The comma-shaped flatland stretching from Ho Chi Minh City to the southwest of the Gulf of Thailand is the fertile Mekong Delta. To Vietnamese, the region is known as Cuu Long or “Nine Dragons”. The name is originated from the nine tributaries of the Mekong River that enter the South of Vietnam before emptying into the sea. The delta is near Ho Chi Minh City, and Can Tho – the biggest city in the region is about 4 hour drive away, so it is easy to access by road.
When to travel?
With two distinct seasons, rain and dry, the best time to visit the delta is in the dry season, which runs from December to May. However, the rainy season, especially in the beginning also has something special, a greater variety of tropical fruit available, cheaper accommodation and a chance to see a different perspective of the delta. Given its seasonal flooding, you shouldn’t travel from Sep to Nov.
What to do?
Life in the Mekong Delta revolves much around the river, and many of the villages are often accessible by rivers and canals rather than by road. The main attraction that draws visitors is its floating markets – central commerce on the river. The most popular markets are Cai Be, My Tho in Tien Giang province, Cai Rang in Can Tho. These markets often open in early morning, so remember to leave early as the market’s busiest time is from 5-8am. By sunrise, the waterway is crowded with sampans and boats with hundreds of poles called “cay beo” pointing sky-ward to attract customers. Different fruits or goods are hanged on cay beo to let others know exactly where they have to go to buy from a certain distance. Despite the fact that the markets are gradually less uproarious, but the authenticity is beyond your imagination.
If you wish to explore the delta in different way, from lively city to tranquil countryside, from classic Mekong River cruise to cycling, My Tho, about 70km from Ho Chi Minh City is a town to set off for an extra day. Cruise along intricate canals, visit fruit orchards and plant nursery may sound touristy but it doesn’t mean it is less fun. You can enjoy a great variety of fruit like durian, coconut. And stop at some local workshop of producing brick or coconut candy.
Another way to get around and explore the peaceful countryside is by bike. Women washing on the river bank, children bathing in the River, friendly locals waving their hand just to say hello, just to name a few.
If you stay longer, visit Ca Mau covered with swamplands where a variety of wading birds call home. From Can Tho, you can catch one-hour flight to Phu Quoc Island for a beach getaway or travel to Chau Doc – a cultural melting pot of Khmer and Cham community before boarding a speedboat to Phnom Penh.
The region is also home to Khmer/Cambodian culture – the original inhabitants and cải lương, a form of Vietnamese folk opera.
Where to stay?
Hotels are varied from 1 to 5 stars for your choice. However, homestay is ideally suited for travelers who wish to experience the life of Mekong community along the river. Many people here still depend on the flow of the river for farming and fishing. Despite the hardship of local lives, a homey dinner gathering will always be filled with joy and inspiring stories. People here will definitely win your heart with their friendliness and charm. Moreover, the local daily life is typified through a range of activities such as gardening, fishing, visiting coconut candy factory, making rice paper and more so you will have various chances to see different aspects of their life.
What to eat?
Not to mention the various tropical fruits, you will be amazed at the diversity of food choice available here. Refer some options below to make sure you would not miss.
– Hu tieu My Tho: a specialty of My Tho Town in Tien Giang province is similar to the famous hu tieu Nam Vang (Phnom Penh rice noodle soup).Rice noodles are served together or separately with broth, and topped with shrimp, pork – minced and sliced, pig innards like liver and heart, and quail eggs. The food is garnished with chives, bean sprouts, and deep-fried shallots. However, what make Hu tieu My Tho set apart from others lie in the noodles and the broth. The noodles are made totally from rice flour, instead of being mixed with wheat flour or tapioca flour like its cousins, creating a naturally transparent, chewy, not salty or sour, and have the fragrance of rice. The broth is tasty and can be absorbed into the noodles without tampering with their texture.hu-tieu-my-tho
– Nem Nuong: pork BBQ rolled up in rice paper with rice noodles, banana, Asian basil, mint, pineapple, fresh herb and sauce.
– Beggar’s chicken: wrapped in thick clay and baked over a charcoal fire, it is guaranteed to satisfy even the most demanding palate. It goes perfectly with a pinch of salt and garden chili and a bottle of rice wine.
– Banh Cong: pie cake made from a mixture of green beans, little shrimp and minced pork, which is served with fresh herbs and leaves and special sauce.
– Grilled snail: one of Can Tho’s specialties. Flesh of snails after grilling on fire coal should be crispy, tender, sweet and spicy
– Roast sticky banana: sweet dessert with crispy outside layer and sweet flavor of banana underneath
Don’t swim in the river itself, as there is a chance of picking up parasites. Bring repellent and sun-screen with you. Make sure hotel has mosquito net. Also, as you will travel by boat and ferry quite often in Mekong Delta, be careful when embarking or disembarking. Check out best time to visit Mekong Delta and stay tuned to weather forecast for flood news in the area if any. Then enjoy your trip!