In the south of Vietnam, between Ho Chi Minh City, the border of Cambodia, the Southeast Asia Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, spreads the Mekong delta, the huge and low plain, extremely fertile, crossed by nine arms of a river, the Mekong River.
Mekong is the world’s 10th longest and the Asia’s 7th longest river. Born in Tibet (on the heights of Himalaya), the river flows its way through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong splits in Cambodia into two main tributaries: the Bassac (Hau Giang) and the First River (Tien Giang), then continues in Vietnam into a complex network of 9 major arms before throwing itself into the Southeast Asia Sea. Thus, in Vietnamese it is called the River of Nine Dragons. Its original name comes from Thai language “Mae Num Khong”, or literally “Mother Water”.
Life & Culture
The Mekong region is home to around 60 million inhabitants with more than 100 different ethnic groups, making it the world’s most culturally-diverse region. The inhabitants are mainly farmers or fishermen, and while they are rich in resources, they are very poor in purchasing power. A third of these populations live with few-dollar income a day and have almost no access to services of the government.
Life on the Mekong revolves much around the river. In mountainous areas north of Laos or Thailand, the Mekong offers an interesting alternative for the transport. Besides, due to its wealth (it is the world’s 2nd richest river in species, after the Amazon), the river allows millions of people to earn their living out of it directly or indirectly. Many live right on the banks of its tributaries and canals. Their homes are built from various kinds of materials and usually have stilts and fish-raising cages underneath.
In Vietnam, the Mekong Delta receives the bounty of alluviums and deposits from the upper Mekong and is thus a very rich and verdant area. It produces about half of the country’s total agriculture output (even produces more rice than Japan and Korean together). The Mekong Delta is made up of endless rice fields, a maze of small canals, luxuriant fruit orchards, small islands and isolated villages. Most of the villages are accessed by boat other than by roads.
Mekong Delta is initially covered with marshland forest and inhabited by Khmer ethnic people only. Vietnamese people now make a majority of its population (total up 17 million, out of which 25% are Khmer and 30% are Chinese). Most of these ethnic people live in Ca Mau, Bac Lieu and Soc Trang provinces. The floating markets
The floating markets are generally full of life. On these markets we buy and we sell any sorts of fruits and fishes of the delta. But we find there more especially fruits and vegetables in abundance. On every boat, a long perch, with in the rear a fruit or a vegetable, serves as a sign. These masts indicate the type of the goods which these boats sell (pineapple for one boat, orange for another, Salad or turnips, for the third). At the rhythm of the streams of the Mekong, teem fishing boats, dugouts in with paddles in X form, and with uncountable boats loaded with rice, fishes or fruits.
We can see, in streets on the border of the Mekong arms, very beautiful pedestrian markets in the atmosphere truer than anywhere else. It is an abundance of conical hats and small stalls of food of all kinds: exotic fruits, freshly collected vegetables, flutes of bread
The night markets, when kerosene lamps are switched on, are also very vibrant with their numerous workshops of soup and swarm with life.
MAJOR DESTINATIONSAn Giang - Chau Doc
An Giang is located in the upper reaches, west of Mekong Delta where Mekong River splits into two branches like in Cambodia (the Tien Giang and the Hau Giang). It shares borders with Dong Thap to the east, Can Tho to the southeast and Kien Giang to the southwest.
A large part of the province is made of low mountains and midlands criss-crossed by miles of small canals. The capital of An Giang is Long Xuyen, but the largest and most famous city is Chau Doc thanks to its 100km northwest border with Cambodia. Border crossing by river is also becoming more and more popular and easier than ever.
Ben Tre is a little province in the east of Mekong Delta, being wedged between two main arms of Tien River. Ben Tre shares borders with Tien Giang, Tra Vinh and Vinh Long. It has one township also called Ben Tre and 7 other small districts, including Ba Tri, Binh Dai, Chau Thanh, Cho Lach, Giong Trom, Mo Cay and Thanh Phu. The province also accounts for the greatest part of Khmer ethnic population of the region.
Ben Tre is known as the land of coconut and also the cradle of “Dong Khoi” (“simultaneous insurgency”). Recording some of the fiercest stages of the American-Vietnam War, Ben Tre is heard by most students of the two countries’ history.
The sleepy and laid back Ben Tre is usually bypassed by most visitors coming to the delta. Considering its unparalleled beauty and historical significance, however, this picturesque area is definitely well worth a visit.
My Tho (72 km of Saigon), which means “The good perfumed herb”, is the closest city of Ho Chi Minh and the capital of the province of Tiên-Giang. It is situated on the bank of the north arm of the Mekong.
The most beautiful way to arrive at My Tho is to follow the Mekong from its mouth. The countryside constitutes one of the most luxuriant gardens of Vietnam with tropical’s trees such as coconut palms, banana trees, mangoes.
The city is the best city of departure to leave by boat on the Mekong to discover the nearby islands. Cai-Bè, upstream to MyTho, is also the point of departure of several strolls by boat. It is necessary to leave early in the morning to see the floating market, and then promenade on the arms of the Mekong to arrive at Vinh LongVinh Long
Vinh Long (136 km of Saigon) is situated in the center of the regions of the delta, between two arms of the Mekong. We can pass by walking and by boat through the small canals and the orchards which lead to the floating market of Cai Be. Vinh Long, earth made rich by alluviums, is the country of mandarins and oranges. The main interest of Vinh Long is the magnificent roll by boat in arroyos (canals dug by the men). It is a pleasant stage on the road of Can Tho.
Near Vinh Long, there is SaDec, in the province of Dông Thap. Famous for its horticulture (here grow any sorts of exotic flowers), SaDec had a nickname as, in the colonial period “The garden of Cochin China ".
It is in this unrecognized village on the Mekong delta where Marguerite Duras lived until her adolescence. Her mother, primary school teacher, steered the school of the girls there. In this city of 30 000 inhabitants, authentic and without tourists we can become soaked with the atmosphere of a delta town where still remain some colonial houses and" the house of the Chinese" (of his novel The Lover, so adapted to the screen).
Cân Tho (34 km of Vinh Long, 51 km of SaDec et 168 km of Saigon), is the Mekong delta heart. Spread out at the edge of one of nine big arms of the river, the city lives essentially of the river activities and rice growing.
Passionate and pleasant place, it is a good departure point to visit the Mekong delta. A very beautiful market take up a big part of the principal street, next to the Mekong, and a ride on boat allows people to admire landscapes, rice fields and orchards. Around Can tho, Soc Trang deserve a stop to see the Khmer Chua Doi Pagoda, well known under the “bat temple” name. HOW TO GET TO MEKONG DELTA
The Highway 1 connects Ho Chi Minh City with My Tho (Tien Giang), Vinh Long and ends in Can Tho. Several other highways link major towns throughout the region. Roads in Can Tho, Chau Doc, Rach Gia and My Tho are generally of good quality. In smaller villages, there are only narrow footpaths but very peaceful and serene.
Many long cable-stayed bridges have been built recently to make it easier to get around the region. The My Thuan Bridge connects Cai Be-Tien Giang with Vinh Long. The Rach Mieu Bridge links My Tho with Ben Tre, getting the province out of overland isolation. The Can Tho Bridge inaugurated in 2010 connects Can Tho with Vinh Long and is the longest cable stayed bridge in Southeast Asia.
Still, ferry crossings (or river taxis) may be expected in some other provinces. Public bus, taxis and motorbike taxis (Xe Om) are widely available and quite efficient.