The Mekong Delta: An Introduction
Although it’s just a few hours by boat or car from Ho Chi Minh City, life in the Mekong Delta often seems a thousand miles away from that bustling modern metropolis. Things here tend to move at a more sedate pace, and the Delta's friendly residents usually lead a far more traditional existence than their high flying city neighbours.
Known by Vietnamese as the 'Nine Dragons', the nine major waterways of the Mekong Delta region extend from the Cambodian border to the South China Sea. Outside the region’s main cities - like Can Tho, Chau Doc, Vinh Long and My Tho - most people choose to build their homes on stilts along the many waterways that cut through the lush lowlands.
Inaccessible as this sounds, the Delta is actually one of the most densely populated areas in Vietnam. Characterised as laid-back and welcoming, its people intensively farm as much of the region’s fertile land as possible, with orchards, sugarcane plantations, rice paddies, fish and flower farms jostling for space amongst bird sanctuaries and national parks. Farming is a huge Delta industry - around 70% of Vietnam's fresh fruit and vegetables come from the region.
Many people make their living by fishing the waters, and selling their catch at the floating markets. One of the Delta’s most enchanting - and often surreal - characteristics, the markets can be found throughout the major waterways. You may have to get up early to see them at their best, but they’re so emblematic of Southern Vietnam, and a wonderful, lively experience. It would be a shame to miss them for the sake of a lie-in!
Despite all the water, the Mekong Delta actually has very convenient roads and tracks, easily explored by bike, motorbike or bus. The cities and villages are just as fascinating as the waterways. Chau Doc, south Vietnam’s gateway to Cambodia, is an especially approachable Delta town, with friendly residents, many of whom speak some English. Nearby Sam Mountain, although not very mountainous, offers a panoramic view over the Delta that’s hard to match elsewhere in the lowlands.
Vietnam is undoubtedly a multifaceted destination and this is rarely more evident than during a visit to the Mekong Delta region. At times it can feel like you’ve stepped into a different world!