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In Southern Vietnam, the River Mekong unravels into nine sprawling rivers, forming the fertile Mekong Delta. It’s here the river rules. Daily life flows with the ever-changing waters, fisheries thrive during the annual flood and rice fields are quickly dug as the waters recede.

The towns bustle with vendors trading their fresh produce, an endless flow of river traffic passing through daily. Veer off into a smaller stream and you’ll find orchards, Buddhist temples and family homes clinging to the banks of the river.

Completely focused around the water, the Mekong Delta shows you a way of life that has continued unchanged for hundreds of years. You’ll see fruit orchards, rice paddies and floating markets – every inch is filled with life.

Vietnam specialist Will

Things to see and do on the Mekong Delta

Paddle through the floating markets of Cai Rang

Nicknamed ‘the rice bowl of Vietnam’, the Mekong Delta yields a large proportion of the country’s fresh produce. You can see the region’s flourishing agricultural trade at one of the many floating markets where stalls take the form of boats that converge at trading posts on the water in large numbers.

Cai Rang is one of the biggest. Boats are filled with teetering piles of fruit and vegetables, from carefully balanced watermelons, to bright flowers. From a nearby bridge it’s possible to see right across the market, the throng of boats making it difficult to glimpse the water. For the best vantage point, you can travel in a traditional boat through the market, watching buyers carefully examine the produce and deals being brokered.

Stay with a local family in Vinh Long

A major transit hub, Vinh Long has good connections to Vietnam’s outer islands and its mainland. Tucked down the surrounding network of streams and canals are many family homes, which take advantage of the flow of traffic to trade. Many families now welcome visitors as guests, giving you the opportunity to experience daily life on the Mekong.

The homes sit on the riverbank, surrounded by gardens that nearly always include a small tropical fruit orchard. You'll have your own (basic, but spotlessly clean) room to stay in. Sitting down to enjoy home-cooked meals with your host family, you’ll find them keen to share more about their culture.

Take a walk through the sleepy port of Sa Dec

Once simply a stopping point for longer cruises and the site of a former US patrol base, Sa Dec is now a thriving river trading port. It still only gets a trickle of visitors and, because of this, has managed to keep its laid-back, local feel.

The city’s tree-lined streets hide French colonial terraced houses with pastel stuccoed frontages. The most impressive is the Huynh Thuy Le Old House, once the residence of a rich Chinese family. Huynh Thuy Le was the son of the family, and it’s his affair with the French writer Marguerite Duras that inspired her semi-autobiographical novel, The Lover.

Squeeze through the closely packed umbrella stalls of Nguyen Hué Street and you’ll find Sa Dec’s riverside market. Clinging to the side of a busy river passage, piles of fruit and vegetables are sold while children play alongside and old women prepare fish ready for lunch.

View the delta from Sam Mountain

Chau Doc, a busy delta town close to the Cambodian border, is defined by Sam Mountain poking up from its paddy fields. Only 182 m (597 ft) high, this pinnacle still manages to dominate the flat landscape. Climbing up to the peak affords you views right across the delta to Cambodia.

A sacred site for Buddhists, prepare to explore many of the mountain’s brightly painted temples and tombs on your climb. You also follow a bizarre trail of ceramic dinosaurs to the summit. The tin hut at the top acts as a lookout tower and is manned by the Vietnamese military to monitor the Cambodian border.

The path is lit, making it possible to climb at dawn and watch the sunrise from the mountain top. As cafes and shops are crammed into every available space, it’s easy to find a spot for breakfast afterwards.

Cruise the Mekong Delta on a converted rice barge

Converted rice barges, such as the Bassac fleet, carry passengers on one- or two-night cruises along the Mekong Delta. From your vantage point on the water, it’s easy to watch local life drift past.

The vessels are beautifully crafted and retain their original hand-carved charm. The cabins are well sized and furnished with local textiles. As you explore the local villages and floating markets, your on-board guide will recount the history of the rice barges that used to frequent the route.

Best time to visit the Mekong Delta

It’s best to visit the Mekong Delta between October and March when the water levels are high enough for boat markets, sailing trips and to watch the busiest river life. January to March offers the best overall weather throughout Vietnam, although prices can rise dramatically around Tet time, when shops and restaurants also tend to close for a few days. For good-value hotels, try visiting in late September when the monsoon rains have left lush foliage and the harvest will be in full swing.

Festivals, events and seasonal reasons to visit

  • In late November, Vietnam’s Khmer ethnic people celebrate the Ok Om Bok Festival on the day of the full moon. Celebrating the harvest, they show their gratitude to the moon goddess with boat races, dance performances and games. Each village hosts its own small festival, gathering around the local pagoda.
  • The lunar New Year, known as Tet, tends to fall in late January or early February. Towns and cities are covered in bright flags and lights of yellow, which is considered lucky. It’s also the flower season for the Mekong Delta and you might see boats completely filled with yellow flowers as part of the celebrations.

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