As a thick fog rises over the brown, meandering web of waterways, locals crouch on the back of their boats, faces shrouded in the shadow of conical rice hats. In the Mekong Delta, it is as if highways have materialized into a network of muddy canals, streetlights have changed into billowy palm fronds, and the urban ruckus of car honks has morphed into warbling birds.
The lush Mekong Delta spans 13 provinces at the southern tip of Vietnam and is home to about 16 million people, roughly 20 percent of Vietnam’s population. The Mekong River begins on the Tibetan Plateau and flows through SE Asia, splitting in Vietnam before spilling into the South China Sea. Although the Delta lies only a few hours south of Ho Chi Minh City, the people of the two areas enjoy drastically different lifestyles. Ho Chi Minh City boasts a 24/7 cacophony of honking and urban bustle, while the Mekong Delta lulls visitors with an infinitely slower pace of life.
Rice cultivation thrives on the Delta’s moist land and almost half of the country’s rice grows here. Because of the tropical environment and ideal growing conditions, the fruit farming business on the Delta yields luscious coconuts, mangos, longans, and dragonfruits. Fishing the vast waterways is also lucrative. According to Mekong River Commission, up to 1,700 species of fish live in the Mekong River, around 120 of which are commercially traded.
The people of the Delta have adapted their lives to the water. Everything floats-houses, markets and even gas stations. The Mekong Delta is famous for its floating markets, especially those in Cai Be and Can Tho provinces. Atop the murky Mekong waters, hundreds of local merchants meet every morning to sell brilliantly colored fruits, vegetables, and fish from their boats proving to be a unique spectacle that draws foreign tourists and photographers daily.
How To Get There:
The Mekong Delta is readily accessible from Ho Chi Minh City. Although the Mekong Delta is steadily developing, there are not many places for tourists and travelers to stay overnight. It may take some extra planning and money, but staying for a few days at the Delta is possible. Most people decide to go on a full-day trip. Almost every single tour agency based in Ho Chi Minh City offers some sort of day trip to the Mekong Delta, which includes transportation to and from, food for the day, boat trips and water. It is best to shop around a bit for a good deal because prices vary. Once a tour is booked with a specific agency, they will likely offer a morning pick-up service at your hostel or hotel, or you’ll have to meet them at the company headquarters.
The ride from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta takes about an hour and a half, depending on how bad traffic is. After the car/van ride, the next leg of the journey is by boat. After all, the Mekong Delta is a series of tiny islands, so boat is the way to travel. A large boat takes travelers from the dock on the mainland to a dock on the Delta where people transfer to a smaller boat that can maneuver through the muddy waterways.
What To Do at the Delta:
Travelers who take a day trip to the Mekong Delta will largely have to follow the itinerary, so this means not a lot of time to wander around aimlessly. While organized tours can often be annoying and over-planned, tours to the Mekong Delta are actually quite nice because of the level of difficulty presented by the geography. Because the Mekong Delta is so fragmented, this means that to get from one place to another, a boat is almost always necessary. The organized tours will have small and medium sized boats ready for you to hop from one place to the next. Some things to do and see while at the Mekong Delta:
•Go to one of the candy factories. There is one major candy factory on the Mekong Delta, which most tour groups hit up. You can watch the workers as the mold the soft candy into tiny pats, and of course, sample their product.
•Eat some fresh fish. You’ll likely be “set free” for lunch in one of the local restaurants. A large portion of people living on the Mekong Delta make their living fromfishing, so the fish is guaranteed to be super-fresh and delicious.
•Try a plate of fruit. The huge variety of fruit grows on the Mekong Delta, from pomellos and guava, to bananas. A fresh plate of fruit makes for a great snack after hours of tour-group extravaganza.