A tour around the rice fields, swamplands, and orchards of the Mekong Delta will take you to a world that has sprung out of a geography book. The Mekong Delta, a comma-shaped land stretching from the Gulf of Thailand all the way to the limits of Ho Chi Minh City, is known as Vietnam’s rice bowl. The Mekong Delta is an agricultural outlier that manages to produce a third of Vietnam’s food supply from just 10% of its land mass. Rice may be the main produce, but sugar-cane, fruit orchards, and coconut palms also thrive on the Delta’s soil. Aside from the lush green fields, the Delta also has many conical-hatted farmers plowing the fields. The Vietnamese refer to the area as Cuu Long or ‘Nine Dragons’, which refers to the nine tributaries of the Mekong.
It is worth noting that the Delta adopted agriculture as its main source of income only recently. Under Cambodian rule until the end of the 17th century, the Delta was partially inhabited by the Khmer Krom or also known as the ‘downstream Khmer’, whose settlements were surrounded by marshland. The 18th century witnessed the Viet Nguyen widen their rule to encompass the Mekong, but by the 1860s the French had seized control of the government.
Seeing the potential income gained from the land, the French coerced Vietnamese farmers and peasants to till and farm the land of the Mekong Delta. Realizing that their colonial masters would pay them well for harvesting the fields, the farmers and peasants were quick to agree to the terms set. The same landscape that served the purposes of the French was also used as cover by the Viet Minh resistance army during their attempt to overthrow their colonial governors. The area was also later used by the Viet Cong, who built secret cells in the area, in their fight against the Americans.
A trip to the Mekong Delta is an unforgettable one because of its diversity and historical and cultural significance. Visitors will see many children riding water buffalos or biking to school through lush fields wearing ao dai. Rice farmers tending an emerald sea of rice fields, market vendors bartering their wares with wide smiles on their faces, incense sticks left to dry on roadsides, monks walking into colorful pagodas, and locals going about their daily life are common sights that paint the picture of the pastiche that is the Mekong Delta.
There are several towns in the Delta that cater to the needs of tourists; some are rarely visited as they are off-the-beaten path destinations. My Tho is equipped for boat excursions and is in close enough proximity to Ho Chi Minh City to be included in most day trips. My Tho provides visitors with an appetizing peek into Tien Giang, the delta’s northernmost tributary. From My Tho, Ben Tre and its surrounding fruit orchards are just a stone’s throw away. Cao Lanh is ideal for bird lovers, but Sa Dec, with its unforgettable river scenes and vibrant flower nurseries, has a wider appeal, follow the road down to visit Vinh Long another jump-off point for boat excursions.
Several tourists spend at least a day or two in Can Tho, home to the Mekong’s largest settlement. Can Tho has a wide variety of decent restaurants and hotels to let visitors rejuvenate before heading to the busy floating markets. From Can Tho, drop down to the base of the Delta to explore Ca Mau by boat, afterwards, head to Mui Ca Mau to end your trip around the region.
A trip to Soc Trang, a Khmer stronghold, is rewarding especially if you time your trip during the vibrant Oc Om Bok festival, held in November or December. During the festival, the Khmer community stages riveting longboat races on the river. Just northwest of Can Tho, and a short distance from Cambodia’s border, is the charming town of Chau Doc. South of the town is Sam Mountain which offers a stunning view that surrounds the flatlands. The opening of the border in the area has brought in travellers traveling to and from Phnom Penh via boat, many of which stay for a couple of days to rejuvenate before exiting the country.
Ha Tien, a remote town flanked by Khmer villages, is an ideal location to board a boat to the beautiful island of Phu Quoc. The border town of Ha Tien has transformed into a popular border crossing destination, which lets beach lovers to ride along the coast of Phu Quoc into Sihanoukville in Cambodia. The most ideal time to visit the Mekong Delta is during the dry season which is from December to May.