The Mekong Delta feeds over half of Vietnam, its fertile waterways rich with nutrients that travel hundreds of miles through neighbouring countries, ending up in fisheries and rice fields. Stilt-houses line the quiet backwaters and floating markets bob and jostle, as farmers trade produce and hot breakfasts in the early morning. It makes sense to explore the Delta by boat, particularly if it’s your own private sampan - the traditional Delta houseboat, built to navigate narrow channels that the deep-hulled tourist boats can’t sail.
Accompanied by a well-trained crew comprising a chef, personal guide, and river pilot, you’ll glide past the glossy water hyacinths that line the Delta’s banks, seeing beautiful gardens, diverse farms, and boats selling local produce. The wildlife here is fantastic; hundreds of new species have been discovered in recent years.
The vessels are modern but built to a traditional design that very much evokes the spirit of historic Vietnam, with gleaming dark planks and woven rattan walls and ceilings. A row of big windows runs the length of the boat, with a furnished sundeck in the prow, and outdoor breakfast area to the stern.
We love the way that sampans can slip into waterways that are too shallow for the tourist boats, giving you unprecedented access to parts of the Delta that most visitors don't see. Their design is well suited to mooring up in quiet beauty spots, and disembarking for excursions on dry land - they even have bike racks, letting you thoroughly explore by another traditional means of transport.
Meals are often served on board, with plenty of fresh fruit and tea, but there are also several opportunities to enjoy excellent local cuisine on land, from tasty market morsels to a romantic candlelit dinner served in one of the Delta’s ancient houses.
There are several routes to choose from, covering both the quieter waters and more popular places of interest, such as Cai Rang’s frenetic floating market where many of Ho Chi Minh City’s top restaurateurs source their ingredients. Ancient gardens, traditional tile factories, riverbank bike rides, Cao Dai temples, even the historic house of Marguerite Duma’s lover can all be included in your journey, depending on preference.
The sampans are certainly perfect for honeymooners and couples but multi-cabin boats are available for groups of up to six - excellent for families and friends. However you customise it, a trip in a traditional sampan gets you closer to the heart of rural Vietnam.