The boggy marshlands and abundant rice fields subsequently provide excellent cover for the whole nation. In fact, it is here where there is more rice produced than in Korea and Japan altogether.
Mekong Delta is essential for travel and transport, and thousands of boats ply up and down these waterways, from tiny rowing boats to cargo ships, carrying rice, sugarcane, flowers and fruit. All life is there to be seen on the water: colourful river villages and markets, pagodas, a myriad of bird colonies and species of rare fish, and even dolphins to be found. The contrast of tranquil, canal-hideaways and the overwhelming floating markets is striking, but it feels just right the way it is.
BEGIN THE GREAT MEKONG JOURNEY
Saigon is the starting point for all travellers and tourists heading to the Mekong Delta. While tourists typically book a 1-2 day all-inclusive-tour from Ho Chi Minh (there is a wide variety of tours, ranging from $20 USD-budget options, mid-range day-tours ($50 USD) to luxury speedboat and overnight cruises ($100-300 USD pp). Unless you are tight with time don`t worry about these at all – they are unnecessarily expensive and pretty boring.
Adventurous spirits and backpackers often buy an old bike in Ho Chi Minh to drive around the country and re-sell it before departure – this alternative is ideal for extensive, long-term travels. Motorbike market in Vietnam is big and travellers typically buy-sell-swap the bikes through their hostels, guesthouses or online. Prices start at $100 USD+, depending on the type, size and age.
For the short-trippers, the best option is hiring a motorbike in Saigon (experienced driver ONLY) or catch a bus to Can Tho – the gateway to the Mekong Delta – and rent a scooter there (less challenging driving compared to the buzzing Saigon). NOTE It takes 3-4 hours to reach the town of Can Tho.
Known as the “Rice Bowl of Vietnam”, the Mekong Delta teems with verdant rice fields, fruit orchards, vibrant villages and bustling floating markets. Maintaining the ancestral way of life, the locals have adapted well to life on the water. Fishing and river trading is all that matters, and many residents have moved to their boats.
The city of Can Tho is Mekong Delta`s epicentre and the largest city in the region. It is a lively place with pretty waterfront, narrow backstreets and wide boulevards, perfect for inspecting the town by walk. The major attractions are floating markets, Buddhist pagodas, and delicious food and tropical fruit as fresh as can be.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN CAN THO
Stay in Can Tho for a few days, from where you can take day-trips to the surrounding floating villages and markets. Many places of interest are easily reachable by bicycle – the most popular means of transport in Vietnam, scooter or local boats. Can Tho has a wide range of accommodation and motorbike hire options.
VINH LONG & CAI BE
The town of Vinh Long serves as the gateway to the rural islands, dotting the mighty Mekong River. Dedicated to agriculture, these isles are covered with fruit orchards and vegetable fields, and the local floating villages and markets that decorate the canals and rivers, boast fresh produce.
Cai Be is one of those rustic and authentic (rarely visited) floating markets with great, original value, where wholesalers buy the wares from large boats while customers cruise the market in smaller boats haggling for their purchases.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN VINH LONG
There are many other towns and villages in the region, and it is easy to drive around by motorbike. If you plan on spending more time in Mekong Delta visit Ben Tre in the north and Soc Trang in the south of the delta – both are very picturesque and genuine places.
HOW LONG TO STAY
Suggested time to explore the Mekong Delta is three days. If you wish to add Ho Chi Minh into your itinerary, count on 3-4 extra days – there is much to do in and around the city
WHEN TO TRAVEL
The dry season in the Mekong region (when Mekong Delta is at its most touristy) is between November and April. However, it gets extremely hot at this time of year.
During the wet months (October-January) the rainfall increases with frequent typhoons, but this is the floating season – the peak time for the traders with fewer tourists. You can visit the Mekong Delta anytime.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to Ho Chi Minh.
For all international flights check out www.skyscanner.com or www.momondo.com
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