The Mekong River delta (which in Vietnamese means ‘delta of the river of the Nine Dragons’) is the river delta formed at the mouth of the Mekong River, in the South China Sea. The Mekong River is a long river almost 5,000 kilometers long that moves southeast across the entire Indochinese peninsula, flowing into the sea the coldness of more than 450 km3 of water a year. In addition, its extensive length makes the Mekong the eighth longest river on Earth . It originates in the Tibetan plateau fed by the seasonal flow of glacier melt, in addition to receiving water from numerous tributaries of considerable importance that increase its flow considerably. The extreme seasonal variations of its flow -caused by the spring thaw in the northern hemisphere- and the presence of rapids and waterfalls -because in some sections the river crosses mountainous and steep areas- have made it impossible to navigate most of its course. It owes its name to the contraction of the Thai words Mae Nam Khong. It also has other names that vary according to the countries it crosses: in China it is called Lancang; in Laos, Menom Khong; and, in Cambodia, Mékōngk or Tonle. The Mekong specifically crosses China, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, where it finally ends up forming one of the most famous deltas on the planet. The Mekong River itself acts as a natural border on several occasions along its course, for example between Laos and Thailand, between Laos and Myanmar, and between Myanmar and China.

The Mekong delta: a key environment

The Mekong Delta is one of the most important river deltas in the world. Its prestige lies in the rich and varied ecosystem it provides at the biological and human development level: jungle areas, swamps and forests – a true green lung – that contain a great variety of animals, plants, amphibians and birds endemic to this region – each year new species are catalogued in the most remote and still unexplored areas of the delta. The Mekong Delta is also an intrinsic part of the history of human and regional development for the inhabitants of this area of Vietnam and much of Asia, as the fertile sediments carried by the river to the delta provide cultivation area and food to sustain the economy and lives of millions of people. The Mekong Delta area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, although it was as early as 68 AD that the Funan kingdom was established there, which created the basis for the permanent human settlements that have survived to the present day. Today, the delta area is home to approximately 20 million people.

Three-day Mekong Delta excursion

If you are visiting South Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City, –the old Saigon– or you are planning to come here from Hanoi it is a very good idea to schedule an itinerary to visit the most interesting areas of the Mekong Delta. In this article we are going to propose a route that starts in Ho Chi Minh and that combining several means of transport such as bus, boat and bicycle, will allow you to visit one of the most important river deltas in Asia and the world . Here you will find small islands hidden in the middle of mangroves, floating markets, fishermen, old colonial houses and a lot of culture.

Day 1 – From Ho Chi Minh to the river

From Ho Chi Minh take the road to the south. After about 100 kilometers the first stop is Cái Bè, one of the so-called district of Vietnam. This is a rural district in Tien Giang province where approximately 300,000 people live. Like many of the villages in this area, Cai Be is a mixed land and floating city. We recommend that you rent a bicycle to move around the area comfortably. One of the main attractions of Cai Be are the colonial houses , the most famous of which is the Bà Kiet house, or Mr Kiet’s house . It is an old colonial house very well preserved and accessible only by boat. Nowadays it is possible to visit and it is very interesting to walk through its exuberant gardens or to observe the furniture and utensils of 150 years ago. It also offers a restaurant service, which allows you to enjoy an agape in a unique environment.

Tan Phong Island and by boat to Vính Long

Not far from there, just a few kilometers away, you will find the island of tan Phong, an area completely removed from traditional tourist routes and where you can perform several outdoor activities . On the island of tan Phong you can also attend traditional Vietnamese music shows and visit the peaceful gardens. From Tan Phong Island take a boat to Can Tho, where we recommend you spend the first night.

Day 2 – The floating markets of the Mekong Delta

On this second day of our proposed excursion through the Mekong Delta wake up early for a boat ride through the largest tributary of the Mekong River: the Bassac. This area is also home to the Cai Rang market, the most active in the entire Mekong Delta. The Cai Rang market, although not the largest floating market of all, is the most commercially active. This will give you the opportunity to contemplate the comings and goings of traders and buyers. As it is a floating market, all the activity will be carried out on boats, boats, motorboats, canoes and all kinds of boats. Some of the little boats you will see in this market are loaded to the top with fruits, rice, vegetables and even other products such as clothes and utensils. In this area of the river there is also a large traffic of larger boats that are engaged in transporting goods to other areas of Vietnam or even to the Cambodian border. The Cai Rang market operates every day of the year and is busiest early in the morning. As midday approaches the activity begins to cease, so we recommend you to visit the market between approximately 7 and 8 a.m. If you want to shop in the marketcado de Cai Rang la orientación resulta más fácil de lo que parece: todos los barcos que venden el mismo producto o similar se agrupan entre ellos.

canoes in cai rang mekong

In this area you can also try one of the typical dishes of Vietnamese cuisine: the famous soup of fideos vermecelli. Rice vermicelli are very fine noodles made from rice. The gastronomy of Vietnam – and many Southeast Asian countries – includes many types of noodles and vermecelli are one of them.

Vietnamese “monkey bridges”

The “monkey bridges” are simple arched pedestrian crossings built from tree trunks and bamboo. They have been used for centuries to allow people to comfortably cross the thousands of canals in this area of the Mekong Delta. At first glance monkey bridges appear unstable and fragile, although it is very surprising to observe how the Vietnamese cross them without problems, sometimes loaded with bags, suitcases or bicycles. Monkey bridges have been phased out and replaced by safer bridges and overpasses made of concrete and metal, although many still remain in urban areas or as a Vietnamese cultural symbol.

Vietnamese monkey bridge

The Tra Sú bird sanctuary

The Tra Sú bird sanctuary is one of the most recommended visits to the Mekong delta . It is a small unaltered natural space where the original flora and fauna of the delta has been conserved. The boatmen guide the canoes through the labyrinth of natural channels of the park, full of aquatic plants and mangroves. The images you will be able to take will be spectacular. The best time of year to visit the sanctuary is during the rainy season, between August and September: as there is more water there are more fish and therefore more birds in search of food.

heron in tra su mekong

Mount Sam

If you have time, after visiting the Tra Sú bird sanctuary move to the mount Sam, a small mountain in the area and from where the Vietnamese used to control the attempts to cross the Cambodian army border. The views of the delta and rice fields are spectacular. You will be able to find lodging for this night in Chau Doc.

Day 3

Take advantage of the last day to visit several of the local fishermen’s floating villages in this area and some villages in the ethnic Cham village before returning again to Ho Chi Minh.