Across the vast Mekong Delta, Southeast Asia’s largest river, having gathered its birth waters from the high Tibetan Plateau and passed through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, spreads out widely through Southern Vietnam into the South China Sea, in a complex network of tributaries, canals and irrigation channels.


This waterborne maze governs the nature of life in the delta and is home to colourfully rich textures of both natural and human life, with fruit orchards, rice paddies, mangroves, floating markets, sampans and, one of the iconic cultural images most associated with Vietnam, the sight of conical-hatted farmers tending their crops.

Teeming with all manner of vessels, the waterways are a busy thriving environment, which nevertheless invokes a palpable sense of timelessness, with a continuity reaching back beyond the memory of history.

Naturally the most pleasurable way to explore the delta is afloat a river cruise, and many choices are available, lasting from 2 days to 6 days. Longer cruises, extending into neighbouring Cambodia and visiting the Khmer Angkor complex are also popular, and for those with time to spare on a leisurely exploration of Indochina as a whole, the cruises represent a relaxed alternative to the brief flights, travelling upriver via the border area of Chau Doc.

For those who prefer a more culturally genuine encounter with contemporary local life, a faster, though considerably less comfortable, variant is to travel on the public boats to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

From Saigon, the nearest town of note to touch the edges of the fascinating delta experience, and reachable by road as a day trip for those on a whistle-stop tour, is the busy market town of My Tho, typically awash with tourists.

For those interested in a longer sojourn, the principal city of the delta area is Can Tho, Vietnam’s fifth largest city, with a population of half a million.

The city has a pleasant waterfront area, with many fine restaurants and good quality hotels, and is therefore a good base from which to explore the delta area in more depth.

Sights within the city include the large central market, Can Tho Museum which provides insight into the history of the local resistance movement, Ong Pagoda, My Khanh Gardens and, for a refreshing splashabout or swim, Can Tho Water Park. Visits to the nearby Cai Rang and the smaller Phong Dien floating markets are the main tourist activity.

Away from the main centres of tourist activity, the myriad channels and luxuriant growth that characterise the vast delta area are, for those with curiosity and time, a wonderful area to explore and will particularly appeal to birdwatchers, fishing enthusiasts and the culturally curious.

As elsewhere in Vietnam, a homestay in the delta region can be a rewarding way to get in touch with real daily life, and can include invaluable first hand experiences with farming and fishing techniques.