The far south of Vietnam is made up of a vast sprawl of rivers, streams, swamps, islands, floating markets, rice fields, coconut trees and mangrove forests. Altogether, these make up the fabled Mekong Delta, where Vietnam’s waterways spill into the ocean.
While day trips to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City are a common option, we’d recommend taking at least 2 days to experience the vast region. The main destination is Can Tho, the Mekong’s capital, though Chau Doc, Ben Tre and the charming Sa Dec are each worth a mention in their own right.
While you won’t be able to see everything the Mekong Delta has on offer, for it’s simply too big a place, here’s a few things we really love about the place.
If you have to choose just one place, choose Can Tho if this is your first time in Vietnam. It has the most attractions, and plenty of places to relax and watch the river go by.
Day One: Can Tho
Check out the Cai Rang Floating Market by Morning
The Floating Market is best seen in the earlier hours, between 6 and 7 am, when it’s at its most bustling. It also becomes very crowded with other tourists from around 8am so, so if you want to travel in a pack with a knowledgeable guide, feel free to join a tour but otherwise, earlier is better.
Finding a boat to take you to the market is easily done, and only costs around $3US. Make sure to pack your camera or charge your phone as the Cai Rang Floating Market has some of Vietnam’s most sensational photo opportunities.
Binh Thuy Ancient House
Lesser known to the crowds of tourists is the preserved 19th century residence of Binh Thuy. It’s popular for photo and film shoots, such is its unique beauty, with French Colonial exterior but classically Vietnamese interior. It was built in 1870, and has been declared a national relic.
Mekong Boat Trip
There’s no shortage of sampan boat trips on offer in Can Tho and the Mekong Delta, where you can spend 4 or 5 hours exploring the narrower channels that shoot off the main river and wind through dense jungle. You can visit farms and apothecaries, and eat with local people, who are friendly and welcoming. If that all sounds a bit twee, fear not, because these boat trips are as good for relaxing and cruising peacefully along the river as anything else.
L’Escale Restaurant by Evening
L’Escale can claim the title of best dining experience in the Mekong Delta. Sit on the rooftop of the opulent Nam Bo hotel, overlooking the river while tasting fine French and Vietnamese cooking with a good glass of wine. L’Escale is a real throwback to the French Era, with its classic European design and background jazz music.
It’s best to book ahead for a sunset spot, as this is when the view is at its most stunning.
Day Two: Heading out of Can Tho
Maybe you’ll want to stay in Can Tho and relax for a day, but if you’re keen to see more of the Mekong Delta, here are a couple of options for you.
About 3 hours from Can Tho is the much smaller city of Ben Tre. It’s a charming little place with a peaceful riverfront, where fishermen and water-based merchants cruise up and down all day long.
Hop in another boat and take a tour out to the coconut plantations. The journey there is stunning, through narrow waterways flanked by mangroves and dense greenery, where faces peak out curiously from small farms on the riverside.
Also around 3 hours away, this time to the northwest, is Chau Doc, right on the border of Cambodia. It’s a picturesque location home to various ethnicities including Khmer, Cham and even Chinese communities.
Hike Sam Mountain and see the Ba Chua Xu Temple at the top, check out the local floating fish farms, Chau Doc market and the serene Tra Su Cajuput Forest.
Perhaps the bonus thing to see in Chau Doc is Mubarak Mosque, built in 1750 to serve the minority Muslim population. Take a short ferry ride from Chau Doc’s pier and have a look around at the traditional Khmer (Cambodian) houses too.
A criminally underappreciated gem of The Mekong Delta, Sa Dec is a sleepy little town of around 200,000 people, with a slow pace of life, heritage buildings aplenty and flower lined streets. If you’re in Vietnam around the Lunar New Year, Sa Dec bursts into color as the flower nurseries up their game to meet the national demand. As a result, the waterways of Sa Dec become busy with boats, all weighed down with flowers making their way to Ho Chi Minh City and the rest of Vietnam.
Sa Dec’s biggest “attraction” is the riverside Huynh Thuy Le House, which made up part of the setting for the movie “The Lover”, directed by Jean -Jacques Annaud, which was filmed here in 1992. The movie was based on the book “L’Amant” by Marguerite Duras, who lived in Sa Dec between 1928 and 1932.