A woman navigates the trails of the Mekong Delta. By Aaron Joel Santos
From the quiet towns of My Tho and Ben Tre to the floating markets of Can Tho, the flower farms of Sa Dec to the stunning, waterlogged landscapes of Chau Doc, there is plenty to keep you occupied in the Delta. Head to My Tho or Ben Tre for verdant islands containing everything from fruit orchards to coconut candy factories. Veer west toward Vinh Long instead and you'll pass Cai Be, where a French colonial cathedral stands in view of the town's famed floating market.
Can Tho is the region's largest city. Fast developing into a proper hub, this laid-back riverside town boasts its own collection of cultural sights, such as Cai Rang floating market, the most famous of its kind in the Mekong. Other attractions include the Binh Thuy Ancient House, a prime example of French colonial architecture.
Sa Dec houses the former residence of Huynh Thuy Le, a wealthy Chinese businessman with whom Saigon-born French novelist Marguerite Duras had an affair. Their relationship later served as the inspiration for Duras' novel L'Amant (The Lover) and its 1992 film adaptation.
Nature lovers will appreciate the Delta's collection of wildlife sanctuaries, particularly the beautifully green Tram Chim National Park, home to a quarter of all bird species found in Vietnam, including the sarus crane, the world's tallest flying bird. Just a stone's throw from the Cambodian border, Tra Su Bird Sanctuary holds plenty of winged wildlife in its flooded forests.
If you can only stay one night in the Mekong Delta, visit Can Tho, the region's hub. Take some time to explore the town, stopping by the charming riverfront Ong Pagoda and taking a wander around Ninh Kieu Pier before paying a visit to the Can Tho Museum as well as the local Wat Pitukhosarangsay, Can Tho's local Khmer pagoda. Book an early morning boat for the following day so you can see the floating market. In the evening, see the night market and unwind by the riverside.
In the early morning, hop on a boat to Cai Rang Floating Market, where you can see firsthand the bustle of an on-the-water trading post. You can spend as little as a couple hours or as long as a full day exploring the many nearby tributaries. If you arrive back to the pier in time, pay a visit to the Binh Thuy Ancient House before returning to the city in the late afternoon.
The best time to travel through the Mekong Delta is during the dry season from October to November and in April or May.
While there is an airport in Can Tho and a handful of small hangars in various Delta towns, the primary mode of transportation in this region is bus. In some cases, boats are available. A few tour operators offer Mekong river cruises from HCMC to Cambodia. Whether you're using over-land or water transport, you'll need to set aside extra travel time here.